Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 40: Jul-Aug 1985

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











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

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987