The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in The Natural Sciences - The Deep Connection Between Science and Mathematics

The Deep Connection Between Science and Mathematics

Wigner's work provided a fresh insight into both physics and the philosophy of mathematics, and has been fairly often cited in the academic literature on the philosophy of physics and of mathematics. Wigner speculated on the relationship between the philosophy of science and the foundations of mathematics as follows:

It is difficult to avoid the impression that a miracle confronts us here, quite comparable in its striking nature to the miracle that the human mind can string a thousand arguments together without getting itself into contradictions, or to the two miracles of laws of nature and of the human mind's capacity to divine them.

Later, Hilary Putnam (1975) explained these "two miracles" as being necessary consequences of a realist (but not Platonist) view of the philosophy of mathematics. However, in a passage discussing cognitive bias Wigner cautiously labeled as "not reliable," he went further:

The writer is convinced that it is useful, in epistemological discussions, to abandon the idealization that the level of human intelligence has a singular position on an absolute scale. In some cases it may even be useful to consider the attainment which is possible at the level of the intelligence of some other species.

Whether humans checking the results of humans can be considered an objective basis for observation of the known (to humans) universe is an interesting question, one followed up in both cosmology and the philosophy of mathematics.

Wigner also laid out the challenge of a cognitive approach to integrating the sciences:

A much more difficult and confusing situation would arise if we could, some day, establish a theory of the phenomena of consciousness, or of biology, which would be as coherent and convincing as our present theories of the inanimate world.

He further proposed that arguments could be found that might...

...put a heavy strain on our faith in our theories and on our belief in the reality of the concepts which we form. It would give us a deep sense of frustration in our search for what I called 'the ultimate truth'. The reason that such a situation is conceivable is that, fundamentally, we do not know why our theories work so well. Hence, their accuracy may not prove their truth and consistency. Indeed, it is this writer's belief that something rather akin to the situation which was described above exists if the present laws of heredity and of physics are confronted.

Some believe that this conflict exists in string theory, where very abstract models are impossible to test given existent experimental apparatus. While this remains the case, the "string" must be thought of either as real but untestable, or simply as an illusion or artifact of either mathematics or cognition.

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