Experimental mathematics, computers and the a priori

Synthese 190 (3):397-412 (2013)
In recent decades, experimental mathematics has emerged as a new branch of mathematics. This new branch is defined less by its subject matter, and more by its use of computer assisted reasoning. Experimental mathematics uses a variety of computer assisted approaches to verify or prove mathematical hypotheses. For example, there is “number crunching” such as searching for very large Mersenne primes, and showing that the Goldbach conjecture holds for all even numbers less than 2 × 1018. There are “verifications” of hypotheses which, while not definitive proofs, provide strong support for those hypotheses, and there are proofs involving an enormous amount of computer hours, which cannot be surveyed by any one mathematician in a lifetime. There have been several attempts to argue that one or another aspect of experimental mathematics shows that mathematics now accepts empirical or inductive methods, and hence shows mathematical apriorism to be false. Assessing this argument is complicated by the fact that there is no agreed definition of what precisely experimental mathematics is. However, I argue that on any plausible account of ’experiment’ these arguments do not succeed.
Keywords Experimental mathematics  Mathematical apriorism  Computer assisted proofs  Non-deductive methodology
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-011-0035-1
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