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Friday, May 13, 2005

Math: What if beauty and truth conflict?

Math prof Marcus du Sautoy emphasizes the importance of beautify in math concepts, and it is fair to say that it is also important in sciencec oncempts. He writes,

But in Einstein's view, the ultimate test for an equation was an aesthetic one. The highest praise for a good theory was not that it was correct or that it was exact, simply that it should be beautiful. Dirac concurred with Einstein's view. When asked in a seminar in Moscow to summarise his philosophy of physics, he wrote on the blackboard in capital letters: "Physical laws should have mathematical beauty."

This raises an interesting question: Lots of people love the idea that natural selection produces mind from mud precisely because it is so elegant and simple. They are, therefore, desperately unwilling to learn that it might not be true. Question: Is this somewhat like a guy who doesn't want to hear that the beautiful girl he's in love with from a distance is actually mentally retarded and couldn't possibly see him without her guardian's approval, and anyway, she will sound like his kid sister (8 yrs old)? And always will. Like, we all know that you can't TALK to the guy about it (he would smack you a good one); you can only wait for him to find these facts out for himself. I sometimes think that the current science establishment is like that hwere Darwinism is concerned.)

Incidentally, du Sautoy goes on to note,

The power of prediction is also a key part of the best scientific equations. Those scientists who first understood the equations for the motions of the heavenly bodies wielded great power. The Spanish invaders in South America were able to use their prediction of a solar eclipse to defeat the indigenous armies who were terrified by the power of their formulas.

The famous British physicist Paul Dirac came up with an equation to predict the behaviour of electrons. His equation, now inscribed on his memorial in Westminster Abbey, won him a Nobel prize. But as well as describing the behaviour of an electron, it also seemed to predict the existence of a new sort of particle called anti-matter. This strange substance would annihilate the matter that surrounds us to produce pure energy. Sounds like science fiction - indeed, the starship Enterprise is fuelled on the stuff. Yet despite early scepticism by scientists, anti-matter was in fact identified as a reality in 1932.

I wonder if anyone can come up with an equation for either Darwinism or intelligent design that actually makes predicts. Find out more about my book, go to By Design or by Chance?

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