Mathematics is the language of nature
Submitted by SunnySingh on Wed, 2006-02-15 03:44
I should preface this post with some warnings. First and foremost, it’ll probably be rather verbose. Second, I anticipate catching much flak for this; I have discussed these opinions with many others in the past and have always received strange looks. Finally, it's 2:30 am and though this is all clear in my head, it may come out as pure incoherent blabber. Last night I watched the movie Pi for probably the 108th time. Yeah, I know it’s just a Hollywood movie sprinkled with inaccuracies…but my love for math, physics, and computer science was born when I saw this movie. It opened up my mind to ideas I would never have fathomed in my wildest dreams. There are redeeming qualities in this movie-—many of which are related to our study of emergence. For those who have not seen it, I highly recommend doing so. Keep in mind that it IS a movie and not completely factual. Anyway, I’d like to post and comment on some of the more illuminating quotes/scenes which pertain to emergence. Before I delve into the quotes, here’s a brief synopsis for those of you not interested in seeing the movie: “Maximilian Cohen is on the verge of the most important discovery of his life. For the past ten years, he has been attempting to decode the numerical pattern between the ultimate system of ordered chaos—the stock market…” You can read more about it here. Max: “12:45, restate my assumptions: 1. Mathematics is the language of nature. 2. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers. 3. If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge. Therefore, there are patterns everywhere in nature. Evidence: the cycling of disease epidemics, the wax and wane of caribou populations, sunspot cycles, the rise and fall of the Nile. So what about the stock market? A universe of numbers that represents the global economy. Millions of human hands at work, billions of minds—a vast network, screaming with life. An organism. A natural organism. My hypothesis: within the stock market there is a pattern as well…right in front of me. Hiding behind the numbers…Always has been.” It was this quote that first slapped me across the face and made me consider the possibility that there is much more to mathematics than just long division and counting how many apples I have left after I eat two of them. We see that mathematics is everywhere around us. Mathematics is the conductor in the musical that we call reality. Everything we see and understand is governed by mathematics and physics—well, I should just say mathematics since the language used for physics IS mathematics. Some may say that mathematics is the product of man over thousands of years. I agree with this only to an extent. I agree that our current interpretation and understanding of mathematics was created by man—namely, the alphanumeric system and logical reasoning that we now utilize to understand our world. However, much like Pythagoras, I believe that the universe is made of numbers. When I say ‘numbers’ I don’t necessarily mean the conventional alphanumeric system that initially comes to mind—because, as I have claimed, this was created by man. I believe that even without our current foundations of mathematics/mathematical thought, there would be some ‘underlying math’ governing the universe. I can see where some may find this claim to be outrageous since, in a philosophical sense, how could something exist when it transcends us to such a degree that we cannot even contemplate it? (I don’t know how to articulate that coherently…my apologies). The degree to which we can understand our universe, in my opinion, is directly proportional to the overall understanding of math that mankind currently has under its belt. What I’m trying to get at is this: how do we know that our understanding is complete? How do we know that there isn’t more math out there that we haven’t discovered? What if that math transcends human thought? This leads me to the bane of my existence: the idea of ‘randomness’. The word random is thrown around so flagrantly in many circles. I could write an algorithm to spit out numbers, conceal the code and show someone just the output. Some may say that they are seeing a random number generator. Yet, there is an underlying order to it—namely, the algorithm producing it. I am not convinced that there is such a thing as randomness. I’m beating a dead horse with this, but I still hold onto the belief that if we perceive something as ‘random’, it is in fact orderly…however, we (mankind, not our class) are just not intellectually mature enough to see what’s truly going on. Should we define ‘randomness’ as something that may have order, but is beyond human thought? I don’t know. These thoughts are exemplified in Pi. For example, Max talks about his mentor, Sol, who spent his life searching for a pattern in pi: Max: “Sol died a little when he stopped research on pi. I wasn’t just a stroke. He stopped caring. How could he stop when he was so close to seeing pi for what it really is? How could you stop believing that there is a pattern, an ordered shape behind those numbers when you are so close? We see the simplicity of the circle, we see the maddening complexity of the endless string of numbers: 3.14 of into infinity…” I don’t know of any true research into patterns in the distribution of the digits of pi, but I would be highly interested in learning more about it. Regardless, the question Max poses here is what we’ve been asking ourselves in emergence. How can something seemingly so simple be complex? How can it NOT have an order behind it? I’d like to argue that there is order, but I don’t have any proof. Maybe it could be that my understanding of ‘randomness’ is primitive—which would render this blog both embarrassing and moot/flawed. I’d like to think that these thoughts are insightful and are not a product of a limited understanding. Sol argues with Max about how the universe does not take on order and that it is actually chaotic. Max replies with some interesting insight before they both completely snap: Sol: “The ancient Japanese considered the Go board to be a microcosm of the universe. Although when it is empty it appears to be simple and ordered, the possibilities of gameplay are endless. They say no two Go games have ever been alike. Just like snowflakes. So, the Go board actually represents an extremely complex and chaotic universe. And that is the truth of our world, Max. It can’t be easily summed up with math. There is NO simple pattern.” Max: “But as the Go game progresses, the possibilities become smaller and smaller…The board DOES take on order. So then ALL the moves are predictable.” Sol: “So? So?” Max: “So maybe, even though we’re not sophisticated enough to be aware of it, there IS a pattern—an order…underlying every Go game. Maybe that pattern is like the pattern I the stock market…the Torah…” Sol: “This is insanity, Max!” Max: “Or maybe it’s genius!” Until I’m truly convinced, which I doubt will ever happen, I will always side with Max on this. Am I insane? Am I putting too much faith in this movie? Have I been sucked into the romantic and quixotic ideas it conveys? Does this make all of my arguments biased and clouded? Moreover, I don't know if it's necessarily a good or bad thing that I dissected the movie in such detail...Anyway, I’m sure I’ll smack my forehead out of embarrassment when I fully recover from my stupor in the morning. Every time I watch this movie, I pick up on something new that has real-word manifestations. It makes sense in my head, and I felt compelled to share these thoughts with the class. Hopefully what I said is illuminating and not pure drivel. There is much, much more I want to say...but I really NEED sleep. Let the discussion begin!