20 votes
Accepted

What were 12 year old Pitts' objections to Principia Mathematica?

This story bears characteristic signs of a tall tale, although in this case one can identify the origin. It appears to be an amalgamation of two anecdotes, neither of which is itself very credible. ...
Conifold's user avatar
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17 votes
Accepted

In a popular anecdote, who took 20 minutes to decide that a thing was obvious?

The closest to an attribution that I could find is by Matt Calhoun on Math SE, who claims "it was personally told to me" by "my mechanics professor (G. Horton) [who] took lectures from Pauli..." G. ...
Conifold's user avatar
  • 74.9k
14 votes

What is the original source for Abel's quote about Gauss:"He is like the fox, who effaces his tracks in the sand with his tail"?

Bjerknes cites a letter from Abel to Christopher Hansteen, a fellow professor of Bjerknes at Christiania/Oslo, who had put up and mentored Abel in the beginning of his career. Den omgangskreds af ...
Michael E2's user avatar
  • 1,861
13 votes
Accepted

Did light bulb companies commission Planck to study black body radiation?

Sounds like we're all on the same page. But FWIW: In all my research for that Planck book (2015), I found no evidence that he was commissioned, contracted or paid by light bulb (or similar) companies ...
Brandon Brown's user avatar
13 votes

Is Spivak right in what he says about Galileo?

Yes, indeed when trying to obtain the law of falling bodies, Galileo's first conjecture was that the speed is proportional to the distance traveled. After some contemplation, Galileo understood that ...
Alexandre Eremenko's user avatar
13 votes

Did Einstein say "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them"?

I am afraid there is no original source. Wikipedia has talk pages where sourcing is discussed, and its editors did extensive searches on this one and its variants. It is listed under the heading ...
Conifold's user avatar
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12 votes
Accepted

Is the anecdote about Niels Bohr keeping a horseshoe on his door true?

One can spot a fabricated story by a number of tells: absence of the original citation, shifty dates (in Heisenberg's version, Bohr was telling it in 1927), proliferation of mutually exclusive details ...
Conifold's user avatar
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12 votes
Accepted

What exactly was the Rutherford model of the atom?

"The Rutherford planetary model" was not exactly... anything, it was a vague umbrella term. The inspection of Rutherford's 1911 paper shows that Rutherford did not propose even one of the ...
Conifold's user avatar
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11 votes
Accepted

Did Cauchy forget or lose mathematical papers aside from Abel's and Galois's?

Apparently, Cauchy did not even forget or lose at least the papers of Galois. This is yet another example of how E.T. Bell and his Men of Mathematics, for all its literary virtues, are unreliable ...
Conifold's user avatar
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11 votes

Is the "ques­tions that can’t be an­swered over an­swers that can’t be ques­tioned" quote by Feynman authentic?

This is all I have found for now: “You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live, not knowing, than to have answers which ...
11 votes

Did Renaissance mathematicians once consider themselves inferior to the great ancient mathematicians?

Feynman is being... liberally creative. What he says is his own interpolation that "makes sense" from the perch of today. "Must have been psychologically wonderful", perhaps, but &...
Conifold's user avatar
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10 votes
Accepted

What is the origin of the Chinese Stick Multiplication method?

It is a fun method but it appears to be very recent. It is characterized as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, or even Mayan method in various internet posts, all of them recent, and without ...
Conifold's user avatar
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9 votes
Accepted

Did Kronecker attribute immutable origin to the integers?

Weber was a pretty reliable witness. Probably Kronecker did tell the 1886 Berliner Naturforscher-Versammlung something like "the whole numbers were made by dear God (der liebe Gott), the rest is the ...
Colin McLarty's user avatar
9 votes

Question related to the legitimacy of a certain portrait of Christian Goldbach

Our recent edition of Christian Goldbach's correspondence with Leonhard Euler (Leonhardi Euleri Opera Omnia, series IVA, vol.4, Springer: Basel, 2015) has a short biography of Goldbach (Introduction 1....
Martin Mattmüller's user avatar
9 votes
Accepted

Beware the Ides of March!

