Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Physics/Math Smackdown

William James, The Will to Believe (1897), p. 52:

The physical order of nature, taken simply as science knows it, cannot be held to reveal any one harmonious spiritual intent.  It is mere weather.

But!but!  (you splutter).  Physics is the science of the very cosmos in which we live !
-- Which is to say:

Bertrand Russell, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1919; 2nd edn. 1920), p. 192:

this higgledy-piggledy job-lot of a world  in which chance has imprisoned us

            If you wish some glimmering of further insight into the – I won’t even say the Nature, for that is beyond us, but some sense of the Sitz im Leben of the Necessary Being, you’re better off checking out the action, not in physics (let alone chemistry let alone …), but in the arena of Necessary Truths:  and these are to be found in abundance in Mathematics.

            I’m not against researching the laws of physics and biology, as glimpsed (dimly) from our present perch in the universe:  given that we’re stuck here (like a turd in amber), it’s about the best we can do.  But viewed more broadly, as activities go, it’s rather parochial, like rooting for your local high school basketball team.  (But then – who else ya gonna root for?)
            And yet consider.  What is Doctor Ynxnkx there doing, in the pool of light in his study, on the planet Gronx in the galaxy Mnx, in a disjoint and parallel universe?  He is not thinking about basketball, because his species don’t have arms or legs; he is not thinking about the Unified Field Theory, because their particular cosmos doesn’t have gravity (just kidding about the planets and galaxies).  He’s thinking about – what else – about the Riemann Hypothesis, which is just as true or as false  and at all events as looming, in his reality as in ours.

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