Who maintains a more objective view of reality - a mathematician or a physicist?(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

I might have laughed this off , but I'm bewildered by G.H. Hardy's views (who was a mathematician).

I'll present an excerpt from his book , 'A Mathematician's Apology' (The most relevant paragraphs can be found at

http:///www.mail-archive.com/everything-list@googlegroups.com/msg04504.html).

"..... I went on to say that neither physicists nor philosophers

have ever given any convincing account of what "physical reality"

is, or of how the physicist passes, from the confused mass of

fact or sensation with which he starts, to the construction of the

objects which he calls "real". Thus we cannot be said to know

what the subject-matter of physics is ; but this need not prevent

us from understanding roughly what a physicist is trying to do. It

is plain that he is trying to correlate the incoherent body of crude

facts confronting him with some definite and orderly scheme of

abstract relations, the kind of scheme which he can borrow

only from mathematics.

A mathematician, on the other hand, is working with his own

mathematical reality. Of this reality, as I explained in § 22, I take

a "realistic" and not an "idealistic" view. At any rate (and this was

my main point) this realistic view is much more plausible of

mathematical than of physical reality, because mathematical

objects are so much more what they seem. A chair or a star is not

in the least like what it seems to be ; the more we think of it, the

fuzzier its outlines become in the haze of sensations which surrounds

it ; but "2" or "317" has nothing to do with sensation, and its properties

stand out the more clearly the more closely we scrutinize it. It may

be that modern physics fits best into some framework of idealistic

philosophy---I don't believe it, but there are eminent physicists who

say so. Pure mathematics, on the other hand, seems to me a rock

on which all idealism founders: 317 is a prime, not because we think

so, or because our minds are shaped in one way rather than another,

but *because it is so*, because mathematical reality is built that way."

Back in 1922, some physicists (and mathematicians too)found this provocative. Please share your views.

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# On G.H. Hardy's Comment

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