Pi in the Sky
Big Questions Online, November 30, 2010
Edited by Andy Ross
George V. Coyne and Michael Heller
A Comprehensible Universe: The
Interplay of Science and Theology
Mathematics seems to be a universal language. The natural world is a complex
place, packed with variations and permutations, random events and patterns
so complex they are far from obvious to the eye. And yet, mathematics can
capture much of that intricacy.
Mathematics seems to be discovered,
not created. Discoveries about the physical world often start as discoveries
in mathematics. Physics is about discovering the laws of nature, and those
laws appear to be written in the language of mathematics. Mathematical
predictions must be verified by observation, but that they are verified at
all is the issue. Mathematics looks miraculous.
winner of the 2008 Templeton Prize, said in his book:
In the human brain, the world's structure has reached its focal point: the
structure of the world has acquired the ability to reflect upon itself ...
In this conceptual setting, science appears as a collective effort of the
Human Mind to reach the Mind of God ... The Mind of Man and the Mind of God
are strangely interwoven.
But there is a gap between the kind of deity implied by mathematics and the
deity worshiped by Christians, Jews and Muslims.
Roger Penrose holds
a Platonic view. First, there is the physical world, the natural world that
surrounds us. But there’s also the Platonic world of mathematics. The
Platonic world maps onto the natural world in some way, perhaps via the
imaginative power of human mental activity. We need not assume that the
Platonic and natural world are wrapped up in some kind of divine embrace.
At the level of quantum physics, mathematics is not continuous but
discrete, not smooth but lumpy. This suggests that mathematics is just one
more messy part of the fabric of the universe. If that turns out to be
right, the miracle looks less impressive. Maybe pi is not in the sky after
AR I read Heller's book
when it came out (thanks to my Springer connections) and now I feel the urge
to say a lot about this issue. But I shall need to write a book to do so.