### On Mathematics

Apr. 29th, 2008 08:59 amor invented. Now, at first blush I think it's kind of an absurd

question, because no one

*invented*2 + 2 = 4, it just

*is*.

That's the way the world operates, so if we find something 'new,' it's just

that we never saw it before, not that we made it up. Given a little time to

thinjk about it, though, I think it becomes a more interesting question.

Now I expect no more than three of you to care in the slightest -- most of

my friends, it seems, hate math -- and I didn't read the whole article (even

I can't take math before 9am), but just a few thoughts. Someone made a

point of how they were trying to compare math and physics; I'm not sure what

his point was in making the remark, but it got me thinking about the

similarities and differences between math and physics. They both describe

the way the world works, although physics are a bit more concrete than pure

math. But a lot of times, physics is just a "best guess," and theories are

constantly being concocted, accepted, and refuted. Newton's laws were true

until Einstein proved them false (though, for the layman Newton is usually

good enough). Math, typically, doesn't have this problem; it's abstract.

If the numbers work out, you can't

*disprove*a formula. Physics is

the application of mathematics to the world around us; the application can

be wrong, but the math simply

*is*. You invent theories, you discover

laws when those theories prove true. Perhaps you can invent formula, but

you don't invent

*math*.

I had a philosophy class on what knowledge is; it was really more of s

survey course because, as should be obvious, 'knowledge' is a pretty broad

topic. At one point the professor got onto the topic of the interesting

nature of mathematics. It's abstract, only in our hears, in that you can't

go into the world and find a 2, or point to a formula. But it's different

from other abstract subjects, his example being hobbits. Someone can know A

LOT about hobbits, but that knowledge can never have any read bearing on our

undetstanding of the world. If someone knows a lot about math, though, that

can actually be applied to describe, rather acurately, the world around us.