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Discussion > Is Maths the 'Be All and End All' of Science?

The title of this thread comes from my attempt to join BYJ's thread about a Repository of Sceptical Science. I suggested that Science does not require mathematics and that maths is a tool to help develop and explain Science.
What do you think?

From the thread:
You asked for a repository of sceptical scientific knowledge, if one were to be set up are you saying paleo does not count? We have previous here of course because you think that maths is the be all and end all of science.

It's not that I think maths is the be-all-and-end-all of science, it happens to be a fact. There is no science without mathematics. Science is the mathematical modelling of the real world. I'd be interested in your ideas of science which does not involve mathematics.

I have given no opinion on whether paleo would or would not be in such a repository, so the accusatory tone of your post is misplaced (and frankly bonkers, but what else would I expect)

Mar 3, 2016 at 2:09 PM | Registered CommenterDung

I was listening to something on the BBC a few months ago which was saying something similar to your title, I'll try and find it again.

Mar 3, 2016 at 7:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Dung: I read your comments, and they got me thinking at that time, too. I am afraid that I have to side with TheBigYinJames, himself (which gives me more reasons to hate him, of course – why can he not be wrong, once in a while?). My initial response was that you were right – science is the objective observation of events and phenomena. But then I got thinking some more – it isn’t just the observation; observations generally involve measurements. Measurements involves mathematics; these measurements help to derive an explanation; without an explanation, it really is not science, and the explanation of most things in science is best achieved through the simple, unambiguous, global language of mathematics: e=mc^2.

This question has caused a whole array of concepts and ideas to swirl around the void between my ears, and it is proving difficult to pin them down to a few pithy phrases that will make others nod sagely, and agree with. As with so many other things you take for granted in this world, when you decide to actually define them, you find that that is a very hard task, indeed.

Mar 3, 2016 at 7:45 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Mar 3, 2016 at 7:45 PM | Registered Commenter Radical Rodent

Thanks Penrose hehe well actually I am glad that you agree with BYJ because discussing it with you will be much less painful than discussing it with the man himself. For me the most important part of the process is the idea/vision/realisation where somebody asks the questions why and/or how? Once those questions are asked then mathematics is a huge part of answering it however without a question there is no maths :)
I tried to raise the issue of early artefacts such as the wheel which were conceived and produced without maths. I would imagine trial and error was the method and who knows maybe trial and error caused maths to be developed hehe.
Then of course came the chicken and egg question; Oxford English says that technology is the application of science and BYJ says the wheel was technology and also that the Oxford English is wrong.

Mar 3, 2016 at 8:16 PM | Registered CommenterDung


Considering how much we all distrust the BBC it is amazing how much time we spend watching it or listening to it>

Mar 3, 2016 at 8:18 PM | Registered CommenterDung

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind;

[PLA, vol. 1, "Electrical Units of Measurement", 1883-05-03]

William Thompson, Lord Kelvin

Mar 3, 2016 at 9:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

When do you think the wheel was invented EM?

Mar 3, 2016 at 10:26 PM | Registered CommenterDung


Mar 3, 2016 at 11:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

I read that the wheel was unknown in South America until the Spaniards arrived.

Mar 3, 2016 at 11:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

EM and Martin A

That links to a point that Media whore made that it is quite possible that the wheel was invented/discovered many times but that the communities within which this happened died out before the knowledge was spread.
However I apologise to both of you for asking the question because it does not change the point I wanted to make.
EM I think the quote you gave was a good one but when there was no maths it was obviously not relevant.
My point is that the wheel will have been invented by people who had no maths and no way of recording their work.
Variations of the wheel such as gears, turbines and bearings are still part of modern technology and part of Science but they predate Science and maths.

Mar 4, 2016 at 12:02 AM | Registered CommenterDung

It is not nice to see someone make a fool of himself. Please desist.

Mar 4, 2016 at 12:26 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

I'm not sure what you mean by the "Be All and End All". If it is that all science is mathematical, or that without maths there is no science, that seems false. Taxonomy is undeniably science but has little connection with maths beyond perhaps counting. I'm sure the same is true of many fields of biological science.

