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This file contains a list of quotes from people in mathematical or scientific
circles at Cambridge (hehehe).
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1985:
Overheard at a supervision :
Supervisor : Do you think you understand the basic ideas of Quantum
Mechanics ?
Supervisee : Ah! Well,what do we mean by"to understand"in the context
of Quantum Mechanics?
Supervisor : You mean"No",don't you?
Supervisee : Yes.
The Tautology prize goes to the lecturer who uttered the gem:
" If we complicate things they get less simple."
This year's modesty award is given for a phrase spoken by a lecturer after
a rather difficult concept had just been introduced.
" You may feel that this is a little unclear but in fact I am lecturing it
extremely well."
Overheard at last year's Archimedeans' Garden Party :
" Quantum Mechanics is a lovely introduction to Hilbert Spaces !"
A Senior mathematician was asked which language he used for some of his
computing. He replied that he used a very high level language:
RESEARCH STUDENT
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1986
From an algebra lecture:
"A real gentleman never takes bases unless he really has to."
From the same lecturer:
"This book fills a well needed gap in the literature."
And another encouraging book review:
"This book is only for the serious enthusiast ; I haven't read it myself."
Two quotes from an electrical engineer (but former mathematician):
"...but the four-colour theorem was sufficiently true at the time."
"The whole point of mathematics is to solve differential equations!"
And,as a contrast,a quote from a well known mathematician/physicist:
"Trying to solve [differential] equations is a youthful aberration that you
will soon grow out of."
While on the subject how about this fundamental law of physics heard in General
Relativity this year:
"Nature abhors second order differential equations."
A perplexing quote from a theoretical chemist:
"...but it might be a quasi-infinite set."
What is a "quasi-infinite set? Answers on a strictly finite postcard,please.
This year's Modesty Prize is awarded to the lecturer who said :
"Of course,this isn't really the best way to do it.But seeing as you're not
quite as clever as I am-in fact none of you are anywhere near as clever as I
am-we'll do it this way."
From the same lecturer :
"Now we'll prove the theorem.In fact I'll prove it all by myself."
And from a particle physics course :
"This course will contain a lot of charm and beauty but very little truth."
A comparison between the programming languages BCPL and BSPL :
"Like BCPL you can omit semicolons almost anywhere."
At the beginning of a course it is important to reassure the audience about how
straight-forward the course is and about how good the lectures are going to be.
But what about this quote from the beginning of the Galois Theory course:
"This is going to be an adventure for you...and for me."
Or this one from Statistical Physics:
"At the meeting in August I put my name down for this course becase I knew
nothing about it."
In the middle of the Stochastic Systems course the lecturer offered this piece
of careers advice:
"If you haven't enjoyed the material in the last few lectures then a career in
chartered accountancy beckons."
A lecturer of Linear Systems found the following on his board when he arrived
one morning:
" Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Greens' functions are boring
And so are Fourier transforms. "
An engineer actually gave an answer to the question of "quasi-infinite" sets:
"It's one with more than ten elements."
And they wonder why buildings fall over...
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1987
From a supervisor :
"Any theorem in Analysis can be fitted onto an arbitrarily small piece of
paper if you are sufficiently obscure."
No matter how elegant a course is there will always be occasions when a certain
about of arithmetic is called for:
"I just want you to have a brief boggle at the belly-busting complexity of
evaluating this."
A lecturer recently started to use RUNES in his course! His justification:
"I need an immediately distinguishable character...so I'll use something that
no-one will recognise."
From a Special Relativity lecture:
"...and you find you get masses of energy."
It's nice to see the general-purpose 'nobbling constant' making a welcome
return to Cambridge lectures:
"This must be wrong by a factor that oughtn't to be too different from unity."
A flattering comment by a student for his GR supervisor:
"She's the only person in DAMTP who's a real person rather than an abstract
machine for doing tripos questions. "
A worrying thought from the same student:
"Sex and drugs? They're nothing compared with a good proof!"
A description of a lecturer:
"G----'s a maniacal pixie!!!"
A less polite description of a famous (and notorious) mathematician:
"I personally think he's the greatest fraud since Cyril Burt!!"
- any guesses ?
Renormalisation holds no fears for this lecturer of Plasma Physics:
"...and divergent integrals need really sleazy cutoffs."
