put in a particularly evocative form by the physicist Eugene Wigner as the title of. a lecture in in New York: “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics. On ‘The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences’. Sorin Bangu. Abstract I present a reconstruction of Eugene Wigner’s argument for . Maxwell, Helmholtz, and the Unreasonable Effectiveness of the Method of Physical Bokulich – – Studies in History and Philosophy of Science.

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In what follows I will describe a wonderful example of the continuous interplay between active and passive effectiveness. In order to be able to develop something like a periodic table of the elements, Thomson had to be able to classify knots—find out which different knots are possible.

Suppose that a falling body broke into two pieces.

Recall that Thomson started to study knots because he was searching for a theory of atoms, then considered to be the most basic constituents of matter. Wigner’s original paper has provoked and inspired many responses across a wide range of disciplines.

Journal of the Franklin Institute. As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, unreasonablle do not refer to reality. Sundar Sarukkai 10 February Ivor Eugee finds the effectiveness in question eminently reasonable and explicable in terms of concepts such as analogy, generalisation and metaphor.

If this is the case, the “string” must be thought of either as real but untestable, or simply as an illusion or artifact of either mathematics or cognition. When are two pieces one? School Mathematics Study Group. The Jones polynomial distinguishes, for instance, even between knots and their mirror images figure 3for which the Alexander polynomials were identical.

Physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little; it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover. Decades of work euyene the theory of knots finally produced the second breakthrough in What is it that gives mathematics such incredible powers?


This page was last edited on 17 Novemberat Humans see what they look for. Indeed, how is it possible that all the phenomena observed in classical electricity and magnetism can be explained by means of just four mathematical equations? A knot invariant acts very much like a “fingerprint” of the knot; it does not change by superficial deformations of the knot for example, of the type demonstrated in figure 2. This led to the discovery of a more sensitive invariant than the Alexander polynomial, which became known as the Jones polynomial.

What makes this story even more striking is the following fact.

He concludes his paper with the same question with which he began:. Approximation theory Numerical analysis Differential equations Dynamical systems Control theory Variational calculus.

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences – Wikipedia

A knot and its mirror image. Unfortunately, by the time that this heroic effort was completed, Kelvin’s theory had already been totally discarded as a model for atomic structure. He then invokes the fundamental law of gravitation as an example. The lesson from this very brief history of knot theory is remarkable. The writer is convinced that it is useful, in epistemological discussions, to abandon the idealization that the level of human intelligence has a singular position on an absolute scale.

Unfortunately, two knots that have the same Alexander polynomial may still be different. During the past decade, Dr Livio’s research focused on supernova explosions and their use in cosmology to determine the nature of the dark energy that pushes the universe to accelerate, and on extrasolar planets.

In other words, our successful theories are not mathematics approximating physics, but mathematics approximating mathematics. Mathematics, Matter and Method: Rather, our intellectual apparatus is such that much of what we see comes from the glasses we put on.

Isn’t this absolutely amazing?

Wigner’s work provided a fresh insight into both physics and the philosophy of mathematicsand has been fairly often cited in the academic literature on the philosophy of physics and of mathematics. This is a perfect example of what I dubbed the active aspect of the effectiveness of mathematics. Knots leading the way, from the atom to pure maths and back to physical matter.


The field was undergoing a revolution and was rapidly acquiring the depth and power previously associated exclusively with the physical sciences.

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

The puzzle of the power of mathematics is in fact even more complex than the above example of electromagnetism might suggest. Peter Woita theoretical physicist, believes that this conflict uhreasonable in string theorywhere very abstract models may be impossible to test in any foreseeable experiment. Sciences reach a point where they become mathematized.

There was mathematics here! Cambridge Journal of Economics. Colyvan, Mark Spring It follows the lives and thoughts of some of the greatest mathrmatics in history, and attempts to explain the “unreasonable effectiveness” of mathematics. Journal of Fourier Analysis and Applications. In the present short article I will not even attempt to answer this intricate question. Biology was now the study of information stored in DNA — strings of four letters: In some cases it may even be useful to consider the attainment which is possible at the level of the intelligence of some other species.

In other words, physicists and mathematicians thought that knots were viable models for atoms, and consequently they enthusiastically engaged in the mathematical study of knots. Hamming gives four examples of nontrivial physical phenomena he believes arose from the mathematical tools employed and not from the intrinsic properties of physical reality. Differential geometry Fourier analysis Harmonic analysis Functional analysis Operator theory. In other words, at least some of the laws of nature are formulated in directly applicable mathematical terms.

The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the uneasonable of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. The World of Mathematics. The earliest lifeforms must have contained the seeds of the human ability to create and follow long chains of close reasoning.