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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Numbers, Mathematics and the Reality of Science

Why can numbers do such a good job of describing reality?   Can they describe all of reality?

Recently republished:  https://medium.com/@ruth.ym.ng/do-numbers-exist-251e9b61508

Do Numbers Exist?  by Ruth Ng
November 2nd 2018

In 1960, Eugene Wigner began the closing paragraph of his paper The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences with a beautiful summary of the problem philosophers face when it comes to the existence of numbers. He said:

“The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.”

He’s talking about the sheer power, the disproportionate usefulness and beauty of mathematics. Its ability to seemingly describe reality in a way our ordinary language never could is uncanny.

The Collatz Conjecture is one such curiosity, as is the Fibonacci sequence. (If these sorts of things interest you, my favourite books on this kind of thing are Ian Stewart’s Incredible Numbers, Freiberger & Thomas’ Numericon and David Acheson’s 1089.) ... 

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