Bestselling author and astrophysicist Mario Livio examines the lives and theories of history’s greatest mathematicians to ask how—if mathematics is an abstract construction of the human mind—it can so perfectly explain the physical world.
Nobel Laureate Eugene Wigner once wondered about “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in the formulation of the laws of nature. Is God a Mathematician? investigates why mathematics is as powerful as it is. From ancient times to the present, scientists and philosophers have marveled at how such a seemingly abstract discipline could so perfectly explain the natural world. More than that—mathematics has often made predictions, for example, about subatomic particles or cosmic phenomena that were unknown at the time, but later were proven to be true. Is mathematics ultimately invented or discovered? If, as Einstein insisted, mathematics is “a product of human thought that is independent of experience,” how can it so accurately describe and even predict the world around us?
Physicist and author Mario Livio brilliantly explores mathematical ideas from Pythagoras to the present day as he shows us how intriguing questions and ingenious answers have led to ever deeper insights into our world. This fascinating book will interest anyone curious about the human mind, the scientific world, and the relationship between them.
The title of astrophysicist Livio's latest wide-ranging science survey is a teaser since God rarely makes an appearance; along with the French astronomer Laplace, Livio has no need of that "hypothesis." Rather, Livio (The Golden Ratio) is concerned with the contentious question: is mathematics a human invention? Or is it the intricate design of the universe that we are slowly discovering? Scientists in past centuries have argued for the latter, Platonist position. In the last 50 years, however, many scientists, calling into question the whole idea of scientific discovery, maintain that we have invented mathematics. Livio gives as one example the famous golden ratio, which has fascinated Western mathematicians for millennia and was originally emphasized for its mystical symbolism. But Chinese mathematicians, not sharing that outlook, didn't discover it or maybe they just didn't need to invent it. Livio hedges his bets, unsatisfyingly arguing that mathematics is partly discovered and partly invented. But Livio is a smooth writer. His fans will enjoy this book, and new ones may discover him. B&w illus.