Literary Takes on Mathematical Intuition

Posted on: August 17th, 2012 by agreicius

In Quomodocumque we find a nice quotation from David Foster Wallace about mathematical intuition, which he compares to James Joyce’s heady notion of epiphany. I’ll take this occasion to record some of my other favorite literary views of our fair science.

Robert Musil, from The Man Without Qualities, Volume 1, Book 28:

“…the solution of an intellectual problem comes about in a way not very different from what happens when a dog carrying a stick in its mouth tries to get through a narrow door: it will go on turning its head left and right until the stick slips through…And of course though a head with brains in it has far more skill and experience in these turnings and twistings than an empty one, yet even for it the slipping through comes as a surprise, is something that just suddenly happens.”

Paul Valéry, from Monsieur Teste:

“The idea, the principle, the flash, the first moment of the first condition, the leap, the jump out of series…To others, the preparation and execution. Cast your net here. This is the place in the sea where you will make your catch. Farewell.”

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