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Is mathematics really the Queen of Sciences?

  1. Jun 28, 2010 #1
    Once the famous mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss quoted "Mathematics is the queen of Sciences".
    In my view mathematics is a language, a tool for Scientific knowledge and its representation. Mathematics makes our job easier in manipulating the knowledge because it gets in to elegant and abstract form once put in mathematical frame.
    But how can it be eligible to be considered as Queen of Sciences. Every other branch of Science is also equally strong and vital for all human endeavors.
    My another argument is "Is mathematical thinking necessary for making Scientific discoveries?"
    Fourier himself mentioned in his "Analytical Theory of heat" that "Profound study of Nature is the most fertile source of mathematical discoveries".
    People in universities (to my experience) dont consider any new idea unless it is properly put in mathematical terms. They use and force to use other people mathematics for every thing. If some thing is proved mathematically they are happy. What they miss is the conceptual understanding (not all, only those who worship mathematics). I have come across some works in engineering by someone (my colleagues) which are mathematically sound and conceptually wrong. Yet these people could manage to publish their results in reputed journals and believe they are right. I could not even able to explain their mistakes to them because their mind sees only mathematical equations and nothing beyond that. In this modern world, I believe,mathematics has gained so much status that one, even though he is creative cannot survive in academic world if he is not capable of proving his ideas mathematically. Or he could survive by just proving a useless idea mathematically.
    My questions are Are we giving so much importance to maths? Is it the only way for progress of science? how to prevent people from using maths in wrong way especially in engineering field i.e, without any conceptual understanding or practical relevance just writing bunch of equations to prove their worthless idea?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 28, 2010 #2


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    If you mean: is it true that it can be a b*tch but you can hardly do without it?
    Then yes ;)
  4. Jun 28, 2010 #3
    Mathematics became Queen of the Sciences in 1792 just after the death of Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution. In 1830 there was another revolution which wanted to put Electrical Engineering on the throne, but it failed. In 1848, the Analytic Theory of Heat was enthroned for a short while, but the forces of Mathematics soon regained the upper hand. Since then, there have been sporadic attempts by Electrodynamics, the cause of the great war in 1914. and more recently Computer Science. However, the recent association of the word with homosexuality has caused the other sciences to be more detached from this designation and a period of relative acceptance has taken hold. Perhaps you could lead a movement to reinstate the Analytic Theory of Heat.
  5. Jun 28, 2010 #4
    Briefly, Phlogiston ruled the Holy Roman Empire.
  6. Jun 28, 2010 #5


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    Perhaps he was referring to how mathematics couples with every other branch of science to create the expressions of .... well, science.

    I imagine he could have chosen a different word besides queen, but queen sounds a lot nicer.
  7. Jun 28, 2010 #6
    This sounds awfully strange, I don't really believe you... Not even theoretical physicists proves things mathematically in general, just a few specialized ones do.

    Do you mean that they have calculated on something and found it to be true, yet you disagree with the result? That is not a problem with maths then, that is a problem with the physical assumptions made prior to the calculations even started or it is a problem with your conceptual understanding. If the results did not agree with your intuition then either there is something wrong with the theory or with your intuition which is why you do experiments.

    Now what the more practical guys do in papers is that they take some theory, applies it and calculates values, then see how it compares to the real deal. Usually there is some deviation and an explanation on if the deviation is within the margin of error for the theory or not. Why is this an extremely important science? Because if you know that you can calculate something to a certain degree of exactness instead of having to test everything then you can do it much faster and cheaper, so it is really important that someone tests how the theory works in reality.

    Edit: And simulations are also extremely important, I'd guess that you are partly talking about them as well.
    You don't have to prove anything, what you need to do however is to see what the equations says, if you can't calculate on it then you can't apply it, unless you are talking about the more practical aspects of chemical engineering etc. Maybe someone else can do the calculations for you...
    As I explained, that is not using maths in the wrong way! That is starting with the wrong assumptions, and is a problem with his physical understanding. Or it means that you have no clue about his research and that he is actually correct. Since this is engineering it wouldn't be strange at all if he even did the maths wrong since they aren't as good at checking out if the equations applies to this system or not, I have heard about several cases where it have been discovered that they did something wrong after they were published.
    Maths is the most promiscuous of sciences!!! But the deal with maths is that maths is never wrong since it just explains the correlation between results given a certain set of rules, what can be wrong is either the assumed set of rules or the results. Usually it is a little bit of both.
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2010
  8. Jun 28, 2010 #7
    Sounds like you're just bad at math and a bit upset you can't do science without it. Mathematics is more than just a tool, it is a way of structuring our thoughts logically and in a consistent manner. All of nature is interconnected, that is it is one large system, so to describe nature the universality of mathematics is necessary.

