Would Math Exist Without Us?

Dec 9 2013 @ 4:46pm

Mathematician Edward Frenkel argues yes:

When Pythagoras discovered his theorem there were, of course, inferences from physical reality, and a lot of mathematics is drawn from our experience in the physical world, but our imagination is limited and a lot of mathematics is actually discovered within the narrative of a hidden mathematical world. If you look at recent discoveries, they have no a priori bearing in physical reality at all. The naive interpretation that mathematics comes from physical reality just doesn’t work.

The other interpretation that mathematics is a product of the human mind also has serious issues, because it seems clear that some of these concepts transcend any specific individual. Take Evariste Galois, who was killed in a duel at the age of 20. He came up with a beautiful theory on symmetry called Galois theory. His contemporaries didn’t get it but this theory now forms the core of modern mathematics. But what if the work had been burned? Would we never have known Galois theory? No. Someone else would have discovered it because it is inevitable.