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:

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

West’s tributes to late Saudi King reveal hypocrisy not democracy
2015-01-27 2:16
Hypocrisy is not usually regarded as a virtue of leadership, yet judging by the gushing tributes paid to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah by various Western governments and establishment figures on his death, there are those who believe it should be. In the UK this hypocrisy has been stretched to breaking point with the decision to fly the flags over Downing ...
Millions of GMO insects could be set loose in Florida Keys
2015-01-27 2:34
Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in the Florida Keys if British researchers win approval to use the bugs against two extremely painful viral diseases. Never before have insects with modified DNA come so close to being set loose in a residential U.S. neighborhood. "This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease," said Michael Doyle, executive ...
Furguson Scared The Super - Rich So Bad They're Planning Exits
2015-01-27 0:22
According to a speaker at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ferguson and Occupy absolutely terrified the world’s super-rich, and now they’re buying airstrips and farms in remote locations to escape to. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which was held between January 21-24, over 2,500 leaders in the fields of business, international politics, academia and journalism met to discuss ...
The Ring Of The Nibelungs
2015-01-27 0:20
Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King (also known as Ring of the Nibelungs, Die Nibelungen, Curse of the Ring, and Sword of Xanten) is a 2004 German television film directed by Uli Edel and starring Benno Fürmann, Alicia Witt, Kristanna Loken, and Max von Sydow. The film is based on the Norse mythology story Völsungasaga and the German epic poem Nibelungenlied, ...
Google Street View Shows NAACP Bombing a Hoax
2015-01-26 22:58
Caught in the act: NAACP passing off old soot marks as new in ‘bomb’ hoax NAACP Colorado Chapter President Henry D. Allen Jr. has been caught in the act of passing off old soot marks as new damage from the recent ‘explosion’ at the Colorado Springs chapter headquarters. Although has previously remarked on the minimal damage as reported by the ...
More News »