Monday, May 29, 2006

The Universe We Perceive

As much as I was engaged by Freakonomics, I was bothered by a phrase repeated, that economics analyzes the world as it is, not how it ought to be. I my contention is that economics only analyzes the world as it is measured, not as it is. Especially as we consider policy, it's an important distinction.

So I was very impressed at the end of
The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio when he writes "mathematics is the symbolic counterpart of the universe we percieve" (italics his). The last chapter touches on the ontology of numbers and their use in scientific models, challenging the popular notion that mathematics is objective. Another aspect of this "challenge" is our notion that 1+1=2. Livio writes:
Other itelligent civilations out ther might have developed totally different sets of rules (for science & math), if their mechanisms for perception are very different from ours. For example, when one drop of water is added to another drop or one molecular cloud in the galaxy coalesces with another, they make only one drop or one cloud, not two. Therefore, if a civilization that is somehow fluid based exists, for it, one plus one does not necessarily equal two.
And to tie this all together, the Golden Ratio (phi=1.6180339...) is used to calculate the spirals of galaxies much as nautilus seashells and pentagrams.


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