I am just starting to read Cliff Pickover’s “The Loom of God” and it jogged my rapidly fading memory of my Professorial Inaugural lecture. Below I reproduce the last few minutes of the 2005 Inaugural lecture I presented at the University of Southampton.
“It really is very strange that mathematics should describe our physical world so well. There is after all no good reason why certain mathematical functions should so precisely describe what goes on in our physical world, unless there is of course some hidden link between these two sciences. In fact some people find this link is so peculiar that they have written papers on the subject, as Eugene Wigner first did with “The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the physical sciences”.
Einstein is said to have remarked, “The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible.” And I think this guy knew what he was talking about.
To quote Eugene Wigner:
“The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.”
Is this one of those cases where one introduces complexity when it isn’t really there, or is there something deep and meaningful here? Why should mathematics be able to describe physical events so well? As any Mathematician will tell you, the maths is already “out there” it has an existence of its own independent of us, all we do is occasionally turn over a new stone and find a new piece of maths that had always “been in existence” independent of us. Likewise with our physical measurements and experiments, the results of these experiments has always “been out there” we just came along at this particular point in time to uncover some of them.
If you were to apply Occam’s Razor to this problem, where Occam’s Razor states that the simplest most logical answer is usually the right one – you might be led to conclude – as some people firmly believe, that the reason mathematics so “unreasonably” describes the “real” world we live in is because we really are “living” inside a computer simulation – the Matrix had it right all along!
Thank you for listening, have a good evening, and let’s hope the program doesn’t decide to crash tonight!”