Is mathematics an effective way to describe the world?
2013-09-04 0:00

From: Deskarati



Mathematics has been called the language of the universe. Scientists and engineers often speak of the elegance of mathematics when describing physical reality, citing examples such as π, E=mc2, and even something as simple as using abstract integers to count real-world objects. Yet while these examples demonstrate how useful math can be for us, does it mean that the physical world naturally follows the rules of mathematics as its “mother tongue,” and that this mathematics has its own existence that is out there waiting to be discovered? This point of view on the nature of the relationship between mathematics and the physical world is called Platonism, but not everyone agrees with it.

Derek Abbott, Professor of Electrical and Electronics Engineering at The University of Adelaide in Australia, has written a perspective piece to be published in the Proceedings of the IEEE in which he argues that mathematical Platonism is an inaccurate view of reality. Instead, he argues for the opposing viewpoint, the non-Platonist notion that mathematics is a product of the human imagination that we tailor to describe reality.

This argument is not new. In fact, Abbott estimates (through his own experiences, in an admittedly non-scientific survey) that while 80% of mathematicians lean toward a Platonist view, engineers by and large are non-Platonist. Physicists tend to be “closeted non-Platonists,” he says, meaning they often appear Platonist in public. But when pressed in private, he says he can “often extract a non-Platonist confession.”

So if mathematicians, engineers, and physicists can all manage to perform their work despite differences in opinion on this philosophical subject, why does the true nature of mathematics in its relation to the physical world really matter? The reason, Abbott says, is that because when you recognize that math is just a mental construct—just an approximation of reality that has its frailties and limitations and that will break down at some point because perfect mathematical forms do not exist in the physical universe—then you can see how ineffective math is.

And that is Abbott’s main point (and most controversial one): that mathematics is not exceptionally good at describing reality, and definitely not the “miracle” that some scientists have marveled at.

[...]

Read the full article at: deskarati.com




Related Articles
The Science and Math of Origami
Mary, Queen of Maths, and Chaos Theory
Researchers Try to Improve Math Skills With Electrical Zaps to the Brain
Sacred Geometry & Vedic Mathematics
Maths overtakes the speed of light
College Dropout Becomes Mathematical Genius After Severe Beating
Beauty of Mathematics
Vortex Based Mathematics
Uncoiling the spiral: Maths and hallucinations


Latest News from our Front Page

Galaxy Poll: 86 per cent of Australians want childhood vaccination to be compulsory?
2015-04-17 23:33
Australians want Prime Minister Tony Abbott to make childhood vaccination compulsory and close loopholes that allow vaccine refusers to put all children at risk. An exclusive national Galaxy poll commissioned by The Sunday Telegraph has revealed overwhelming support to ensure every child is vaccinated. The highest support for compulsory jabs is in South Australia, where 90 per cent support the call. The poll ...
Eye in the sky: Local police now using drones to spy on citizens
2015-04-17 22:09
The Harris County Precinct 1 Constable's Office is doing something that no other agency in Harris County is believed to have done yet: Use drones to help fight crime. It's an eye in the sky for law enforcement, without giving up the element of surprise. "It could absolutely save lives," says Constable Alan Rosen. Rosen says the agency's two new $1,200 drones, which ...
New Zealander of the Year: refuse vaccines, lose money
2015-04-17 22:47
Following in the footsteps of Australia, 2014 New Zealander of the Year, Dr. Lance O’Sullivan, wants to punish people who don’t get vaccinated. The New Zealand Herald (4/15) reports: “A leading New Zealand doctor has called on the Government to follow Australia’s example to cut child welfare payments to families who do not vaccinate their children, saying the policy would help protect ...
Iris Scanner Identifies a Person 40 Feet Away
2015-04-17 22:20
Police traffic stops are in the news again, tragically, sparking a new round of discussion on whether and how to outfit police with cameras and other technology. For several years now, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Biometrics Center have been testing an iris recognition system that can be used to identify subjects at a range of up to 40 feet. Like ...
Yes, You Can Catch Insanity
2015-04-17 22:29
One day in March 2010, Isak McCune started clearing his throat with a forceful, violent sound. The New Hampshire toddler was 3, with a Beatles mop of blonde hair and a cuddly, loving personality. His parents had no idea where the guttural tic came from. They figured it was springtime allergies. Soon after, Isak began to scream as if in pain ...
More News »