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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Math: Truth vs Beauty?

Is Beauty the same as Truth?   Or are we seduced by Cognitive, group bias?  Is this the same in Computer Science?

Lost in Math?   By Moshe Y. Vardi    Communications of the ACM, March 2019, Vol. 62 No. 3, Page 7

When I was 10 years old, my math teacher started a Math Club. It was not popular enough to last more than a few weeks, but that was long enough for me to learn about matrices and determinants. When I came home, my mother asked me how the club had been. "Beautiful," I answered. "Do you mean, 'interesting'?" she inquired. "No," I said, "Beautiful!" While some people find mathematics befuddling, others find it elegant and beautiful. The mathematician Paul Erds often referred to "The Book" in which God keeps the most beautiful proofs of each mathematical theorem. The philosopher Bertrand Russell said, "Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty." The beauty can be compelling; something so beautiful must be true!

But the seductive power of mathematical beauty has come under criticism lately. In Lost in Math, a book published earlier this year, the theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder asserts that mathematical elegance led physics astray. Specifically, she argues that several branches of physics, including string theory and quantum gravity, have come to view mathematical beauty as a truth criterion, in the absence of experimental data to confirm or refute these theories. The theoretical physics community, she argues, is falling victim to group thinking and cognitive bias, seduced by mathematical beauty.  .... "

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