Mar 4, 2016 at 2:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Mar 4, 2016 at 12:26 AM | Unregistered Commenter diogenes

I do not understand why you think that explaining my beliefs equates to making a fool of myself, my beliefs are based on facts so please help me out diogenes?
If my beliefs are foolish then so be it but I am not ashamed of being honest. I do say that I made a mistake though, I meant to say that the wheel predates maths not gears and turbines which obviously do not.

I am simply disagreeing with BYJ who states that there is no Science without maths.

Mar 4, 2016 at 4:15 AM | Registered CommenterDung

No Science without Maths? Absolutely not. Not sure why, and to whom, the word "fool" is mentioned here.

Science is principally about ideas and communicating them. Ideas are not defined my maths. Einstein cycling wasn't going through partial differential equations.

When I sit in the car with the boys and they ask me questions and we discuss science, no maths is involved.

Maths is a language, a communication language.

Of course, the more your idea can be communicated the more people will believe it. Maths is a mature, widely understood language.

Maths is no different than musical notation. Music does not need musical notation, it helps with the understanding, it helps with so many things. But the 80 year folk musician who knows 1000's of pieces but has never read music is just as valid as the conductor of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra.

Maths is just a language. A tool. And maths is not a science, ask any pure mathematician, it just is what it is.

Science can be communicated in many ways, many "languages".

Mar 4, 2016 at 8:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterMedia Hoar

Identifyng the origin of mathematics is uncertain. There are tally sticks 30,000 years old.

The Egyptians were surveying land ( maesuring land, geo-metry!) In 4000BC and they learned it from the Babylonians.

Mar 4, 2016 at 8:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Is taxonomy a science?

No, it's not.

Mar 4, 2016 at 8:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

So here we go another one of my ways of explaining things... I knew you all couldn't wait.

Science like soap bubbles. So let me call them Science Bubbles.

"Oh no he is off again..."

Bear with me. Or not. Keeps me sane.

Assume all scientific knowledge is defined by soap, sorry science bubbles. For this argument bubbles can be any size and can grow. They can merge and they can split. They can group. They can be consumed, a smaller bubble existing inside a larger bubble.

Note: They are robust to normal soap bubbly bursting, it takes a unique event for them to burst.

Through human history science bubbles were created. At the start of mankind making sense of his world, these were spread around the world. 10,000 years ago in Siberia someone in his fish trap in the freezing cold river did have a Eureka moment.

But the bubble burst when the fisherman died. And his relatives either thought he was crazy or couldn't work out how to use his wonderful contraption. Burnt it for fire wood.

So as mankind progressed the instances of bubbles being created increased. Due to information sharing and persistence, bubbles could join in a group, they could merge into one, they could grow. All these bubbly things.

Scientific knowledge is the bubble mass. Forever changing shape, size, content.

And do not forget bubbles can also burst. The world is flat. Oops.

Galileo had his bubble, but he also had other bubbles joined to his, a group. The Church tried to prevent the flat earth bubble group earth from touching, tried to burst or split Galileo's bubble group with a pin. They failed.

Science Bubbles have a natural gravity. They are attracted to the centre of the bubble mass. Bubbles either complement each other (join, merge or subsume) or are incompatible. And in that instance bubbles burst. But from the bursting, bubbles are created again, that knowledge that still has some purpose.

A bubble can grow and grow, then a new scientific theory bubble comes along. It might be tiny, the tiniest bubble, and it comes into contact with this huge bubble, and POP, the huge bubble disappears, replaced by what? Maybe of smaller bubbles (of valid knowledge) they will float and reform and find a home.

And the process is continuously ongoing. The path to god is when the there is only one bubble and it has reached the size to encompass all scientific knowledge.

In fact this process works better if you can think in more than three dimensions, because then you have the ability to use a bubble more than once - for it to be in more than place at once.

Maths makes the bubble stronger. More robust. Maths makes the bubble polarisation easier, allowing easy connecting to compatible bubbles, but also the destruction of incompatible bubbles.

