Friday, July 15, 2011

Math, the Universe, and Everything: Max Tegmark's Interpretation of reality (guest post)

(This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at Why is she doing a guest blog? She asked me, pointed me to some of her work, and suggested some topics that seemed reasoanble. You can do that too!.)

Math, the Universe, and Everything: Max Tegmark's Interpretation of Reality

Despite how much mathematicians like to think that their work is the end-all, be-all, it can be sometimes quite complicated to explain to friends and family who are not familiar with the pleasures and perils of doing high-level math exactly why it is so important. At the same time, however, devout followers of math still realize that there is an element of get-your-head-out-of-the-clouds, especially when dealing with abstract mathematics that do not directly apply to career paths that are lucrative or have potential for advancing research in an academic setting.

But what if someone were to tell you that everything that we know, everything that we feel, is all a complex series of mathematical structures? Of course, many have theorized that math and disciplines that are heavily math-based like physics, are very accurate ways to describe the world as it exists, but cosmologist Max Tegmark takes things one step further.

In an absolutely fascinating article published in Discover Magazine, here Tegmark explains his theories that were almost impossible to publish or even be taken seriously a few years ago. Taking a leaf out of string theory's book, Tegmark has endeavored to explain what is known in popular science as "alternative" or "parallel" universes. In more serious academic circles, these universes are known as "multiverses." Tegmark notes that others have posited three multiverses, but he has added a fourthâthe mathematical multiverse. (Another article about Tegmark is here.)

Tegmark describes this particular multiverse as such in the Discover interview:
Galileo and Wigner and lots of other scientists would argue that abstract mathematics describes reality. Plato would say that mathematics exists somewhere out there as an ideal reality. I am working in between. I have this sort of crazy-sounding idea that the reason why mathematics is so effective at describing reality is that it is reality. That is the mathematical universe hypothesis: Mathematical things actually exist, and they are actually physical reality.

Although Tegmark's work has not received as much critical attention as other mathematician's work, it his is melding of physics, pure math, and cosmology that has helped his research be more seriously considered. For more information on Tegmark's theories, check out his MIT hosted website, The Universes of Max Tegmark


  1. typo in title

    Math, the Universe, and Everythign: Max Tegmark's Interpretation of reality (guest post)


  2. Thanks for the pointer to "The Universes of Max Tegmark".

    At the risk of over simplification, I think it could be argued that Leibnitz's notion of the function, f(x)=y, is the Organizing Principle for most of what we formally know about the universe.

  3. Are you seriously letting spammers write guest posts? Did you even look at ("your one-stop source for going back to school")? It's a promotional/recruiting website for online colleges. The only blog content I see on their site is a bunch of lists: 20 Essential Biographies for Medical Students, 20 Best Blogs in the Digital Humanities, etc.

    Their MO seems to be to hire people to write content that links back to their site. I admit this is a step up from spam comments with no content whatsoever, but it's only a small step. In today's post, "Nadia Jones" took a somewhat interesting (or at least attention-getting) topic from the web and said nothing substantive about it. "Although Tegmark's work has not received as much critical attention as other mathematician's work, it his is melding of physics, pure math, and cosmology that has helped his research be more seriously considered."??

    If "Nadia Jones" is a real person who honestly tried to contribute a useful guest post, then she should stop associating with spammers if she wants to be taken seriously. However, I think it's safe to say you got taken in by a con artist trying to get you to link to her website.

  4. I completely agree with the previous anonymous, and am embarrassed to have wasted my time reading this.

  5. I posted it because I thought it would be of interest and might get some intelligent comments about its content.

  6. well so much for comments and intelligence thereof ... doubt anything is happening here and now....
    no more guest posts of this type.

  7. IMHO Nadia Jones does a reasonably good job of pointing the way to some extremely interesting ideas and it all falls within the domain of "fun stuff".

    Who knows? Our first contact with an alien civilization may come in the form of "junk noise" advertising a time share on planet "x" in galaxy "y".

  8. If total energy of the universe is zero, then it can be shown that multiverse theory cannot be true. This is because total energy being zero, total mass will also be zero due to mass-energy equivalence. Scientists have shown that anything having mass will always occupy some space. So anything that fails to occupy any space cannot have any mass. Our universe perhaps fails to occupy any space, and that is why its mass is zero. But if multiverse theory is true, then our universe will definitely occupy some space within the multiverse, and thus in that case its mass cannot be zero. But as this mass is zero, therefore multiverse theory cannot be true.
    Here it may be argued that radiation occupies space but its mass is zero. So here is an example that something occupying space can still be without mass. So our universe can also be without mass even if it occupies some space within the multiverse. In reply we will say that the example cited here is a bad example, because our universe is not any kind of radiation. So if it is without mass, then that can only be due to its not occupying any space, and not due to its being some sort of radiation.

  9. That the Universe is completely described by mathematics is indeed an old idea, however Pythagoras and Galileo did not provide enough arguments why it is so! It is more like a postulate in their philosophy. It is easy to say that the Universe is mathematical but we need epistemological and ontological basis for such claims. I saw in your website the link to ontic structural realism (OSR) so I guess you are familiar with it. OSR indeed provides good arguments about the underlying invariant structure of all our theories.

    I think Immanuel Kant is the first philosopher to provide the strong arguments why the Universe is described by mathematics. If you are familiar with history of philosophy, Kant reacted to the famous debate between Rationalists (Leibniz, Descartes, Spinoza) and Empiricists (Locke and especially David Hume). Rationalists claim that the source of knowledge is reason and innate ideas, while empiricist claim that the source of knowledge is experience through the senses. Both are right from their perspective. Kant said that to speak about innate ideas in our mind which ground mathematics, metaphysics (a priori knowledge) as rationalists did is lazy business. David Hume has shown that everything comes from experience but he had problems with establishing mathematics on firm ground because maths speak of experience a priori. He could not explain how mathematics is possible! Kant tried to defend this a priori knowledge (mathematics, theoretical physics) and so-called synthetic a priori judgments. That's why I have used Kant to model our cognitive framework (and the Universe as it appears to us) as a quantum computer defined on a grid of cells. I claim that this grid is invariant structure within which all our thoughts, knowledge and theories originate. The structure OSR seeks.

    Kant had influenced such mathematicians as Henri Poincaré and David Hilbert. In philosophy of mathematics Kant belongs to intuitionist school. It is also interesting to study the logicist school, that is Frege, Russell. I know that you are involved with FQXi. I claim that we will not understand ultimate reality unless we view everything as a system of mathematics, theoretical physics, philosophy of science and cognitive science. Cognitive science is of absolute importance in understanding ultimate reality because all our thoughts about the world originate in our brain. I know that you come from strictly scientific background but philosophy of science, philosophy of mind cannot be left out if you want to understand the ultimate reality.
    It seems that you have buried the philosophy of corporeal nature. This is the true purpose of proper metaphysics of corporeal nature - to assist mathematics and physics. They should go together. It does not matter that people did not know about the Higgs boson or the mathematical description of general relativity 200 years ago. What Kant and Hegel knew is fundamentals - how our knowledge about the world in general is possible. If you know the roots of your knowledge, the epistemological basis of mathematics and physics, everything else is just details. To understand ultimate reality we must understand how we understand things in the first place! That is, we must have the picture of our cognitive faculties in general. This yields the big picture of the Universe how it appears to us.
    That's why I took Kant who asked and provided answers in his work to the questions: ''how is mathematics possible?''. ''How is physics possible?''. ''How is metaphysics as science possible?''.