February 8, 2009

The Mystery of Math

The Globe today has a great Q&A with Mario Livio, an astrophysicist whose new book Is God A Mathematician? is selling lots of copies. Less about God than the history of mathematics and its glorious predictive and extrapolative power, Livio examines what it is exactly that makes math so potent: it already exists, and we're just excavating.

Paul Dirac is attributed to the quote "God is a Mathematician," probably drawn from "If there is a God, he used beautiful mathematics when creating the world." Dirac won a Nobel for his work with fermions (which led to the prediction of antimatter) and is considered a founder of quantum mechanics; his Principles of Quantum Mechanics (1930) is still widely read by physics students. Here's a great interview with Dirac from a 1970s CBC documentary called Physics and Beyond (also reprinted in the anthology Glimpsing Reality: Ideas in Physics and the Link to Biology by Paul Buckley and F. David Peat). His theories about dimensionless numbers tie in exactly with Livio: soon enough, the reason for the numbers 137 and ten to the power of 39 will reveal themselves. "Remarkable coincidence" has no place in science!

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