In Anthony Aguirre, Brendan Foster & Zeeya Merali (eds.), Trick or Truth? The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics (2016)

Authors
Abstract
Mathematics may seem unreasonably effective in the natural sciences, in particular in physics. In this essay, I argue that this judgment can be attributed, at least in part, to selection effects. In support of this central claim, I offer four elements. The first element is that we are creatures that evolved within this Universe, and that our pattern finding abilities are selected by this very environment. The second element is that our mathematics—although not fully constrained by the natural world—is strongly inspired by our perception of it. Related to this, the third element finds fault with the usual assessment of the efficiency of mathematics: our focus on the rare successes leaves us blind to the ubiquitous failures. The fourth element is that the act of applying mathematics provides many more degrees of freedom than those internal to mathematics. This final element will be illustrated by the usage of ‘infinitesimals’ in the context of mathematics and that of physics. In 1960, Wigner wrote an article on this topic [4] and many later authors have echoed his assessment that the success of mathematics in physics is a mystery. At the end of this essay, I will revisit Wigner and three earlier replies that harmonize with my own view. I will also explore some of Einstein’s ideas that are connected to this. But first, I briefly expose my views of science and mathematics, since these form the canvass of my central claim.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories No categories specified
(categorize this paper)
Buy the book Find it on Amazon.com
Options
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 63,393
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

How Effective Indeed is Present-Day Mathematics?Athanassios Tzouvaras - 2006 - Logic and Logical Philosophy 15 (2):131-153.
Mathematics as an Instigator of Scientific Revolutions.Ricardo Karam - 2015 - Science & Education 24 (5-6):495-513.
The Application of Mathematics to Natural Science.Mark Steiner - 1989 - Journal of Philosophy 86 (9):449-480.
Philosophy of Mathematics.Christopher Pincock - 2011 - In J. Saatsi & S. French (eds.), Companion to the Philosophy of Science. Continuum. pp. 314-333.
The Applicability of Mathematics.Christopher Pincock - 2010 - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Discrete and Continuous: A Fundamental Dichotomy in Mathematics.James Franklin - 2017 - Journal of Humanistic Mathematics 7 (2):355-378.

Analytics

Added to PP index
2020-04-08

Total views
2 ( #1,409,595 of 2,448,956 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #443,144 of 2,448,956 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads

My notes