We have this huge area of the bubble mass relating to the Theory of Relativity. Some genuis riding his electric bike in Siberia, with an online internet connection will stumble upon the idea that might invalidate that. The smallest bubble. And it will grow on the internet, And maybe 5 days later the Einstein bubble is burst. Maybe a few large bubbles are created from the POP. Not all the knowledge is lost. it just has to reform into new bubble groups.

Science Bubbles.

Mar 4, 2016 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterMedia Hoar

And here is the point...

My previous post changed scientific knowledge. Caused something to change. Even if it is crap and irrelevant. We will probably find that most of our scientific knowledge is crap and irrelevant in 100,000 years time. The current bubble volume might be the tiniest fraction compared to then.

That post science was scientific knowledge. A small bubble. Set off to fend for itself. Maybe a very short life.

There was no maths involved at all.

Mar 4, 2016 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterMedia Hoar

So here is an intellectual exercise. And something I have thought about often, not totally related to science.

The young baby is cast-away alone on a desert island. The environment keeps it alive (adopted by animals, whatever).

She grows. And lives alone until she say is forty. No contact with any humans or humna knowledge. No language, no maths, nothing.

She is saved. At that point does she have any scientific ideas that can change scientific knowledge? She has no way of communicating them, but does she having something to contribute? Maybe she sat in the same place for 30 years and observed something. And because she has no language, no conditioning, maybe she sees the world differently? Sees something we cannot. Something so obvious but everyone has missed it.

She comes back to civilisation and 1 year later she can communicate in a language we all understand. And express her ideas. Maybe she will use maths as her main language of choice.

But the idea, the knowledge was on that desert island.

Mar 4, 2016 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterMedia Hoar

Ideas will always exist in at least one dimension higher than the language used to describe them.

Mar 4, 2016 at 10:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterMedia Hoar

Mar 4, 2016 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterMedia Hoar

I did not realise this thread was going to become so interesting ^.^

I understand and like your bubble language but I am certain that creating it has no uses other than the illustration of the points in your post. If others read your post and like bubble language then they might start using it to communicate! However you have been totally inconsiderate in not publishing a bubble language dictionary, neither have you given an email or a phone number so nobody can contact you to find out wtf it all means hehe.
In reality nobody on the planet knows exactly what each jumble of characters (that we call words) means. The only person who could tell you was the person who made the word up (and most of them are dead). Dictionaries have been created to solve this problem but the authors tend to freely interpret previous records and so now we have people like BYJ who dispute the definitions in the Oxford Compact English Dictionary that I use most of the time.
Because of this situation many otherwise intelligent people spend far too long arguing about the meaning of words.
This point is perfectly illustrated by BYJ's last contribution which invites us to debate the meaning of the word Taxonomy.
Apart from an accident of birth it could have meant Haddock and chips :)

Mar 4, 2016 at 10:24 AM | Registered CommenterDung

I am amused that we have a thread where Dung agrees with Raff.

Mar 4, 2016 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames


Mar 4, 2016 at 10:40 AM | Registered CommenterDung

I have used translators all my career.

I realised fairly quickly that the dumbest people can speak a second language perfectly and is no sign of intelligence.

I actually preferred the technically dumb ones because they had no interest in anything I had to say. They learnt quickly a happy me is someone who has their words translated, nothing added, nothing lost.

And as I picked up the language myself I could surprise them when they strayed.

But then you encounter translators who thought they were the expert. Because they spoke the technical language. But they had no expertise, experience and usually they were from art degrees. With these they wanted to start discussions with you. Or if they were asked a question, they would answer it without translating.

And we all meet them, people who because they speak the language think they are experts in areas where it is used. And they look down on or exclude others who do not speak that level of language.

In the eyes of some, the inability to perform partial differentiation excludes you from contributing anything to science. There are some who inhabit this site, who are here because of that narrow superiority.

And the best scientists and physicists are those that do not hide behind that language. Be it maths or technical terms or three letter acronyms or consensus.

Mar 4, 2016 at 10:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterMedia Hoar

And the best scientists and physicists are those that do not hide behind that language. Be it maths or technical terms or three letter acronyms or consensus.

I believe a certain Mr Feynman was of the same opinion ^.^

Mar 4, 2016 at 10:58 AM | Registered CommenterDung