Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

When do numbers become concrete

  1. Sep 12, 2009 #1

    I've just been reading some material and where it is mentioned that numbers are a figment of our imagination. They are not real and do not exist. But is there a time when numbers do?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 12, 2009 #2
  4. Sep 12, 2009 #3
    Numbers are not real. They're symbols, but according to the material I'm assigned to read, it talks about how the numbers we use in calculus doesn't actually exist. But I'm wondering if there is a time when numbers do exist.
  5. Sep 12, 2009 #4
    a time like in the future? i don't understand the question.
  6. Sep 12, 2009 #5

    Math Is Hard

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I think what the OP is trying to express is that he/she doesn't buy into the statements
    "Numbers are a figment of our imagination. They are not real and do not exist."
    and is looking for any counter examples that prove these statements wrong.

    Moving to Philosophy section. Good luck. :)
  7. Sep 12, 2009 #6
    Can I understand it this way:

    Numbers don't actually exist; hence it is not an object that exist in the physical world but it is a symbol that can represent something in the real world.
  8. Sep 12, 2009 #7
  9. Sep 12, 2009 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

  10. Sep 12, 2009 #9
    Of course, this assumes that numbers have a real abstract objective existence, which does not appear to be the claim being made by his book. It's another option to think about though :smile:.
  11. Sep 12, 2009 #10


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I think Kurdt was just trying to find a simplistic way to explain "concrete vs abstract" to the poster. It's a very difficult concept to explain to a non-mathematician. I don't believe Kurdt actually did more than a quick perusal of that link after a google search. He asked me if I thought it was considered a credible source and I gave him the ok to post the link. He's a physicist, not a philospher. hurkyl is your expert on math.

    If the OP wants to understand the math aspect, he should post his question in the math forum, not philosophy (I realize this was moved from somewhere else). Perhaps this needs to be moved to the math forum.
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2009
  12. Sep 13, 2009 #11
    I agree it's a good source, and I linked from the same site. I was just trying to point out that there is no one agreed upon answer. Polls of mathematicians show platonism is generally the preferred interpretation - meaning most think that there are mathematical objects with a certain level of abstraction that are discovered through math.

    Philosophy of mathematics is the actual field that studies questions about the type of existence mathematical concepts may or may not have.

    As for the OP's original question, it is generally agreed that numbers don't have an existence in space or time like the usual things we say have existence. I think he had the right idea in his later posts.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2009
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook