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It´s often heard among physicists: math is the universal language of Nature. But like all languages, mathematics is made by men, and made universal by man (like English is becoming the universal language). The net of mathematics is cast over Nature to catch it. But don´t the countless unconscious experiments we´ve made since our youth come first, after which math tries to impose order in all the experiments? Is the thought that the universal language of Nature is math not just a dogma? I never heard differential equations talking to me while walking in the forest.

  • Can you make clearer what the question is that you have for us that is objectively answerable about philosophy? I'm seeing a lot of kind of interesting thoughts, but I'm not grasping what the objective SE-answerable question is here. – virmaior Jun 7 '16 at 6:57
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    @virmaior I vote for reopen because the question is clearly expressed in the title as well as in the second last sentence of the OP. In addition, I consider it an important question. I am curious about the different answers. – Jo Wehler Jun 7 '16 at 7:21
  • Is the language of mathematics in all cases the language spoken by Nature? More objective I can´t pu it. And what if there is no objective answer? What´s the big deal about objectivity? It tells the Truth? My sister can tell the truth in reply to my answer where she has been the last days and if she enjoyed the things she did. But that´s another kind of truth. – descheleschilder Jun 7 '16 at 7:22
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    @virmaior: The question clearly is, as pointed out by Jo, wether mathematics really is something that is expressed by nature (i.e. an inherent feature of nature that occurs to us) or rather something we use/make up to describe nature. Therefore, the answer according to constructivism, neo-kantianism and analytic philosophy is rather clear and objective as I take it. Also, strongly related: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/32676/… – Philip Klöcking Jun 7 '16 at 13:42
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    Nature doesn't speak for herself. We speak for her, and sometimes use the language of mathematics. We are nature's voice. – Dave Jun 7 '16 at 21:14
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The question of the OP resembles the following quote from Chapter 6 of Galilei, Galileo: Il Saggiatore:

Philosophy [i.e. physics] is written in this grand book — I mean the universe — which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering around in a dark labyrinth.

Apparently the quote is a metaphor. It serves to establish science as the necessary means to understand and to explain nature. Besides the book of the Bible we need a second book.

Galilei emphasizes the insight of himself and his forerunners about mathematical physics and mathematical astronomy. Not only are both possible, but in addition mathematics is a powerful tool.

But even today, the question remains open: Why?

E.g., see What philosophies does Wigner's "Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics" threaten?

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    Man calculates, nature does not calculate when following the laws of nature. Why do both get the same result? It seems that you consider this coincidence to be expected, why? – Jo Wehler Jun 8 '16 at 8:11
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    Nature doesn´t calculate. The processes in Nature just happen. And only in our labs we get exact results. Mostly though there are just approximations. – descheleschilder Jun 8 '16 at 10:32
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    I mean, how could it be otherwise. The dynamics of Nature, expressed in mathematics, is óur vision on this dynamic. Nature itself doesn´t talk math, it´s wé who do. And it´s us who made it so.called universal. You think a Hopi thinks in mathematical language? – descheleschilder Jun 8 '16 at 10:46
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    A language is used between people to express their thoughts, ideas, mental creations (like math), etc. – descheleschilder Jun 8 '16 at 10:47
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    My opinion: math doesn´t make me understand the world, but your words make me understand you. – descheleschilder Jun 8 '16 at 20:57
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I agree that

the countless unconscious experiments we´ve made since our youth come first, after which math tries to impose order in all the experiments

but I disagree that it follows that

the thought that the universal language of Nature is math [is] just a dogma

If you have never heard differential equations talking to you while walking in the forest, it’s because you aren’t trying to analyse the forest on your walk and so you don’t need to hear anything mathematical. We can all contemplate and appreciate Nature, how beautiful it is, and while we do so we don’t need maths or anything technical. It is when we wish to study Nature, when we want to understand why a particular aspect of Nature behaves as it does, that we need some technical language – and maths is the language that has been developed throughout history for this purpose.

Understanding Nature through mathematics in no way takes away our appreciation of Nature; on the contrary it compliments and enhances our love and respect for it. If we tried to analyse Nature without maths (as primitive humans did) it would be all too easy to slip into superstitions and false beliefs.

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    I understand. But it looks trivial to me if we see all those nice patterns in Nature that if we cast the net of math over it, these patterns show up in math.But that doesn´t mean Nature is talking math. That´s óur superstition. – descheleschilder Jun 8 '16 at 7:15
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Patterns and symmetry are abound in Nature, but a sense of numerals isn't inherent. The numerals are a construct, a human method of expressing those patterns and to create grouping. The universality of math as "the language of nature" has more to do with a need to quantify nature to create models for deeper understand. These numbers are representations of repeated experiences, not necessarily inherent qualities of a specific item or of Nature as a whole.

A good example of this is the calendar. There are many different calendars throughout human history. Our current gregorian calendar was even modified to include two extra months in recognition of Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar (July and August respectively). This is why September, October, November and December (each representing a numeral - 7, 8, 9, 10 - are actually the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th months). Additionally every 4 year we have a leap year, because the orbit of the earth around the sun actually takes approximately 365 1/4 days.

Both of these examples help to demonstrate how we use number to create representations of natural events. But those events, while perhaps regular and relatively dependable, do not necessarily perfectly align numerically. Variation is seen all throughout Nature.

@descheleschilder: Of course, I agree that variation is seen throughout Nature. But let´s go back to the question: Is math a language , and if so, does Nature speak this language?

