Applying Mathematics: The Paradoxical Relation between Mathematics, Language and Reality

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 38, Number 35, p.3662–3670 (2003)



What does it mean to apply mathematics? Why is mathematics considered as essential to natural sciences? Why do scientists consider the applicability of mathematics as something mysterious? The applicability of mathematics is mysterious and unexplainable only if we subscribe to a particular view of mathematics, namely, mathematics as a logical, axiomatic and formal system, which deals only with a platonic world and not our real one. In contrast, there are enough reasons to believe that mathematics is a fertile lived-language, sharing many characteristics with other verbal languages. Thus, to understand the applicability of mathematics, we need to first understand the applicability of languages, for example, the ?applicability? of English. The paper discusses some common characteristics in applying English and mathematics and offers a particular model to explain why mathematics seems to be so effectively applicable in science.


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