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The math or physicality, wich one leads?

  1. May 2, 2010 #1
    I get the feeling that in the last decade or so maybe longer, that the math of sciences is used to postulate and create the 'world' around us to the point that if the equations say so, then we should surly find it so.

    Is the field moving to a 'cart before the horse' approach? The universe is the way it is, macro to micro to quantum. the math should be a 'map' or field guide based upon what is "verifiable". I could be way off base here but it seems that this is not the case, theorems, postulates and reams of equations to support the theory can be in fact wrong. Is there a bleed over into the classroom? do students get taught something that in fact is wrong?

    I understand that current technology is limiting what can be done to verify what is 'possible'. It comes across that the research is spent trying to sort thru the 'popular' of the mathematical possibilities instead of looking to see what you really find.

    Is the data manipulated to support the math or is the math manipulated to support the data? it should be a simple answer but for some reason politics of the research seems to muddle that one.

    If it's come down to an interpretation of the data, then there is simply not enough data to support anything and to influence the outcome by directing the data is well, wrong.

    This is only based upon what I've read over the yrs and conversations with some physicists I know who all complain about the 'politics'. seems to be a sadly common thing in the field of science from what I see.

    Hopefully I'm wrong.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 2, 2010 #2
    What your saying worries me a little as well.

    Generally before someone can use mathematics there has to be a model of a way things work. This is the physical intuition behind the math. Once you have an idea of how you thing the world works you can use math to try and see if it does. However it still has to be verifiable.

    That's one of the main problems with string theory as I understand it. Currently there is no way to verify any of the results.
  4. May 2, 2010 #3

    jack action

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    I think this is the only way to do things since the beginning of humanity. When people first look at the sun, they postulated that there was a god throwing a new ball of fire in the air every day and everybody believed it. Then one day, someone postulated that the sun was always the same one revolving around the earth and everybody believed it as well. Today, we say that it is the earth that is revolving around the sun. If nobody postulates, nobody will challenge. If we had waited to discover astronomy before making any theory about the sun, well ... we wouldn't have discover astronomy.

    Furthermore, math is not some kind of "language of truth". It is first, a mind game. One where you create a set of rules to find a way to solve a problem, that is often itself created. Just think about all the problems about prime numbers. Prime numbers are meaningless, physically wise, they're just an arbitrary definition and yet, we find relations between them.

    What makes math a powerful tool - and it is just that, a tool - is that you can apply it to solve physics problems or find relations between our observations just by, first, creating a set of rules. But nothing stops us from creating an arbitrary set of rules, find a solution and see if it applies to a real problem. It's called imagination.
  5. May 2, 2010 #4
    You're very right and I think that the gray area between that and unverifiable theories being accepted to the point where it divides the science community is the problem, or at least it hinders it.

    Yes math can be patterns with no physical direct relationship. The math in Physical sciences isn't used in that same manner. If it is shouldn't that be cause for concern? we humans have a fancy for patterns and can get misled by them. I liken it to watching my children grow, as they explore the world they form ideas and learn by testing them. this 'internal' testing sets up a 'hard wire' that as they get older influences their perspective and how to test the environment around them. This can and does lead to some interesting things for the individuals view of the world. At some point it's no longer purely objective, but gets molded to fit the preconceived view they are not directly aware they setup.

    I might be expecting something not possible, my myopic ideals of science don't seem to fit.
  6. May 2, 2010 #5


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    Let me see if I understand correctly: you're saying that we have a tendency to pass off theoretical predictions as being scientific facts even when they don't have any direct experimental support?

    If I've understood you correctly... yeah, that does happen sometimes, to some people. When you're working on an unverified theory that looks really beautiful, it can be hard to continue to treat it as just speculation. But that's why we have processes like peer review. A theory generally won't be accepted as being true without a reasonable amount of experimental support, because for any given theory, there are plenty of physicists worldwide who aren't too attached to it. Even with something like string theory... despite the large number of people who are working on it, I think most of them do realize that currently it is an unverified theory. The point of researching string theory is to try to extract useful testable predictions from it, so that hopefully someday we'll reach the point where we can do an experiment to show whether it's wrong or (probably) right.
  7. May 4, 2010 #6
    you can't say which one leads.

    But maths is the foundation of everything, and physics uses maths to develop theories and laws.

    @madhatter106 before a theory is to explained in schools and colleges, it is already tested and the possibility that it is wrong is 1/ 1000.
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