Sometimes there is a book so full of things to think about that you can not read it quickly and savor it all. I’m in the middle of one of those now. “Is GOD a Mathematician?” by Mario Livio.
A full review will need to wait upon another time. For now, I’m up to page 124.
At first, a bit frustrating. He talks of the problem of math as discovered vs math as created by humanity as though that was the only choice, and a slightly false one. I wanted to speak out loud at the book that the grammar of math is discovered but the vocabulary is invented! (We invent the notation of squares and square roots and calculus, but the properties that underlay that notation are discovered and exist separate from our inventions…)
But after a small time on that sort of minor annoyance, confounding of things that can be analyzed, there is a very nice history of the development of mathematical thought and philosophy. The author starts with the foundations of mathematical thought and works his way forward through the various ages, and notable names. Exploring not only the evolution of mathematics and classical geometry, but also the relation of same to philosophy and reason. Along the way, illuminating the human side of such notables as Archimedes, Pythagoras, Descartes, Newton and more. Excerpts from letters written to friends where we have such, stories from others from time to time.
So far, an excellent read that has caused me to think about the connection of math to philosophy and physics. Something not done much lately. Perhaps something we ought to do a bit more often. And to appreciate the nature of the minds that struggled to endow us with such wonderful tools as we have today.
But what could this possibly have to do with Global Warming?
In a discussion of Newton and his “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” and the works of Descartes, the issue of God is raised again.
The Mathematician God of Newton and Descartes
As were most people of the time, both Newton and Descartes were religious men. The French writer known by the pen name of Voltaire (1694-1778), who wrote extensively about Newton, famously said that “If God did not exist, it would be necessary for us to invent Him.”
For Newton, the world’s very existence and the mathematical regularity of the observed cosmos were evidence for God’s presence.
Further down, after a discussion of the ‘catenary’ problem of a hanging chain or cable (it is not a parabola, but a hyperbolic cosine function. A suspension bridge support is parabolic as the force is uniform with respect to distance.) we come to Laplace.
Just in case you wonder, when Laplace talked about this hypothetical supreme “intelligence,” he did not mean God. Unlike Newton and Descartes, Laplace was not a religious person. When he gave a copy of his Celestial Mechanics to Napoleon Bonaparte, the later, who had heard that there was no reference to God in the work, remarked: “M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this huge book on the system of the universe and have never even mentioned its creator.” Laplace immediately replied: “I did not need to make that hypothesis.” The amused Napoleon told the mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange about this reply, and the latter exclaimed: “Ah! That is a beautiful hypothesis; it explains many things.” But the story doesn’t end there. When he heard about Lagrange’s reaction, Laplace commented dryly: “This hypothesis, Sir, explains in fact everything, but does not permit to predict anything. As a scholar, I must provide you with works permitting predictions.”
So I find myself enjoying the read greatly, lost in a musty world from hundreds of years ago, when I suddenly realize that as the Global Warming crowd invokes their Gaia God and explain all, yet admit of no accurate predictions, they are pretenders to a Newtonian ability, but fail the Laplace razor…
And that is the sort of thing I’m finding in this book. Even if I read a chapter or two then want to spend an hour in the garden while I integrate what it says into my world and self.
A book well worth reading. Perhaps even several times.
I’ll post more on it as I finish it, or have a particular point from some particular insight.
For now, I”m contemplating the AGW Skeptic as Laplace, and liking it.