Philosophia Mathematica 15 (2):257-267 (2007)

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Michael Liston
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Abstract
In this book physicist Roland Omnès addresses some big questions in philosophy of mathematics. Anyone who reflects on the history and practice of mathematics and the sciences, especially physics, will naturally be struck by some remarkable coincidences. First, often newly developed mathematics was not well understood. But its successful applications and its agreement with intuitive representations of reality promoted confidence in its correctness even absent clear foundations . Later, this confidence is vindicated when a proper setting for the concepts and techniques is discovered . Second, often mathematical concepts designed for one purpose later turn out to have pervasive applications that could not have been imagined by the original practitioners. Third, many of the most important results obtained in physics since the late nineteenth century were driven by the search for precise, comprehensive, consistent theoretical frameworks: the sequence special relativity, general relativity, relativistic quantum mechanics, string theory can be seen as one that increases comprehensiveness by consistent unification. The fundamental theoretical work has little to do with empirical investigation and a lot to do with mathematical and conceptual investigation of invariances and symmetries. Fourth, mathematical principles guarantee existence principles needed by physics . Such coincidences naturally invite questions: Why is confidence in the consistency of a successful piece of mathematics so often vindicated? Why does mathematics turn out to be so comprehensive and fruitful in unexpected …
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DOI 10.1093/philmat/nkm016
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