Mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations, or algorithms: it is about understanding.

Is this from Thurston? If yes, where and when it has been said. I've checked "ON PROOF AND PROGRESS IN MATHEMATICS" and it is not there.

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    $\begingroup$ Thurston wrote something quite similar on this very site: mathoverflow.net/a/44213/4832 "The product of mathematics is clarity and understanding. Not theorems, by themselves." $\endgroup$ – Nate Eldredge Feb 18 at 6:55
  • $\begingroup$ @NateEldredge The quote is wildly attributed to Thurston. I was about to "quote" it in a paper that I failed to find the source. $\endgroup$ – Amir Asghari Feb 18 at 7:01
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    $\begingroup$ Zeilberger says that it's on page 76 of Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World by Mariana Cook. The book doesn't seem to be in Google Books so you may have to visit a library to confirm. $\endgroup$ – Nate Eldredge Feb 18 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ @NateEldredge Great. I'll do. Meanwhile, I am not using it :) $\endgroup$ – Amir Asghari Feb 18 at 7:07

This quote is from the book "Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World" (Mariana Cook and Robert Clifford Gunning, Princeton University Press, 2009).


"Mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations, or algorithms: it is about understanding. I’ve loved mathematics all my life, although I often doubted that mathematics would turn out to be my life’s..."

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks :) I am surprised why my search before posting the question didn't lead me to this book. $\endgroup$ – Amir Asghari Feb 18 at 7:19

I'll post this as an answer since it's too long for a comment. Even though it does not directly answer the question, I would like to mention that a related quote appears in a very interesting dialogue between Rota and Sharp in 1985 (https://fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/lanl/pubs/00326965.pdf):

ROTA: Mathematics is the study of analogies between analogies. All science is. Scientists always want to show that things that don’t look alike are really the same. That’s one of their innermost Freudian motivations. In fact, that’s what we mean by understanding.

SHARP: You often hear that the purpose of a scientific theory is to predict, That’s not correct. The purpose is understanding. Prediction is one way to test whether our understanding is correct. Simplicity, scope, and beauty are as important as prediction in judging whether a theory leads to understanding.


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