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Saturday, February 19, 2005

D to the 4th

The Dsquared DeLong Debate

Brad DeLong writes "For those who have difficulty learning to speak the language that is mathematics like a native, how to teach them science in a world where it is a fact that the underlying bones of reality are profoundly mathematical--for that is the conclusion Eugen Wigner's "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences" leads us to? Call this the "Friends of Wigner" problem."

"Dsquared" comments "Ach. Mathematics isn't a language and provides you with surprisingly little insight into anything other than mathematics. Once someone can divide up a restaurant bill, diminishing returns has set in with a vengeance;"

I wonder if "Dsquared" is Daniel Davies. Doesn't matter. I think Dsquared missed the key phrase "*Natural* Sciences." The fact that Brad is an economist and the examples chosen by Dsquared seem to suggest that Dsquared is thinking of attempts to use mathematics in *Social* sciences, especially in economics. Stipulate that mathematics has only been a distraction for economists. This tells nothing to someone who wants to teach physics, chemistry, astrophysics, meteorology, population biology or ecology. Try to explain physics without using mathematics (Blogger *does* allow comments). Sometimes mathematics is show and obfuscation. Sometimes it is a necessary tool. That something has been misused does not mean it is useless. A hammer and chisel was used to deface Michelangelo's Pieta, but, on the whole chisels have made a useful contribution to sculpture.

Note I didn't mention cellular and molecular biology. If you glance at Science and Nature you will notice that these fields of natural science have taken over most of it (for a simple economic reasons which can be explained with 3 letters and a word NIH grants). Many people can not grasp how little math is involved. Let me just say Michelangelo used more.


David Weman said...


David Weman said...

Ah, yes it does. I vaguely recall your coments not working before.