Revisiting the 'unreasonable effectiveness' of mathematics
Publication Type:Journal Articles
Source:Current Science, CURRENT SCIENCE ASSOCIATION, Volume 88, Number 30, p.415–423 (2005)
Although the phrase 'unreasonable effectiveness' of mathematics is widely used, it is not clear what it means. To understand this phrase critically, we first need to understand the meaning of mathematics and what it means to use it in the sciences. This paper begins by considering the different views on the nature of mathematics,the diversity of which points to the difficulty in understanding what mathematics really is, a difficulty which adds to the mysteriousness of the applicability of mathematics. It is also not clear as to what is applied when we apply mathematics. What is clear however is that mathematics cannot be applied to the world but only to some descriptions of the world. This description occurs through the medium of language and models, thus leading us to consider the role of mathematics as language. The use of a language like English to describe the world is itself unreasonably effective and the puzzle with mathematics is just one reflection of this larger mystery of the relation between language and the world. The concluding parts of this paper argue how the view of mathematics as language can help us understand the mechanisms for its effective applicability.
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