TODAY -

Miracle of Math

Mukul Sharma *



The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences is the title of an article published in 1960 by the physicist Eugene Wigner. In it, Wigner observed that the mathematical structure of a physical theory often points the way to further advances in that theory and even to other predictions.

It also led him to believe in the 'miracle' of mathematics. In fact, he went so far as to say "the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious with no rational explanation for it."

More than half a century later, MIT professor Max Tegmark has taken the notion a step forward in the direction of a solution to the mystery. In Our Mathematical Universe, published in 2014, he explores the possibility that mathematics may not just describe the universe, but actually make the universe.

And that, in a sense, we're all parts of a giant mathematical object which in turn is part of a multiverse so huge that it makes the other multiverses debated in recent years seem puny in comparison.

Mathematics is probably the only human endeavour (if human endeavour has anything to do with it, that is) which comes closest to what a spiritual goal might be.

Nothing changes in mathematics; its entirety is all out there at once and is accessible to whoever attempts to seek and understand it.

Moreover, it's lodged in a region that completely defies our notions of space or time, in a dimension which is beyond the physical, mental or even cosmic. There's something so immutable about it, something so akin to permanent Platonic ideals, as to make its concepts approach as close as possible to an eternal truth.

Some people might argue it's the same with the laws of physics. That while Einstein may have discovered 'e=mc2', the equation by itself had always existed in that same timeless and spaceless region, rubbing shoulders for instance with quadratic equations or the binomial theorem.

But a moment's thought reveals this is not really so. Without demeaning the great physicist,we can still say that the theory of special relativity is not something that is permanent for all time. Because, really, nothing in physics is.

Besides it doesn't have universal application either as it breaks down at the quantum level.

It would also be pretty meaningless if the Big Bang had not happened and there was no universe at all.

Two plus two, on the other hand, does not function with any limited applicability whatsoever. It's outside of influence or experience. If there are a set of two goats in a yard and if another set of two are added to it, there will be four goats. Period.

There's nothing earthshaking about that outcome but nothing can shake that outcome either.




* Mukul Sharma wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on April 06, 2017.



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