# Alfred North Whitehead on notation

Posted on December 22, 2009
by Tommy McGuire

This really has little to do with anything, but I have been searching for the source of a quote on the power of good notation for a long time, and I believe I have finally found it. This is from Alfred North Whitehead's *An introduction to mathematics*:

By relieving the brain of all unnecessary work, a good notation sets it free to concentrate on more advanced problems, and in effect increases the mental power of the race.

He goes on with,

Probably nothing in the modern world would have more astonished a Greek mathematician than to learn that...the whole population of Western Europe...could perform the operation of division for the largest numbers....

It is a profoundly erroneous truism...that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle---they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.