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The Language of Mathematics

  1. The cause of the phenomena in the Universe.

    2 vote(s)
  2. A descriptive language that is Universe-made, as described in Mentat's post.

    6 vote(s)
  3. A descriptive language that is man-made.

    11 vote(s)
  4. Other (what?)

    1 vote(s)
  1. May 24, 2003 #1
    I found another of my old threads, from PF2, and decided that I would like everyone's opinion on this topic again...

    Some have said that mathematics is a way of description that was invented by man.

    Some say that mathematics is causal, and that the universe conforms to mathematics, instead of the other way around. I have a problem with this idea because of the points in This Thread.

    I personally believe that mathematics is a descriptive language - the best of them - that some are fluent in and others are not. It is a universal language, and is the only one that is without flaw (the only flaw would be in our understanding of mathematical principles). I do not believe that mathematics is man-made, but rather that it is universe-made.

    But I want to see your opinions.

    Note: Please give the reason for your choices, unless that reason is already covered in this post.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 24, 2003 #2
    I choose all of the above and none of the above. Whatever mathematics may or may not be, the word is most definitely used to denote a descriptive shorthand language people use. Whether natural or man-made makes no difference whatsoever to its application and, hence, in that context is a moot point.

    Alexander's mysticism is deep and rich, not unlike a twelve layer chocolate cake or a fresh cowpie. However, we already have a bulletin board dedicated to mysticism and I try not to encourage him to get to deep into it on the philosophy bulletin board.
  4. May 24, 2003 #3
    Well, alrighty then. I'm glad to have your opinion, though I suspected this kind of response from you to begin with :smile:.
  5. May 24, 2003 #4
    Again, I urge those of you that vote to give your reasons, unless they are already covered in my post - in which case, you should indicate this as well.
  6. May 24, 2003 #5


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    i believe mathematics is human discovered but is the language of the universe, geometry especially in my opinion is extremely descriptive of our universe...
  7. May 24, 2003 #6


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    Greetings !

    Good thread Mentat !

    My opinion is that mathematics is indeed
    a discriptive language. It is somewhat unique
    in this role though. The reason for this
    uniquness is the fact that when people
    created this abstract system they wanted
    to use the most basic ellements inherent in
    our reasoning, rather than just discribe the
    observed. The result of this was a system
    that had very few and very basic axioms that
    seemed to match precisely the most basic patterns
    we observe in the Universe. It also meant that
    this system could evolve and create many
    patterns that appear to be greatly similar to those
    that we find in nature and can discribe those.

    What do I mean by basic ellements ?
    Well, one basic ellement of all reasoning systems
    we had so far is the existence of separate entities.
    Others are space, time, laws/relations that control
    the entities and possibly more.

    Now, while these may seem totally basic and
    inescapable for any reasoning - they, in fact, have
    no real reasonable justification because any such
    attempt based on the reasoning systems we're
    aware of so far will be self-referential.
    (And for Mentat: In this case this is deductive
    reasoning - if I want to explain any of these
    concepts I need a reasoning system and any such
    system, I'm aware of at least, has these basic
    components. In fact, the requirement of a reasoning
    system to construct arguments is by itself basic
    and self-referential.)

    An intresting point is that although math is
    man-made, the basis for this system in fact
    lies in the data that we observe (what we may
    call the observable Universe). Of course, we
    probably have no way of knowing or proving
    weather tommorow might bring a new type of
    observation that will mathematicly be meaningless,
    because it will not have the same basic concepts
    (and weather that is at all possible is also
    an intresting question).

    Doubt or shout !

    Live long and prosper.
  8. May 24, 2003 #7
    Math obviousely is a cause of objects and phenomena in universe.

    Say, take a rainbow - what causes it? Raindrops? Nope (there is no rainbow in raindrops). Sun light? Nope - because there is no RAINBOW in light yet (indeed, look at Sun).

    What makes a rainbow is DISPERSION (=difference) of speed of light (for different frequencies) in water. All properties of rainbow mathematically follow from dispersion function (which in turn mathematically follows from inertia of electrons responding to variable e/m field (called light)).

    Or take an atom. Where does it come from? Definitely not from electron or proton (indeed, there are NO atom neither in electron nor in proton). Atom is simply the mathematical solution for a wave trapped in 1/r potential. Harmonics of this wave (n=1,2,3...) are what we call s, p, d... orbitals.

    So, "objects" and "phenomena" are at CLOSE LOOK just mathematical solutions of more basic mathematical object (say, wave) in given mathematical circumstances (say 1/r potential). Just because mathematics is simply a logic of existense.