    So yea, you aren't gonna become a physicist by coming up with clever analogies alone.
  9. Jun 28, 2010 #8
    I am not upset at math, but only in the way it is used.
    I agree with Klockan3 that it is not problem with math but with the physical assumptions people start with.
    In this case too, maths is just used as a vehicle, a shortcut by people to validate their wrong approach. I am stressing that only. Being in engineering profession, their results are not useful to scientific community since it lacks physical understanding about real world. Yet this society honours them and accept it as a "research" work, just because "neat" mathematical calculations support the conclusions.
    For example you can't see 415 Volts and 415 Kilo volts as simply two numerics differing by a factor of 1000. My complaint is that these people are not feeling what is written in numbers.
    As far as I am concerned, mathematics is secondary to me. First I understand the problem in hand thoroughly. I won't allow mathematical equations in this stage. I think of possible approaches and use mathematics in the second stage to the extent it is required. I am sure my solution is correct because it is simply not numerics but based on physical interpretation and understanding of problem.

    I argued with my colleague and I tried to make him understand his approach is wrong (we are working on somewhat same problem) though his mathematics is correct. I found solution (I am sure it is correct) for same problem in a rather simple way with simple mathematics. He has just complicated the problem by bringing in more variables. He is senior to me and had already published his work which gave him courage to defend his method.

    I have to admit that I failed in making him understand his mistake. He cares little about physical interpretation of the work.

    what i mean to tell here is though maths is a powerful science, nothing can match physical intuition. I believe I have that and mathematics will surely help me but in the second stage only.
    (I am not bad at math, my highest grades are in math subjects only)
  10. Jun 28, 2010 #9


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    Hello n.karthick,
    But every step in a mathematical solution of a physical problem has a true physical meaning, encompassing the assumptions made so far in the problem. No more. No less.

    It's all too easy to forget the fundamentals and view the mathematical steps as hocus-pocus that lead so some sort of solution. Yet if you consider the fundamentals you'll find that each step along the way has true, physical meaning in its own right.

    For example, when dealing with power circuits, the term e often comes up. But it's not just some weird notation, it actually has meaning: the relative phase offset of a given sinusoidal waveform compared to another. Real power and reactive power also have physical meanings.

    When expressing an equation as an single integral, its easy to see the equation as a squiggly, a 'd' something, and maybe some Greek and/or other letters in-between. Then through some sort of devil-trickery, one evaluates it to find the answer. But it's not devil trickery if you consider what the single integral represents: the area under the curve. Always.

    Similarly, when taking the derivative of a function, you're finding the slope of a line.

    When finding the maximum or minimum of a function, one takes the derivative and sets it equal to zero. One might ask, 'what sort of trickery is this?' But it becomes obvious if one realizes what is really going on: finding the points where the slope is equal to zero. 'Oh, yeah. That makes perfect sense.'
    Math and physical intuition need not be mutually exclusive. If you remember the fundamentals, then each step in a mathematical process can and will correspond to a physical intuition in its own right.

    If your colleague's original assumptions are not valid, then of course the solution won't be any more valid than that.

    But if you agree with the original assumptions but still disagree with your colleague's work, examine the solution step by step. Avoid looking at the math as some sort of short-cut trickery, because each and every step has a true meaning too, if you keep the fundamentals in mind. Then if there is a mistake in the math, it should be intuitively obvious.
  11. Jun 28, 2010 #10
    Spoken like someone who failed grade school math?

    Just kidding. I can make that joke because I failed grade school math. But seriously, for all the noise people make about how math is indispensible in physics, I find that I don't get to do nearly as much math as I'd like. As an experimental physicist, I basically just spend all my time on a computer doing programming tasks. And if I'm real good, my advisor lets me solder hardware components for awhile.

    I don't know if math is the Queen of Sciences, but I think that C++ is the King's Whore.
  12. Jun 28, 2010 #11


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    Yeah, and physics is the king. :biggrin:
  13. Jun 28, 2010 #12
    He can always become a biologist...
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