Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences?

Eugene Wigner, theoretical physicist and mathematician, famously addressed the effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences in a lecture delivered at NYU on May 11, 1959. The Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) recently held their spring 2015 essay contest on the same topic.

According to Wikipedia, there are three main responses to Wigner’s lecture:

Richard Hamming, applied mathematician and a founder of computer science, extended Wigner’s arguments. But finally, he considered them unsatisfactory. They were:

  1. Humans see what they look for.
  2. Humans create and select the mathematics that fit a situation.
  3. Mathematics addresses only part of the human experience.
  4. Evolution has primed humans to think mathematically.

Max Tegmark, physicist and Scientific Director of FQXi, suggests Our external physical reality is a mathematical structure, which posits we are living in Platonic reality.

Ivor Grattan-Guinness, historian of mathematics and logic, found mathematics’ effectiveness explainable in terms of analogy, generalization, and metaphor.

The same Wikipedia article offers quotes from famous scientists on the subject. Many more responses can be found on the FQXi site. They are complicated and some are bewildering.

In all these musings, no one even contemplates the possibility that humans can describe the world mathematically because both mathematics and the world were created by the man, Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul declares:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20 English Standard Version (ESV)

This truth holds for Astronomy through Zoology and all the sciences that derive from them. Yet no one considers Him:

For thus says the Lord,

who created the heavens

    (he is God!),

who formed the earth and made it

    (he established it;

he did not create it empty,

    he formed it to be inhabited!):

“I am the Lord, and there is no other.”

Isaiah 45:18 (ESV)

Take into account, however, that these scientists have been given gifts by virtue of bearing God’s image as His creations. They’re just like any of us. Ask the Lord that these men’s and women’s eyes be opened and that they’d be saved.

Lightning

Lightning, NOAA, in the Public Domain

Time

Does time seem illusory? You remember some past event as if it were yesterday. Truth be told, it could well have been. What measure would you give? We commonly give dates and durations. But what are those, really? Miles don’t make sense unless you’re a physicist, which I am. But it still doesn’t make sense to the heart.

It’s almost as if the remembered event exists somewhere still. The people are there (perhaps a loved one?), the sun filters down, the grass stirs and the emotions are real and felt again. Perhaps the experience is best forgotten, hardly remembered or desperately clung to. It sure feels like “then” is “there”. But you can’t change it. Frozen in time they say.

We don’t remember the future. That leaves you with now. Now you can change. Now you can live, move and have your being. And rest assured, now will still be there afterward as our then for good or ill.