If there is no God, how to explain mathematics?
This topic contains 118 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by tom sarbeck 5 months, 3 weeks ago.

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August 4, 2018 at 2:33 am #10479
The sun doesn’t do math. Every individual particle acts according to the laws of physics. There is no group think, no centralised anything, no conceptualisation and zero number work.
Humans add things up when they need to know a total.
Bats scream…they don’t do math. They don’t deal with abstract problems. They cannot communicate the number 1 or the addition symbol. They have no idea what 1+1 even means. Their brains do the work involuntarily, like when we breathe. You could argue that there is some mathematical formula behind the pulses in our heart. But no math is being done there. Your heart acts according to its biological nature which acts according to the laws of physics. It doesn’t try to understand its role in a circulatory system nor spend time fussing over pi. Your heart doesn’t explain anything nor make imperfect models of the universe.
While we can observe some natural phenomena and conclude it all functions in a reliable way, like the Earth spinning and an object in the air inevitably falling…there is no mathematics going on. It’s cold agentless thoughtless powerless mindless useless bundles of particles following the laws of physics without even trying. It isn’t mathematics. Mathematics is a very poor approximation of how the universe works, highly flawed and viewed from one very specific point of view, a highly subjective abstract human one. Particle behavior is not math. Our conception of it is.
August 4, 2018 at 5:31 am #10482If have to disagree. Math is completely separate from the laws of the universe. It’s a human construct, a human representation/modeling/conceptualisation/rendering/whateverothernoun that we use to understand and survive in the hostile universe (and that math grows more complex as civilizations do). If humans were the only sentient beings in the history of the universe…then math did not exist until the first person made their first equation.
Davis, that view implies that if there’s another sophisticated race of beings somewhere in the universe who have developed a natural science and are exploring space it is using a math other than the math we know. No necessary understanding of pi, for example, or…
(the inverse square law).
I hate to put it this bluntly, but that just seems absurd on its face.
Voyager: The mathematics of interstellar space travel
 This reply was modified 6 months, 3 weeks ago by Unseen.
August 4, 2018 at 5:35 am #10484A bat just screams, LOL. Not that simple. There is an advanced biological computation that took millions of years to evolve. Who says that math is done only by the conscience? Does a computer do math? How is a bat different then a computer? Or a butterfly that has genetic geological coordinates programmed in it’s cells. When you say “mathematics is a very poor approximation of how the universe works” what do you mean? I regularly predict the behavior of electronic circuits to the picosecond. The math is third order differential equations and matrices. That’s accuracy to 1/1000000000000 seconds. Many of the recent scientific breakthrough are simply because of increased computational power. I walk around with a cell phone that tells me within a few meters exactly where I stand on this planet. So if math is simply a human language please explain why the physics of the universe is based on ratios and universal constants that if altered even slightly would result in a completely different universe. Let’s just say PI is 7.2437878 and see how the universe works out.
August 4, 2018 at 5:37 am #10485I have to disagree When a bat echo locates in the dark with soundwaves, I’d say it is doing sophisticated math. It uses the speed of sound in it’s calculations and even factors in the doppler shift in it’s transmissions to determine distance to an object. I see math in broader terms. It is semantics really, but the our sun is constantly calculating the speed of light. The universe is full of natural calculators doing the math of the universe all the time. Maybe it’s because I am an electrical engineer and rely on universal constants and relationships every day just to keep aircraft in the air, LOL.
Can you even try to imagine space travel without relying on mathematical understandings of the universe on a par with our understandings of the laws of physics and relativity?
August 4, 2018 at 12:50 pm #10487Alien math will be instantly recognizable to us just as the math of the Aztecs and ancient Egyptians is. That tells us that math arises independently and consistently in cultures that had no contact. The same is true of music, which is just math after all. Music invokes the math within us, the pattern seeking nature of us. If we want to limit the definition of math to “the study of numbers” or something like that , well that’s fine but it devalues the universality of the consistent and quantitative nature of the universe IMHO.
