Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Quote of the Day

... [M]athematician [is] a device for converting coffee into formulas.
-- attributed to Albert Einstein [see the update below]

The attribution looks suspicious, and I have not been able to confirm it. [Update: This appears to be a variant of Alfréd Rényi's original: "a mathematician is a machine for converting coffee into theorems." Thanks to Rahul for his comment and the link.] In any case, it's a great way to start the morning!

I found the quote in James Fallows's 1994 musings about the goodness of coffee, which I found through his post about recent findings that links coffee to lower risks of developing dementia.


  1. gaddeswarup said...

    My guess:
    Paul Erdos

  2. viswanath said...

    The statement is always attrributed to Paul Erdos, but google finds an attribution to Paul Turan:

    "Sometime in the 1970s Paul Turan spent part of a summer in Edmonton. I wanted to meet him so went there. He was a few days late so I had arrived a couple of days earlier. A group went to the airport to meet him, and stopped at a coffee shop before going to the university. It was very hot so I offered to stay in the car and keep the windows down. I said I did not drink coffee. Turan then told the joke about mathematicians being machines which turn coffee into theorems, and then added: "You prove good theorems. Just think how much better they would be if you drank coffee". I have heard the statement attributed to Renyi by more than one Hungarian, but this was somewhat later. Turan just stated it."

    (Richard Askey)

    The definitive version of "Erdos and Coffee"? As told to the historia mathematica list on Feb 3, 2005.


  3. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    The usual form is "A mathematician is a machine for converting coffee into theorems", and this site attributes it to Renyi. (It also says he described weak coffee as fit only for lemmas.)

  4. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    ps - Vishwanath, the page you link to also attributes it to Renyi; Turan is not attributed with it, but is said to have related the previously existing joke. I interpret "this was somewhat later" as "the writer heard the attribution to Renyi somewhat later" -- the joke undoubtedly existed earlier than the 1970s, and Renyi died in 1970.

  5. Ashutosh said...

    The source I have most heard this quote attributed to is Paul Erdos. I have to admit I have never heard it being attributed to Einstein in any of his biographies or other sources.

  6. shubhendu said...

    Hi, I wanted to correct, but I suppose someone already did. I always thought it was by Erdos. But now I am confused. It is attributed to Paul Erdos but is maybe not by him. see this [1] and this [2]http://scidiv.bcc.ctc.edu/Math/Erdos.html, they add to the confusion.