In the true style of Cambridge Maths Tripos we have the following:
"Proof of Thm. 6.2 is trivial from Thm. 6.9"
Can anybody guess the context in which the following is correct ?
"This theorem is obviously proved as 13 equals 15."
Why do mathematicians insist on using words that already have another meaning?
"It is the complex case that is easier to deal with."
And from various seminars in the King's College Research Centre:
"...the non-uniqueness is exponentially small."
"I'm not going to say exactly what I mean because I'm not absolutely certain
myself."
"It's dangerous to name your children until you know how many you are going to
have."
"You don't want to prove theorems that are false."
And that last one wins the Sybil Fawlty Prize for "Stating the Bleeding
Obvious".
A slightly more honest version of "The student can easily see that..." :
"If you play around with your fingers for a while, you'll see that's true."
Suggestions are welcome on the meaning of this:
"If it doesn't happen at a corner, but at an edge, it nonetheless happens at a orner."
- Eh ?
In a Complex Variables course a long, long, LONG time ago a lecturer wanted to
swap the order of an integral and an infinite sum...
"To do this we use a special theorem...the theorem that says that secretly this
is an applied maths course."
I never name my lecturers but he's now head of the Universities Grant Commission
And a lot of universities would like to swap him for an infinite sum.
From an Algebra III lecturer :
"If you want to prove it the simplest thing is to prove it."
This year's Honesty Prize goes to the natural sciences supervisor, who replied
to a question with
"Don't ask me. I'm not a mathmo."
And from Oxford...
"This does have physical applications. In fact it's all tied up with strings."
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1988
Good heavens, do I see a lecturer actually noticing the existence of his
audience!
"Was that clear enough? Put up your hand if that wasn't clear enough. Ah, I
thought not."
Snobbery or what?
"In the sort of parrot-like way you use to teach stats to biologists, this is
expected minus observed."
Also from statistics:
"I too would like to know what a statistician actually does."
"We're not doing mathematics; this is statistics."
"You could define the subspace topology this way, if you were sufficiently
malicious."
"You mustn't be too rigid when doing Fluid mechanics."
Talk about ulterior motives...
"This handout is not produced for your erudition but merely so I can practice
the TeX word-processor."
From 1A NatSci "Cells" course:
" There are two proteins involved in DNA synthasis, they are called
DNAsynthase 1 and DNAsynthase 3"
From a Part 2 Quantum Mechanics lecture:
"Just because they are called 'forbidden' transitions does not
mean that they are forbidden. They are less allowed than allowed
transitions, if you see what I mean."
From an IBM Assembler lecture:
"If you find bear droppings around your tent, it's fairly likely that
there are bears in the area."
A Biochemistry paper included an analysis of a previously undiscovered
sugar named by the researchers "godnose" .
From a 1B Electrical Engineering lecture:
"This isn't true in practice - what we've missed out is Stradivarius's
constant."
And then the aside:
"For those of you who don't know, that's been called by others the fiddle
factor..."
One from a 1A Engineering maths lecture :
"Graphs of higher degree polynomials have this habit of doing unwanted
wiggly things."
"Apart from the extra line that's a one line proof."
"This is a one line proof...if we start sufficiently far to the left."
A slight difficulty occured with geometry in an Engineering lecture one
day:
"This is the maximum power triangle." said a lecturer, pointing to a rectangle.
This year the Computer Scientists seem to be in the running for the Honesty
Award:
"Sorry, I should have made that completely clear. This is a shambles."
From a Computer Sciences Protection lecture:
"Who should be going to this lecture? Everyone...apart from the third year of
the two-year CompSci course."
"I don't want to go into this in detail, but I would like to illustrate some of
the tedium."
Oh those poor CompScis....
"I'm not going to get anything more useful done in this lecture, so I might as
well talk."
later followed by ...
"Well there you are, one lecture with no useful content."
Three from a NatSci Physics lecturer:
" You don't have to copy that down -- there's no wisdom in it -- it only
repeats what I said. "
"We now wish to show that they are not merely equal but _the same thing_."
"And before I leave this subject, I would like to tell you something
interesting."
From a first year chemistry lecture some personal problems of the lecturer:
" Before I started this morning's lecture I was going to tell you about my
third divorce but on reflection I thought I'd better tell my wife first."
From a single research seminar at the King's College Research Centre:
"I'm sure it's right whether it's valid or not."
"WARNING: There is no reason to believe this will work."