You are here

Trick or Truth? The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics

Anthony Aguirre, Brendan Foster, and Zeeya Merali, editors
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
The Frontiers Collection
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
, on

Arguably the most significant point of discussion in the philosophy of science is how well mathematics can be used to describe the physical laws that govern the universe. New mathematics is “created” and at that point is a theoretical curiosity or was used as a tool to solve an otherwise difficult problem. Complex numbers are a prime example. Yet, over time, that new mathematics is used as an essential tool in describing fundamental physics.

In 2015, The Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) organized an essay contest open to everyone with the same title as the book. The entries were rigorously judged and this book is a collection of the best entries. Although there is some occasional advanced mathematics and equations, for the most part the content is accessible to the general, albeit knowledgeable, reader. These essays are very well written.

The result is a great book in the philosophy of science, the relationship between the human brain and its ability to abstract to the way the universe runs as a consequence of the values of the fundamental constants of physics. Down through time, the mathematics sometimes appears first, then the physics that it explains and at other times empirical physical data is collected and then the mathematics is “created” to explain it in the form of equations.

Some of the greatest scientists spoke about the puzzling relationship between mathematics and physics. This book is a worthy continuation of those musings. 

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, and teaching college classes. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.

See the table of contents in the publisher's webpage.