“How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience, fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?” – Albert Einstein
The connection that exists between mathematics, number, and the world is a fascinating puzzle. Why should the petals on a flower be counted in numbers from the series known as the Fibonacci sequence – a mathematical series invented by humans? Or the seed pods on a sunflower be arranged in logarithmic spirals?
Every day, mathematics exerts a powerful role in our lives that we all take for granted. Without math, we wouldn’t have the electronics in so many of our modern conveniences, from cell phones to cars, dishwashers to flat screen TVs. Its predictions underlie our ability to launch spacecraft that rendezvous precisely with planets and comets hundreds of millions of miles away. Over the last century, one math-fuelled breakthrough after another has transformed our civilization and worldview.
But for many people—including Mario Livio, one of today’s great popular explainers of science—the power of math poses a huge and compelling mystery. Why should our universe follow such orderly and predictable rules? What explains, in Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner’s famous phrase, “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” that underwrites the explosive progress of science and technology today?