I would like to find an accurate translation to the following quote from Space Time Matter:

Man muß gegen diese Orgien des Formalismus, mit dem man heute sogar die Techniker zu belästigen beginnt, nachdrücklich protestieren.

Google translate gives: It is necessary to vigorously protest against the orgies of formalism with which even today the technicians begin to bother.

Henry L. Brose's 1922 English translation reads: An emphatic protest must be entered against these orgies of formalism which are threatening the peace of even the technical scientist.

My questions are: What is a "technical scientist"? Does he mean "professional"? Or someone who has a strong technique?

Does "even" apply to "today" (i.e. mean "already") or "technical scientist"?

Does it really say "threatening the peace"?

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    $\begingroup$ Which and whose “English translation”? Could you mention a reference, please? $\endgroup$
    – DaG
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ @DaG gutenberg.org/files/43006/… $\endgroup$
    – Wynne
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ Weyl is speaking about the (at that time: 1918) quite new tensor calculus (1900) and specifically about its difficulty, due to the cumbersome notation with many indices. Thus, "technical scientists" are not, for sure, "technicians" (in the sense of applied physicists or engineers). It means "specialists" (of the calculus). I cannot imagine any plausible reason why "engineers" in 1918 must be involved with tensor calculus, differential geometry and gravitation ... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ @MauroALLEGRANZA Yours is an interesting alternative reading, and I’m having a hard time imagining how one might decide between the two. (Fortunately, translation need not resolve the ambiguity.) In further defense of mine, I will say that 1) the only other place where the word appears in the book is in §20 where wireless telegraphy is described as a technical application (technische Ausnutzung) of Maxwell’s equations; 2) the “orgy of formalism” he bemoans is not index notation, it is the abstractness inherent in attempts at coordinate-free treatments: .../... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ .../... “In trying to avoid continual reference to the components we are obliged to adopt an endless profusion of names and symbols (...) An emphatic protest must be be entered against these”. This may well allude to such then-popular trends in rigid body dynamics (= engineering) as R. Ball’s Theory of Screws (Pitches, Twists, Wrenches, Cylindroids, Emanants,...) or E. Study’s Geometrie der Dynamen (Stäbe, Keile, Quirle, Motoren, Impulsoren, Gewinde, Ketten,...) Recall also that tensors weren’t born in relativity but in elasticity (= engineering). $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 23:02

4 Answers 4


One must firmly protest these orgies of a formalism with which even technicians are getting harassed today.

(Literally: of the formalism, with which one is beginning to harass even technicians today.)
To your questions:

1) Techniker is for technicians, engineers, graduates of the Technische Hochschule where Weyl gave these lectures, as opposed to scientists or graduates of the University. Applied, not pure.

2) sogar definitely applies to Techniker, not to heute.

3) belästigen = harass, molest, bother, annoy, irritate, badger, pester, trouble, importune, persecute.

Note added:
Weyl’s words sound like a veiled attack on F. Klein’s preface to Schouten’s Affinoranalysis (1914) and its 19+ operations on affinors, deviators, septors, nonors, etc.:

Dr. J. A. Schouten was active so far in Rotterdam as an electrical engineer (Elektrotechniker), and got on his own from electrotechnical problems to the theories he outlines in what follows.

The point is to investigate the geometrical quantities that arise in vector analysis and the Gibbs dyads, triads, etc., on the basis of a group theoretical principle I established long ago: that all geometry is invariant theory under a group, which however one has much latitude in choosing.

Mr. Schouten’s investigations are all the more welcome, that it is the first time the developments in question, which alone seem to lead to a rational division of geometrical structures, are taken up by a practitioner. Mr. Schouten’s main achievement is that he consistently implements the principle even in higher cases. Of course, some of the resulting higher-order structures already appeared now and then in mechanics and physics, but they had not yet been enumerated in such systematic completeness as is the case here.

Wikipedia even claims that Weyl’s quote targets this book explicitly. However, this seems to rely on overinterpretation by Reich (1994, p. 157) of an ill-captioned picture in Rowe (1989a, p. 17; 1989b): Struik (1971, p. 2) merely writes that “Schouten later realized that Weyl’s critique of “orgies of formalism” was also applicable to this book” — and Klein also promoted Theory of Screws (1900) or Geometrie der Dynamen (1903), among others.

  • $\begingroup$ Nitpick: This translation omits "beginnt". Apparently the author is pointing out a new trend, where people are starting to get harassed with formalisms. $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 2:07
  • $\begingroup$ @njuffa I removed it in an edit, as “getting” struck me as less awkward than “beginning to be”, and still indicative of newness. See also “Literally: ...” $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 6:23

One has to object thoroughly to the orgies of formalism, with which recently even technicians have been bothered.

  • Man muß ... protestieren -> One has to object to (in the context of legislative elements like mandatory paperwork)
  • nachdrücklich -> thoroughly (or intensely, not just a little)
  • man heute ... zu belästigen beginnt -> with which recently ... have been bothered (this translation lacks the continuation element that '...en beginnt' has, but I think it matches the intend better, also note that the original uses a different grammatical form that I omitted for better readability)
  • sogar die Techniker -> even the technicians (most likely not scientists but applied craftsmen, even if they have studied)

I found it interesting that there is a 'dem' not a 'denen', so the objection is not against the amount of formalism (so not against the orgies of) but against the formalism at all.

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    $\begingroup$ "Nachdrücklich" is better translated as "emphatically" (I'm a native German speaker, BTW). $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ @vonbrand (So am I) I disagree, emphatically sounds far more like "einfühlsam" then "nachdrücklich". Francois' answer uses firmly which I think is good too. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ According to Collin's English-German dictionary (online), "emphatically" is "nachdrücklich". It comes from emphasis, not from empathy. $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ @vonbrand I know; doesn't change my impression. I wouldn't use it for the high likelihood of misunderstandings. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ I've never seen "emphatically" used in the sense of "einfühlsam"... not even close. Perhaps "empathically"? $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 15:30

"Man muß gegen die Orgien des Formalismus, mit dem man heute sogar die Techniker zu belästigen beginnt, nachdrücklich protestieren."

Both of the translations you got are 'decent'. Technician is indeed the literal translation of the German "Techniker", and engineer (Ingeneur) following.

Technical scientists are beyond my knowledge, but I would expect graduates of technical fields of academic study

My own, spontaneous, translation of your sentence:

"One has to protest vehemently against the orgies of formalism, which nowadays hamstring (or impair or sabotage) our technicians (or the work of our technicians)."

My focus was the information, not literature excellence though.


Heney L. Beose's translation (last sentence of ch. 1, § 6, p. 54) says:

An emphatic protest must be entered against these orgies of formalism which are threatening the peace of even the technical scientist.

  • $\begingroup$ Geremia, (from someone who’s also overlooked such things before): this is literally contained in the OP. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 18:32

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