Nature is not inherently mathematical anymore than mushrooms are inherently psychedelic

(An ignorant rant on the nature of mathematics, and the mathematics of nature)

When we look at a plant (or fungus) and it happens to produce a chemical that happens to bind to a receptor in our brain that happens to produce a psychedelic effect, we don't conclude that there is an inherent psychedlicness to plants. We just view this as an coincidence of the fact that our brains, the brains of others, and the plant emerged in the same world.

We also realize that this relationship can be confusingly bidirectional. A chocolate cake is not inherently sweet. There is no inherent sweetness property. If we want to study sweetness we need to look at our brains, not at chocolate cake. Actually, we need to look at the interaction of our brain and thing 'like' the chocolate cake.

If we continue this thread, and ask: why do we like cake? Is it because the cake is sweet? Or is the cake sweet because we like it? An evolutionary biologists would need to operationalize these terms, and try to give a story of how high fat, high glucose foods made survival more likely and thus our ancestors that had a stronger preference for those foods over something less nutritious were able to reproduce with slightly higher probability than our less glucose predisposed great-aunts. Now the explanation seems very confusing: we need to look at the cake, our brain, our history, and the system in which we were embedded.

What of mathematics? Why do mathematical physicists so often conclude that mathematics is inherent in nature? Why is mathematics not an accident of our faculties of understanding having emerged in the same system as the things we wish to understand?

For me, mathematics is The Mind. It captures and studies that which is understandable. When I study mathematics, I am not exploring some Platonic ideal from which I am separate. As I study mathematics, I am exploring myself, the minds of others, and the limits of understanding.

When I am doing science, and I happen to write down an equation that describes some physical process. I am not amazed by the simplicity or beauty of nature. I am amazed by the power and breadth of our faculty of understanding in being able to describe another phenomena. Here's the bidirectional rub, though. If I couldn't understand it, would I study it? Could I study it? In this view, the reason mathematics is so unreasonably effective for describing the physical world is because we can't really look at the parts of the world that she can't describe. At least we can't understand that we are looking at those parts of the world.

Does this stance mean that something like the Large Hadron Collider is just a multi-billion dollar group psychoanalysis section?

/cc +Abel Molina +Sina Salek +Kyler Brown +Yunjun Yang
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