Thursday, September 15, 2016

Metaphysics at Scientific American

Filed under: General,Geometry — Tags: — m759 @ 9:36 PM

In 2011 Scientific American  magazine ran
the following promotional piece for one of their articles —

"Why 5, 8 and 24 Are the Strangest Numbers 
in the Universe
," by Michael Moyer, "the editor
in charge of physics and space coverage."

This is notably bad metaphysics. Numbers are, of course,
not  "in  the universe" — the universe, that is, of physics.

A passage from G. H. Hardy's Mathematician's Apology 
is relevant:

The contrast between pure and applied mathematics
stands out most clearly, perhaps, in geometry.
There is the science of pure geometry, in which there
are many geometries, projective geometry, Euclidean
geometry, non-Euclidean geometry, and so forth. Each
of these geometries is a model , a pattern of ideas, and
is to be judged by the interest and beauty of its particular
pattern. It is a map  or picture , the joint product of many
hands, a partial and imperfect copy (yet exact so far as
it extends) of a section of mathematical reality. But the
point which is important to us now is this, that there is
one thing at any rate of which pure geometries are not
pictures, and that is the spatio-temporal reality of the
physical world. It is obvious, surely, that they cannot be,
since earthquakes and eclipses are not mathematical

By an abuse of language such as Burkard Polster's
quoted in the previous post, numbers may be said to be
in  the various "universes" of pure mathematics.

The Scientific American  article above is dated May 4, 2011.
See also Thomas Mann on metaphysics in this  journal
on that date.

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