Dr. John Polkinghorne, in a lecture I have downloaded from the iTunes U database entitled “The Friendship Between Science and Religion”, at one point asks his audience the question, ‘Why is Science possible’?

In short, Polkinghorne asserts that:

a) Mathematics is a tool to discover things about the physical world.

b) Mathematics is abstract human thinking.

c) Mathematics is a pattern recognition and pattern analyzing subject

d) Mathematicians often “dream up some of the most … beautiful patterns of pure mathematics” in their head.

e) The same patterns dreamed up occur in the physical structure of the world.

Therefore, to paraphrase Dr Polkinghorne, there is a deep seated connection between the reason within and the reason without.

Furthermore, he offers his audience “a coherent, intellectually satisfying” reason for that connection. The reason within (i.e. mathematics) and the reason without (i.e. the physical world) have a common origin in the mind of the creator. I take this to mean that science is possible because we and the world we explore through science are linked together by the creator.

I am not so much interested in the weaknesses of this (cosmological?) argument as I am in exploring the link between mathematics, man and physical world. Again, Polkinghorne sees mathematics and the physical world as separate identities linked by a common creator.

It is also possible that humans merely represent the world mathematically because of the manner in which our psychology and physiology are inclined. Space and time, on that understanding, are merely a mathematical analysis of the world; rather than realities that are linked to our reason by a common source.

Alternatively, maybe mathematics is simply a well developed representation of a physical world that inherently displays much regularity. For example, the sun appears here and sets there then appears here again and sets there again. Mathematics in this example is a means of defining east and west so I can remember how the sun travels; of defining morning and night so I know when to stop hunting and go home. Admittedly a very basic example but it should be clear again that time and space are at issue here. Again, I would ask whether there is any need for a mathematical pattern to have any direct link to the physical world other than physical senses (i.e. sight, hearing, etc).

Can you think of any other explanations for the apparent connection between our ability to reason and the physical world that we reason about?

Posted by Brad.

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