The Quadrivium

Again, to start afresh, since of quantity one kind is viewed by itself, having no relation to anything else, as “even,” “odd,” “perfect,” and the like, and the other is relative to something else and is conceived of together with its relationship to another thing, like “double,” “greater,” “smaller,” “half,” “one and one-half times,” “one and one-third times,” and so forth, it is clear that two scientific methods will lay hold of and deal with the whole investigation of quantity; arithmetic, absolute quantity, and music, relative quantity.

And once more, inasmuch as part of “size” is in a state of rest and stability, and another part in motion and revolution, two other sciences in the same way will accurately treat of “size,” geometry the part that abides and is at rest, astronomy that which moves and revolves.

…In Plato’s Republic, when the interlocutor of Socrates appears to bring certain plausible reasons to bear upon the mathematical sciences, to show that they are useful to human life; arithmetic for reckoning, distributions, contributions, exchanges, and partnerships, geometry for sieges, the founding of cities and sanctuaries, and the partition of land, music for festivals, entertainment, and the worship of the gods, and the doctrine of the spheres, or astronomy, for farming, navigation and other undertakings, revealing beforehand the proper procedure and suitable season, Socrates, reproaching him, says: “You amuse me, because you seem to fear that these are useless studies that I recommend; but that is very difficult, nay, impossible. For the eye of the soul, blinded and buried by other pursuits, is rekindled and aroused again by these and these alone, and it is better that this be saved than thousands of bodily eyes, for by it alone is the truth of the universe beheld.”

–Nichomachus of Gerasa, Introduction to Arithmetic

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Beauty of Harmony

The orreryscientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living. I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances… What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp. (Henri Poincaré, Science and Method)

Capax Universi

The functionary is trained. Training is distinguished by its orientation toward something partial, and specialized, in the human being, and toward some one section of the world. Education is concerned with the whole: whoever is educated knows how the world as a whole behaves. Education concerns the whole human being, insofar as he is capax universi, “capable of the whole,” able to comprehend the sum total of existing things. (Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture)

A thinking reed.—It is not from space that I must seek my dignity, but from the government of my thought. I shall have no more if I possess worlds. By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; by thought I comprehend the world. (Blaise Pascal, Pensées)

Feynman on Geometry

Richard feynmanFeynman (1918 – 1988) was one of the great physicists of the twentieth century. He worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II, then went on to help formulate the theory of quantum electrodynamics, for which he received the Nobel Prize. The following is from his Character of Physical Law.

To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature… It is reputed—I do not know if it is true—that when one of the kings was trying to learn geometry from Euclid he complained that it was difficult. And Euclid said, “There is no royal road to geometry.” And there is no royal road… If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in. She offers her information only in one form; we are not so unhumble as to demand that she change before we pay attention.