The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics
Basic researchers working in pure mathematics often develop fundamental laws, even entire branches of math, without any specific application in mind. Yet, as Mario Livio points out here, many of these posited laws turn out—sometimes centuries later—to perfectly describe the behavior of the real world with remarkable precision. This phenomenon was best articulated in the early 1900s by the Hungarian physicist Eugene Wigner as the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.” And it begs the question: What gives mathematics this power? Cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky provides an interesting, if wry, answer: if it were not the case, there would be no one to notice.
This program is part of The Big Idea Series, made possible with support from the John Templeton Foundation.
Recorded June 2010; Posted September 2010