    The problem with layman understanding of math is that he CAN NOT look close (not enough mathematical education) to see that.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 24, 2003
  9. May 24, 2003 #8


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    Alexander, you're talking about the relation
    of math and science. What is being discussed
    is the relation of math and everything, not
    just observation (of course you could say
    there's nothing but observation, however, what
    about things we haven't observed yet ?).
    It is indeed possible that some new type
    of observation will not at all be discribable
    by math(it could be fundumentally impossible of
    course, but that in turn is probably unprovable),
    and hence the separation does exist.

    Doubt or shout !

    Live long and prosper.
  10. May 24, 2003 #9


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    Dearly Missed

    I voted for man-made. I know some, like Penrose, are Platonists and believe math is prior to the universe.

    Here is what I think. Mathematics is a collection of ideas, ideas existing in human minds. But mathematical ideas have a property most ideas do not; they are well-defined. This means they have sharp properties and can be communicated between people without loss of sharpness. Compare this to other beloved ideas like "Justice" or "Democracy".

    Now the relationships exist, at least approximately out in nature. I suppose there is a 3-4-5 triangle out there somewhere. But that is not mathematics, mathematics is when people think about such a triangle and say Aha! 3^2 + 4^2 = 5^2!
  11. May 24, 2003 #10
    I would assert the claim that math is not tied to humans whatsoever.

    This could be studied well, and shown to certainly be of value. In fact, history alone helps with alot of evidence that math is NOT merely a certain species' way of looking at the world.

    Thus the answer which follows evidence is it is a universal system
  12. May 24, 2003 #11

    I agree.

    Although it is not complete as shown by Godel.
  13. May 24, 2003 #12
    Humans did discover math. This implies math existed before humans. Indeed I have seen evidence which supports this.

    Besides, this is also supported by nearly all of science. That math is "universal".

    Indeed I could post here an experiment one could do to support this. As simple as it is!
  14. May 24, 2003 #13


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    Greetings !
    You mean you took a stick and poked at it ?
    Indeed. Supported, not proved (just like everything else). :wink:
    Please do !

    Peace and long life.
  15. May 24, 2003 #14
    Nope. Math is just a logic coming from existence of objects. That is why any existing object obeys mathematics.
  16. May 24, 2003 #15
    Ahhh, then everything is logical and nothing is absurd! What a revelation, you should start your own religion!
  17. May 24, 2003 #16
    Well...., Math is such a complex subject. But to ge to the point I think pure math is a development of man. An abstract system of reasoning with numbers and symbols that at first developed to make keep track of trade and production. Simply counting objects or amounts of things for trade and then learning to manipulate the numbers. Arithmetic and plain geometry certainly discribe real natural systems. One apple + one apple = two apples and the relationship of a circle's diameter and circumference are not the invention of man nor are they really abstract thoughts.
    On the other hand number theory and algebra are pure abstractions of the human mind and are in no way representative of any natural phenomena, but based on logicical rules of relationships and maniplulations of abstract symbols not related to any real, natural occurrence. I voted that math is man made, an invention of man existing only in man's mind; but, having said that I agree completely that it was at first based on natural, real phenomina.
    Man invented the names and later symbols 1,2,3....
  18. May 25, 2003 #17
    Sounds like the mocking birds are all out in force! ... Nahh, we all have better manners than that now don't we? ... Oh the disdain! Oh the disdain!

    What you're referring to here is Capitalism anyway.
  19. May 25, 2003 #18

    Tom Mattson

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    I voted "descriptive language--man made". It is an abstract system like logic that exists only as a mental construct. However, as Ontoplasma (where is he?) used to point out, mathematics is more than just a language, it is a science in its own right.
  20. May 25, 2003 #19


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    I too voted Descriptive Language, man made. I think of maths as a subjective, but self-consistent conceptual model of real laws of the universe. Mathematics is founded on axioms and definitions than cannot really be proven as always true in the real world. It is an ideal of how the universe should be, and an assumed truth with which we can make extrapolations (predictions). The study of mathematics is based on finding the implications of our mathematical axioms. But is mathematics a science? I don't really think so, as it is a self-contained system that is not really falsifiable by evidence. The application of the model is checkable, but the fundamentals of the system itself is not.
  21. May 25, 2003 #20

    Tom Mattson

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    You are right in that mathematics is not falsifiable. I meant that mathematics is a discipline that is systematically pursued for its own sake, and not just a language used by physicists.
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