English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Billiard Monthly : January, 1912

The Billiard Monthly : January, 1912

What Billiards Did for a Scientist

Sir J. J. Thomson, addressing the British Association at
Winnipeg (Canada) made the following remarks concerning
the intimate connection of mathematics with the game
of billiards;” I once had an illustration of the powers of
the concrete in stimulating the mind, which made a very
lasting impression on me. One of my first pupils came to
me with the assurance from his previous teacher that he
knew little and cared legs about mathematics, and had no
chance of obtaining a degree on the subject. For some
time I thought this estimate was correct, but he happened
to be enthusiastic about billiards, and when we were reading
a part of mechanics which deals with the collision of
electric bodies, I pointed out that many of the effects he
was constantly observing in billiards were illustrations of
the subject we were studying. From that time he was a
changed man. He had never before regarded mathematics
as anything but a means of annoying innocent undergraduates.

Now when he saw what important results it could
obtain he became enthusiastic about it, developed very considerable
mathematical ability; and although he had already
wasted two or three years at college, took a good place in
the Mathematical Tripos.”

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