August 4, 2018 at 3:17 pm #10488I think that the realm of knowledge about the world is just like mathematics, in that it consists of a[n infinite] set of entities, processes, relationships, and above all, logic. Reality is logical as mathematics is logical. For example, the explanation of the theory of evolution, or of how a kidney works, are mathematical in that they consist of a set of true statements that are conceptually interlinked.
August 4, 2018 at 3:29 pm #10489I suppose some aspects of our use of math are human. A base 10 number system, for example. We use such a system in everyday math but computers seldom use it except to translate its calculations into humanrelatable output. lnside the computer, math is normally done in binary (of course) but also hexadecimal. Output, though, tends to be in decimal for humans to understand.
Would decimal be the easytounderstand system for creatures with 12 fingers or no fingers? Probably not.
August 4, 2018 at 3:38 pm #10490However, it’s the same number whether in binary, decimal or hexadecimal.
August 4, 2018 at 3:39 pm #10491So the underlying structure being represented is the same: the abstract nness of “n of something”.
August 4, 2018 at 3:43 pm #10492I think you’re right that our use of base 10 is because of having 10 fingers. But probably, it’s numerically fairly convenient too.
August 4, 2018 at 3:50 pm #10493Math is in fabric of universe and it is discovered. We are not the only animals to have made this discovery if only on rudimentary level. It is always there and does not depend on being observed. It is not an aesthetic construct. it is a symbolic representation of nature.
Any and every advanced civilization is conversant with math. It is how things work. Without it there is no advancing.
August 4, 2018 at 3:50 pm #10494I think you’re right that our use of base 10 is because of having 10 fingers. But probably, it’s numerically fairly convenient too.
Try adding 112 and 545 in your head using hexadecimal or binary. It’s a snap in decimal.
August 4, 2018 at 3:54 pm #10495However, it’s the same number whether in binary, decimal or hexadecimal.
What is a number independent of how it is expressed? I know what you mean, though. Still, what a number is sounds at first blush about as difficult to define as “what is time?”
August 4, 2018 at 5:08 pm #10497@unseen and Jake
There is no math inside the fabric of the universe. The laws of physics. Our math is an imperfect representation of those laws written in symbols we can understand. We can approximate it as best as possible, it may be found to be very reliable, have predictive qualities which help us and help us understand the universe…but the universe keep on ticking and doing what it does without our imperfect description of it. It’s no different than when we use verbal descriptions of things. They are highly imperfect representations of the universe, one that contains no words, no representations, no conceptions, no view from beings with extreme ignorance of the rest of the universe…highly limited to a small range of senses and cognitive abilities.
If we find sentient beings like us (key thing is “like us”) then its very likely they will be jotting down the laws of the universe in a way recognizable to us…perhaps with a number system and symbols for pi (which base they use is unimporant…none of them could ever express pi as a rational number unless their number system was “base pi”. However, life does not have to be the way we would recognize it or understand it, there can be life with a very different point of view who see the universe in a way that we cannot comprehend and they may not comprehend our way of annotating the laws of the universe from our point of view with numbers and statements and we may not comprehend theirs. They may not use symbols. They may not even work out pi or need to. Just as some beings of a very different kind of lifeform will not work out statements using subjects, objects and verbs or any symbolic conceptualization or have descriptive words like colors and actions and states. Most importantly, they may see math as a childish, extremely crude and terrible approximation to the laws of the universe as they understand it (much as a description of constellations and “wonderers” as described by the greeks as their explanation of the cosmos is to us).
It’s true, numbers don’t lie…usually…from our point of view. Make no mistake…our math is a suitable tool for conceptualizing and understanding the universe from a human point of view. The universe is beautiful and reliable and safe from our point of view with our numbers and logical statements through numbers. But, that universe is not our math, just as the universe is not our verbal description of it. It transcends our abstract description of it.
And the universe doesn’t give a shit about our letters and numbers.
August 4, 2018 at 5:26 pm #10500@unseen – “What is a number independent of how it is expressed?”
– you could say, if a number represents a set of instances of something, the value of the number is an exact abstraction of the amount of instances in the set, since that is a whole number.

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