PW Question #8 ~ Mathematics - The Language of Nature

by Michio Kaku

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PW Question #8 ~ Mathematics - The Language of Nature

Unread postby Liz » Mon Mar 02, 2009 1:12 pm

Pg. 217:

Whether we like it or not, if we are to pursue a career in science, eventually we have to learn the “language of nature”: mathematics. Without mathematics, we can only be passive observers to the dance of nature rather than active participants. As Einstein once said, “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of locial ideas.” Let me offer an analogy. One may love French civilization and literature, but to truly understand the French mind, one must learn the French language and how to conjugate French verbs. The same is true of science and mathematics. Galileo once wrote, “[The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to understand a single word.”

I have noticed on a couple of websites I’ve researched this go-around that Nature and mathematics have been synonymous. Have you ever thought of them that way? Do you agree with what Dr. Kaku says here?
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Re: PW Question #8 ~ Mathematics - The Language of Nature

Unread postby Linda Lee » Mon Mar 02, 2009 3:09 pm

I had a math teacher in high school who told us that everything was based on mathematics. It is the basis of all logic and everything can be reduced in its pure form to mathematics. I've never been able to disprove her assertion.

Do I think of nature and mathematics synonymously, no. I know that nature can be expressed in mathematical terms, but it is not the way I think. I tend to look at nature on a more superficial level, I don't necessarily try to understand it as much as enjoy it.

I think we participate in many things that we don't fully understand, so I don't agree with Dr. Kaku on this.
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Re: PW Question #8 ~ Mathematics - The Language of Nature

Unread postby suec » Mon Mar 02, 2009 8:06 pm

I can't say I think of nature and mathematics as being synonymous. Nor do I believe that mathematics is necessary to appreciate it or participate in it. To be honest, I wouldn’t want to approach it in that way. But I do think there is an overlap with scientific study and maths. Achievement in both seems to go hand in hand, as has been demonstrated by some of the people mentioned in the book. Logical-mathematical intelligence lends itself to science very well. Although mathematical language is one I hardly speak, I imagine that it can pretty quickly become essential. It reminds me of my dad trying to teach me how to work out the distance of the sun from Earth using maths. And it also reminds me of a passage in The Da Vinci Code where the lecturer explains how the number PHI recurs in nature, from the ratio of female/male bees to the proportions of the human body. And certainly in the area being explored in this book, the maths is essential.
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Re: PW Question #8 ~ Mathematics - The Language of Nature

Unread postby gemini » Mon Mar 02, 2009 8:39 pm

I do think of math as a language of types. Back to our discussion of the sexism in the field of physics, I think it ties into this question. Men like math and think of it in terms of logic and answers. Men are obsessed with knowing how things work. Women using the other side of their brain think with more feelings and communicate in a different way, letting us appreciate how beautiful something is without understanding its chemical makeup. I am willing to admit that it will take mathematics to resolve the dilemmas of space and nature but its not needed to appreciate and enjoy it so I personally dont equate the two. Since there are exceptions to everything it will probably be some math genus female who comes up with the next grand theory or solves one that exist while her hubby is home admiring the beauty of his latest new car. :grin:
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Re: PW Question #8 ~ Mathematics - The Language of Nature

Unread postby nebraska » Mon Mar 02, 2009 8:43 pm

I am not sure I understand it. If I were to be figuring out the universe using math I would be like the equation on the cartoon Theresa sent where the final answer was "zero." All this math and figuring equations and applying it to the cosmos is beyond what I can comprehend. I guess I don't think of the subject matter of Parallel Worlds as "nature" although I suppose it is. What else would it be? I think of nature as the weather and the wild animals in Africa and the flowers along the Alaskan coast and I really don't want to reduce any of that to factors of phi .........or whatever. I want to enjoy the surface wonder of it all.

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Re: PW Question #8 ~ Mathematics - The Language of Nature

Unread postby Liz » Mon Mar 02, 2009 10:10 pm

I have never actually thought about nature and mathematics as synonymous. I think of nature the way nebraska does.

What I do understand is that a thorough understanding of mathematics is necessary to comprehend science beyond the basics—whether it be physical science or a natural science. In other words, it goes hand in hand, as suec said, for those who want to make it their life’s work.

I think we are all on the same wavelength, as it were. I don’t think that one needs to learn the language of math to be able to appreciate nature. Just because we don’t appreciate it to the level of a physicist doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate it on some level. After all, isn’t that what Dr. Kaku tries to do…..bring the world of astrophysics to those of us who view math as a foreign language?

You all have expressed yourselves quite well, I might add.
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Re: PW Question #8 ~ Mathematics - The Language of Nature

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Mar 03, 2009 7:53 pm

Having been totally absorbed in the world of math for the past several days, working a budget for my job, I can unequivocally say that it does not come naturally to me! :dunce: Like the rest of you I can appreciate the fact that math and nature are intertwined (think of the design of a single snowflake) but I don't need to understand the mathematics of it to appreciate the beauty of a snowflake. I do marvel at the fact two things that seem so different are so closely connected and I admire those that have made it their work to understand it.
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Re: PW Question #8 ~ Mathematics - The Language of Nature

Unread postby Gilbert's Girl » Thu Mar 05, 2009 3:20 am

I'm sure I watched a programme on nature and mathamatics. I can't quite recall what they were talking about though.


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