Mark P. Line mark at polymathix.com
Mon Jun 6 16:01:58 UTC 2005

Noel Rude said:
> Also I suggest we not forget that mathematical realism is the very
> foundation of physics.

Some philosophers of science would agree with you, and some (particularly
Bas van Fraassen) would disagree with you. I think most working physicists
would be too busy to care one way or the other, but would tend towards
some kind of vague notion of realism.

In any event, it's not uncontroversial to state that mathematical realism
is the very foundation of physics: what the foundation of physics is
remains a subject of debate (long predating postmodernism), and of course
it won't be resolved here.

> Biology is by nature more an empirical investigation, a cataloguing from
> observation and dissection and the electron microscope, and therefore
> biologists may find it hard to understand the role of mathematics in
> physics.

If I thought that physics enjoyed mathematical purity and Cartesian
vacuity in a way that biology does not, I'd say that physics was seriously
on the wrong track.

> Wild notions of cognitive adaptation and metaphoric extension do not
> subtract from the fact that the contingent laws of nature are written in
> the necessary language of mathematics.

This presupposes that there are laws of nature, contingent or otherwise.
That's another subject of debate (also long predating postmodernism) that
won't be resolved here.

> When you find physicists studying other possible worlds with a
> differently evolved multicultural math, then you will know that they have
> acceded to this rejection of mathematical realism and that postmodernism
> has finally penetrated their domain.

I don't think the question is between mathematical realism and
postmodernism. It's between realism and non-realism. The conduct and
progress of science do not necessitate any realist postulates, so it's
more rational to take a non-realist position rather than postulating
wildly about how Ultimate Truth Hath Been Calculated.

(And before anybody asks: I can't state or explain the non-realist
position any better than van Fraassen, so I'd rather defer to his writings
than engage in a mostly off-topic discussion here. I should just note that
nobody would be tempted to consider van Fraassen a postmodernist, or not a

-- Mark

Mark P. Line
San Antonio, TX

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