Saturday, September 8, 2007

Is nature mathematical?

It's unlikely that physicist Eugene Wigner was the very first to muse about the "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics in describing the natural world; yet his famous article on this subject has ensured this question's enduring prominence. Personally I find it hard to account for the predictive successes of various sciences--i.e., mathematical physics--without believing that there is *some* correspondence between physical phenomena and the math we use to describe it. Does this mean I believe that God is a mathematician? No. (And who said I believed in the existence of a deity?) Do I think that all intelligent extraterrestrials interested in the cosmos eventually cobble together a type of mathematics resembling ours? It's an interesting question to think about, but I guess the jury will have to stay out unless and until we make contact. All this is related to the equally thought-provoking question of whether math is created (from scratch, by randomly evolved carbon-based life forms) or discovered. I lean toward the latter view.

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