I'm not familiar with any contemporary treatment of "Nature" as single conscious entity, so I'm unsure in what context you are using "speak". Nature is a construct, and an amalgamation of many things. It does not speak. Math is a language in that there is syntax, as well as many defined terms and symbols. But it does not have grammar, and the use of variables is used to replace a set of linguistic expressions, which, in a purely mathematical environment, would not express themselves as anything but an undefined variable.

@descheleschilder: Language is used by people to let each other know what they think or feel (also animals have languages). [It's not universal, in that everyone would know it, and this is not the case.]

This is true. However, the most fundamental mathematical terms are defined a priori.

i.e. "1" can be represented multiple ways, but it is always the same rudimentary concept. Whether shown by...

  • Roman Numeral: "I"

  • Hebrew: "Aleph"

  • Hindo-Arabic: "1"

  • Putting 1 apple in the basket

  • Tapping once on a table

The basic premise of "1" is understood, and transcends specific semiotics. If you can differentiate one thing from another to any degree, then you can grasp the basic premise of numerals, and therefore mathematics.

  • The most universal calendar is based on the Planck length and Planck time. Every being in the universe agrees on their length and duration. They are universal pieces of time and length, but not very well adapted to the human measure. – descheleschilder Jun 8 '16 at 16:54
  • Of course, I agree that variation is seen throughout Nature. But let´s go back to the question: Is math a language , and if so, does Nature speak this language? – descheleschilder Jun 8 '16 at 17:02
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    Language is used by people to let each other know what they think or feel (also animals have languages). It´s not universal because in that case everyone should have learned it what is obviously not the case. Nature (elementary particles, stars, planets, flora and fauna, (most) people) don´t speak this language. – descheleschilder Jun 9 '16 at 20:09
  • Math is a language in that there is syntax, as well as many defined terms and symbols. But it does not have grammar, and the use of variables is used to replace a set of linguistic expressions, which, in a purely mathematical environment, would not express themselves as anything but an undefined variable. That´s a very interesting thought (which you couldn´t explain to me in the language of mathematics)! – descheleschilder Jun 9 '16 at 20:18
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    @descheleschilder Yes, the idea of "forms" and "aesthetics" is an interesting historical concept. As is the personification and deification of inanimate objects. But I still am unclear of a contemporary use of "Nature" in that way, other than perhaps religiously grounded. – PV22 Jun 9 '16 at 20:54
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Back in the early days of Greek Philosohpy, the pitagorism postulated that reality/nature had its core in numbers. The development of beings owe all its possible harmony to the underlying harmony of numeric relations, which determined the relations between beings. Platonism had its part of debt with this theory, and you could recognize it in the notion of an eidetic world (that all we can see is but mere appearance, an imperfect representation of the perfect idea behind that particular thing).

More recently speaking, positivism trust in science as a robust and faithful source - and actually, the only one - of truth. Reality could get naked in the hands of a thoroughly carried exam under the scientific method. Having said that, the notion of truth has been examined a lot of times in our epoch (I'm thinking Hegel's vision of the science as a dialectic philosophic knowledge in which the scientific science of our time would be just a step towards the true Science of the Spirit (all this in the Phenomenology of the Spirit), in Delleuze's The Logic of Sense, Wittgenstein's works after the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Heidegger's critique of the 'techno-centrism' developed after the industrial revolution, allowed in part by the scientific vision of nature, that reduces it above all to a measurable thing (he used to quote Planck's ,

statment that 'Real is what allows itself to be measured', etc.).I'm talking a lot about science here, and you asked about maths. A thought discipline becomes science when it can be expressed in equations. For have in serious consideration the theories/discoveries of Science, you have to first embrace it's basal concepts (in Physics, e.g., you have to accept that phenomenona are physicals, and their interactions, because of being within a space, can be measured and understood). And that vision of the world is pretty useful, but never the only one. The problem, many times, is that science still gets the unappealable status of truth, as something objective. And there you have, in our daily life, we say 'objective' as if it were something true by itself, because of being independent of the subject. Reminissence of positivism anyone?

EDIT: Wow, I really suck at posting comments or my last one got edited. The continuation of the original it's quoted. @descheleschilder, I haven't read Paul Feyerabend, I'm gonna give it a try! I do have read Baudrillard though, and The Perfect Crime, now that we are talking about the real, the rational and science; pretty f' awesome.

  • Reality naked under the influence of science? It gets merely covered by it! – descheleschilder Jun 8 '16 at 7:47
  • I think you already read his works, but try to read patiently and concentration, the works of Paul Feyerabend (Against Method, Science In a Free Society, Farewell to Reason, Conquest of Abundance, The Tyranny of Science, Killing time (biography). Very enlightening! – descheleschilder Jun 8 '16 at 10:58
  • He´s considered an outsider, a clown, of course because he criticises science. But he tells us science is as good a culture as any other culture, but that it´s gaining way to much power. Anything goes is thought to be his new scientific method. But it´s a bóut method, not a new kind. Read it and enjoy!! – descheleschilder Jun 8 '16 at 11:06
  • Of course, science is a human enterprise and the math we developed is a language by which we can understand each other. It´s not universal unless every intelligent being in the universe developed it and learned it in the same way. – descheleschilder Jun 9 '16 at 16:32
  • Nature is a construct, and an amalgamation of many things. It does not speak. Math is a language in that there is syntax, as well as many defined terms and symbols. But it does not have grammar, and the use of variables is used to replace a set of linguistic expressions, which, in a purely mathematical environment, would not express themselves as anything but an undefined variable. Interesting!!! – descheleschilder Jun 9 '16 at 20:27

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