No, I assure you, this nonsense was not taught at schools, at least in Soviet Union (I am not sure what is possible in Russia now). This is just a typical Russian "pop historian" interpretation, a ...
Alexandre Eremenko's user avatar
8 votes

Did light bulb companies commission Planck to study black body radiation?

After looking into more reputable sources it seems that the "commissioned by electricity companies" is a confabulation, and the "commissioned by the German Bureau of Standards" is ...
Conifold's user avatar
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8 votes
Accepted

How did Newton guess that the answer to the 3-dimensional "kissing problem" is 12?

"In 1694, a famous discussion between two of the leading scientists of the day - Isaac Newton and David Gregory - took place on the campus of Cambridge University. Their dispute concerned the "kissing ...
Conifold's user avatar
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8 votes

Has Chinese Remainder Theorem ever been used by Chinese military?

Is it possible that "Chinese remainder theorem" was used by the Chinese military? Who knows. But we know that the proliferation of Chinese generals and soldiers in connection with it comes from late ...
Conifold's user avatar
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8 votes

Is Spivak right in what he says about Galileo?

Yes, Galileo made that error (and so did Descartes). Only later did he realise that the speed is proportional to the time ellapsed, not to the distance already covered. I suggest that you read The new ...
José Carlos Santos's user avatar
8 votes
Accepted

Poincaré and the baker: was the anecdote true?

It is interesting that even many of those who retell the anecdote immediately disown it "The following anecdote about him is probably fabricated, but it makes an interesting probability problem", says ...
Conifold's user avatar
  • 74.9k
8 votes

Poincaré and the baker: was the anecdote true?

I first ran across this story at an exhibit in Los Angeles' Museum of Science and Industry some time before 1970, maybe as early as 1964. In the version I read there, a magistrate was involved, and ...
Ernie Gilman's user avatar
7 votes
Accepted

Who first proved the "Cantor-Heine theorem" on uniform continuity?

An explicit definition of uniform continuity was first published by Heine in Über Trigonometrische Reihen (On Trigonometric Series), Journal für die Reine und Angewandte Mathematik, 71 (1870), pp. 353–...
Conifold's user avatar
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7 votes
Accepted

Is the "ques­tions that can’t be an­swered over an­swers that can’t be ques­tioned" quote by Feynman authentic?

I have my doubts, although Feynman, like many others, expressed similar sentiments. Dennett in the first chapter of Breaking the Spell (2006) writes:"Philosophy is questions that may never be answered....
Conifold's user avatar
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7 votes

Did Poincaré say that set theory is a disease?

I would say that the result is pretty definite. Gray does not simply deny that the quote is genuine, he quotes the scholarship of Moore (Zermelo' s Axiom of Choice), Cassinet-Guillemot (L'Axiome du ...
Conifold's user avatar
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7 votes

In a popular anecdote, who took 20 minutes to decide that a thing was obvious?

This story is often told about G. H. Hardy. You will find it in Lion hunting & other mathematical pursuits, by Ralph P. Boas Jr. It says: “The story is told of G. H. Hardy (and of other people) ...
José Carlos Santos's user avatar
7 votes
Accepted

Did Renaissance mathematicians once consider themselves inferior to the great ancient mathematicians?

The answer to your question in the title is definitely yes. For example, Fermat wrote in a letter: "Perhaps, posterity will thank me for having shown that the ancients did not know everything". Fermat ...
Alexandre Eremenko's user avatar
6 votes

What is the original source for Abel's quote about Gauss:"He is like the fox, who effaces his tracks in the sand with his tail"?

This is a supplement to the previous answer to the question, confirming what has been written above. Illustreret Nyhedsblad, where prof. Chr. Hansteen in 1862 first published some letters from Abel, ...
Per Manne's user avatar
  • 559
6 votes

Who gets credit for the real numbers?

The Archimedean property as it is called, was used as an axiom by Archimedes, and he credited Eudoxus of Cnidus, who predates Euclid; also see this. In Section 7: Stevin, Malet says: In fact Stevin ...
Peter Diehr's user avatar

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