Does mathematics really exist in nature or is math just a human construct?

Discussion in 'Physics & Math' started by pluto2, Dec 2, 2015.

  1. pluto2 Registered Senior Member

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    I have a question and I hope that some of you could answer:

    Does mathematics really exist in nature or is math just a human construction?
     
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  3. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, it exists in nature.

    This I firmly believe.
     
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  5. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    Mathematics has been said to be a universal language. So much so that the messages on the Voyager space craft, which has now left our solar system is delivered in part in mathematical terms.
    http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/goldenrec1.html
     
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  7. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

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    Nature follows mathematical laws, if these laws didn't already exist, then nature would be unable to follow them.
     
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  8. Russ_Watters Not a Trump supporter... Valued Senior Member

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    So, combining those answers:
    Math is a language and so it is a human construct and doesn't exist in nature. But it was created to describe what does exist in nature.
     
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  9. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    More correctly a universal language. Most humans on earth can only understand their own national language and maybe one or two others, out of many.
    But all reasonably literate people everywhere all have Pi at precisely the same value, all get the answer 4 in question to 2+2 and all have the same formula for finding the area of a circle. And I venture to say that this would apply universally. Perhaps more correctly, maths is the language of physics and the laws of physics are universal.
     
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  10. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    But it is a language. i.e. it is used to describe the universe.

    The orbit of planets is determined by forces and inertia. They did this long before we invented ellipses and square roots to describe geometrical objects.
    While the forces that operate in the universe are ... well ... universal, the mathematics that attempt to model them are created by man (force of gravity).

    And the math is a model. A ham-fisted attempt to describe things. We could have a breakthrough in measuring devices tomorrow and our understanding of how planets orbit would have to be modified.

    As a matter of fact, that's exactly what happened when we discovered the precessional discrepancy in Mercury's orbit. Our equation of the universe did not match the universe, so we had to change our math. Out goes a force, in comes a curvature.

    Same thing happened to Kepler's Laws. They only approximate reality.

    Mathematics is a human language.

    Furthermore, 2+2=4 is not universal. It is defined. The Greeks called these axioms (specifically the premise that 1+1=2.) All our math stems from that and other premises. Iff it is true, then our math follows. But there is no universal proof that 1+1=2.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2015
  11. origin Trump is the best argument against a democracy. Valued Senior Member

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    Using those approximations we can land spacecraft on planets half a billion km away, we can build computers, we can build huge buildings and bridges.... Pretty good approximations!
     
  12. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    But approximations nonetheless.
    If we had done that with Newtonian physics instead of Einsteinian physics, it might have been a different story.

    If we built our modern-day GPS technology on Newtonian physics, cars would be driving into lakes.
     
  13. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

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    Mathematics gets us close. We still have to feel our way in using feedback from actual observations.
     
  14. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I agree with this. We model the physical world using mathematics, which is a man-made, highly developed, form of quantitative logic. I do not believe that mathematics "is" reality, but nor do I think our models "are" reality. They make what seem to be ever-closer, asymptotically approaching approximations to it, that's all. I think science needs to retain a bit of humility in the face of nature, in spite of its great successes.
     
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  15. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    While agreeing with most of that particularly our models being ever improving approximations [that does not make them wrong] I still see mathematics as the language of physics, which is a universal concept,[the laws of physics applying everywhere] Mathematics simply illustrate the logic of our physical laws and consequently are also the same everywhere.
     
  16. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

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    Just because our maths is an approximation of the mathematical laws underlying the laws of physics, doesn't mean that those mathematical laws don't really exist.
     
  17. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I agree maths is a language for expressing a lot of physics. I'm not sure I would say it is "the" language of physics, though. Many basic concepts we take for granted, such as mass, energy or gravity can only be really adequately described in words, it seems to me. Maths often just defines such concepts in terms of one another, in a circular manner: E=mc² and so forth. It's good on the quantitative relationships between concepts, but not enough by itself for understanding what the concepts really are. That often needs discussion, in words.

    I think the so-called "laws" are also man-made. What we observe demonstrates order in the universe. But it is we who express how this order appears to us in the form of "laws", often mathematical in nature. It is significant, I think, that nearly all the "laws" are labelled with the name of the person who proposed them. Many of these "laws" are only rather imperfect descriptions, useful though they are.
     
  18. The God Valued Senior Member

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    Our reality isn't just described by mathematics – it is mathematics … ...Max Tegmark

    Read about him..guy has got great credentials, its not that I am supporting him on this.
     
  19. danshawen Valued Senior Member

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    The Arabic number one is phallic in origin. The number two is a profile view of a human mammary, or perhaps pregnancy, or both. Where do you think the other numbers came from? To count all of the children and divide resources equally, of course. Before the abacus, there were knots on string, contemporary with the invention of the shoe, because shoes hid the toes that were previously used for higher mathematics.

    We know exactly where these ideas derived. Big deal. How very human it is to think they derived of loftier ideals. Now you understand.

    Millennia after they were developed, this ordination is still making life difficult for women of Arabic origin. Some things that should never change. At least, the Babylonians were forward looking enough to add a symbol for zero. Place holders are more important than numbers in many respects.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2015
  20. rpenner Fully Wired Staff Member

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    Nonsense. Ahistorical, fact-free, amoral bullshit without enough personal integrity to merit begin called a lie, because liars at least place a value in knowing the truth.

    Like the Roman numerals, like the Chinese numerals, Arabic numerals have their origin in the Brahmi numerals (3rd century BC) where 1, 2, and 3 are simple tally marks. Examples persist in modern fonts: Ⅰ,Ⅱ,Ⅲ; 一,二,三; ,, ; ౼,౽,౾ . This system become unwieldy for larger numbers and as with Roman and Chinese numbers, Brahmi numbers become more abstract for larger numbers. Because Arabic is a cursive script, disjoint symbols like tally marks are somewhat alien to the normal orthography and there has been adaptation in the adoption to modern Arabic: ١,٢,٣.

    It was the Brahmi numerals that were graphically adopted by the wider Indian community and then eventually on the Arabian peninsula some 1300 years later.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmi_numerals
    http://www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U11000.pdf
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2015
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  21. danshawen Valued Senior Member

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    I noticed, you didn't ask for a citation this time. How come?

    I couldn't make up something like this if I tried, rpenner.

    Actually, I spared readers some of the lurid details of the origin of the other symbols, which even I found to be in bad taste, but if you insist...

    While I am researching, ponder the number 3.
     
  22. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    Nor does it mean they do exist.
     
  23. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    I think we would do well to ask ourselves what we mean by 'mathematics' as it might exist in the natural world.

    The natural world operates on forces. A planet swings around a star because of some form of attraction (or curvature) between it and the star. No orbit in the universe is truly elliptical since every planet is under the influence of other neighboring planets, moons asteroids and stars, even though some are to a vanishingly small degree. At any given moment, a planet moves in a direction that is the sum of an arbitrarily large number of attractions (or curves) in an equal number of directions.

    This becomes even more apparent when one considers our Einsteinian curved spacetime model. There is no formula that can describe, as a whole, the infinitely subtle undulations in a sheet of spacetime embedded with thousands of massive objects of various sizes and distances.

    We humans use our mathematics to isolate a given formula (G=mr^2) so we can understand and predict it.

    Does anybody think that nature creates formulae and uses them? Or can we agree that planets simply move as per the sum of the forces acting upon them at any given time?
     

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