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No. 40: Jul-Aug 1985

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Fruitfulness of math not an intimation of a transcendent mind!

W.G. Pollard's article "Rumors of Transcendence in Physics," (SF#37) produced an interesting response in the American Journal of Physics by Jan Portnow. Portnow worries about Pollard's assertion that the "remarkable" tendency of mathematics to mirror physical reality betokens the existence of something beyond our ken: i.e., transcendence. He puts it this way:

"All we can ever know about the world is what our mind lets us know -- our perception and awareness of external reality are limited by our mind. We can never know more than the mind can assimilate and process, nor can we discuss any aspect of the world for which there is no language. The fact that our mathematical laws of nature explain the world is no miracle -- it can't be otherwise. The laws of nature describe the world we know and that world is a reflection of our thinking and our language -- of our mind."

He goes on to maintain that the fruitfulness of math for physics hints more at the limitations of the human mind than the existence of a transcendent mind!

(Portnow, Jay; "Letter to the Editor," American Journal of Physics, 53:299, 1985.)

Comment. Apparently we'll be forever boxed in by the limitations of mathematics -- to say nothing of computer programs.

From Science Frontiers #40, JUL-AUG 1985. 1985-2000 William R. Corliss