Do We Live Inside a Mathematical Equation?

BOSTON—From the arc of a baseball to the orbits of the planets, mathematical patterns are everywhere. But according to physicist Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, it's not enough to say that math governs our universe. Rather, he believes that reality itself is a mathematical structure. What the heck does that mean? We caught up with Tegmark after his presentation at yesterday's symposium "Is Beauty Truth?" at the annual meeting of AAAS (which publishes ScienceNOW).

Gary Rogan writes: 

I have long believed that the most puzzling thing about the universe is that fundamental mathematical laws and constants seem to hold reliably over vast stretches of the universe. Until we understand how a photon "knows" that it needs to travels through vacuum at exactly the same speed everywhere in the universe, or why any two objects anywhere attract each other gravitationally with exactly the same exponent attached to the distance between them and exactly the same constant attached to that equation, and any number of such things, we are just observing the symptoms of something on a deeper and deeper level without understanding how the whole thing is constructed. Sooner or later this has to come down to some fantastic explanation, like a single basic particle "painting" the universe on its own timescale, or every fundamental particle simultaneously communicating with every other fundamental particle to maintain consistency, or the universe being constructed on some level via a very small number of types of discreet building blocks that are completely invariant.

David Lillienfeld writes: 

That's the one issue I have with the Big Bang–where did all that energy come from?

Gary Rogan writes: 

Well, that's just one issue of several with the Big Bang, like

-What caused it to occur?
-What was there before it?
-How did all the physical constants settle on particular values (regardless of consistency)?

The Big Bang is just another descriptive theory of the form "the universe behaves according to these laws", but provides no explanation for the "why?" on the fundamental mathematical level. And no, religion doesn't help. The "global computer simulation" theory is highly attractive: constant laws and constants across time and space and a definitive beginning out of nothing with a lot of energy are just so easy to explain!

Gibbons Burke adds: 

Further, why are all the physical constants so precisely dialed in that if any one of the 30 or so parameters which define the immutable characteristics of the universe so tightly dependent that a variation in any one of those parameters, to one part in a million, would make life, or indeed the universe, impossible?





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4 Comments so far

  1. Todd Meier on February 20, 2013 12:13 am

    I don’t think there should be any great mystery in our ability to parametrize these things. Phenomena, the way things work, almost by definition have to be unchanging; without order, wouldn’t everything just be illusory and unstable, non-existent in a grand sense? Given that they are unchanging, they are laying out in the open begging to be parametrized by any combination of factors from the artificial system we have chosen.

  2. Andre Wallin on February 20, 2013 3:07 pm

    Thanks to reading dailyspeculations I read Unintended Consequences and it is a perception changing book in contrast to the prevailing sentiment. I’m giving it to people important in my life.

  3. Andre Wallin on February 20, 2013 3:42 pm

    The problem is that if you have children you have an overwhelming feeling of responsibility to them. If you are taking lots of risk how can you be assured you can give them the best odds? You can’t…

  4. Andre Wallin on February 20, 2013 3:59 pm

    if you increase investment on medical exploration and capitalism leads to increases in cardiovascular procedures isn’t it a zero sum equation at the very least.


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