Why Is Mathematics the Basis For Life as We Know It?

I’m watching this commercial I’m sure all of you have seen by now. This little girl is talking to her father. Do you know why the sky is blue, she asks her father. Why to match you pretty eyes, he replies. Not even close, she retorts. The oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere breaks up the sunlight. And since blue light is the shortest of all the wavelengths, it goes the furthest (or something like that). Then as the commercial ends, the girl asks her father if he knows why mathematics is the basis for life as we know it. Apparently mystified by her knowledge, well beyond her years, he says, You tell me. And the commercial ends! And they never give the answer to the question why mathematics is the basis for life as we know it.

Apparently this is a commercial for the nonprofit group Girlsgotech.com. I actually did check out their website (as you can see if you go there, it is apparently just a wing of the Girl Scouts). But I couldn’t find the answer there. I also sent them an email asking this question, but they never responded.

Now I am 99.99999% certain this is a legitimate question and not just included in the commercial for dramatic purposes. So, does anyone know the answer to this question? Just why is mathematics the basis of life as we know it?



We invented mathematics to help describe the world around us. First we wanted to count things, so we invented simple number systems. Then we could say, “Hey, I saw three sheep in that field over there?”

But in case the person you were talking to didn’t know which field you were talking about, we needed ways to describe distances. So measurements were invented. Now you could say, “That field over yonder, three rods and a chain from here.”

But your pal might not know how long it would take to get there, so we needed a method for counting time. Then we needed a way to express velocity, so we had to invent division and figure out distance / time.

Now that we had a way to measure time, people started realizing they had far too much of it to spare. So they started observing how the world works. They noticed the sun running in circles around the earth, and so they invented geometry and trigonometry to track its motion, and one smart dude used it to figure out how big the world is, despite the fact that he hadn’t been all around it.

Also around this time people started buying things with money, instead of other things, and so accountants were invented. This is the time when old people started complaining that the young people were making everything go to hell, and the old people haven’t stopped, since every generation breeds more and more accountants. Accountants are very good at counting stuff in really complicated ways, which is why “count” is in their name.

In order to kill the accountants, people needed to invents swords and other metal items, which rely on creating sophisticated alloys. In order for the alloy to form properly you have to mix molten metals at the right ratios and tempuratures, so fractions were invented.

Speaking of tempuratures, did you know that Mr. Fahrenheit, the guy who invented the Fahrenheit scale, used two reference points to calibrate his thermometers? The first was the melting point of water, which he marked as 32, and the second was the tempurature of his dog’s ass, which he marked as 96. Having 64 degrees between the two reference point made it easy to create the rest of the marks by simply dividing the distance in half several times. That dog is a hero.

Later on, Isaac Newton and Capernicus and Galileo and a bunch of other guys came around and invented math for describing gravity and motion. That dude Isaac decided he would like a way to quantify the rates at which other rates changed, and so he decided to invent Calculus. Sir Isaac was later lynched by a mob of pissed off college students. Fortunately, they were able to calculate the exact force which the noose would extert on poor Sir Isaac’s neck, and decided to name the Newton (the amount of force necessary to accelerate a one kilogram mass 1 m/s[sup]2[/sup]) in his honor.

Another useful trick with math is that it can be used to predict what we think will happen, even if we haven’t seen it yet, and then look at nature to see if it’s true. Some dudes did this and tried to prove that light waved traveled in a mysterios medium called The Ether. They failed, though, and so this dude called Einstein invented Special Relativity to explain it. And wouldn’t you know it, with some modern technology, we can prove that Special Relativity accurately describes the motion of light.

Speaking of the Ether, they also needed math to invent Ethernet, without which we could not have had this enlightening conversation.

I hope that helps.

Good answer, friedo. :slight_smile:

What is the basis of life as we don’t know it?

Silicon? :wink:

To nitpick your excellent answerfriedo, the various aspects of mathematics were discovered, not invented. They were already there, we just came up with a nifty standardized system of representing math on paper.

I believe I saw an article at scientific american recently that said something like “the universe is a physical manifestation of math, and if we had discovered the necessary math we could write the equation that would result in you.”

I’ll see if I can find it again.

Found it! From this (rather long) article on Parallel Universes:

Make that statement in Great Debates and I bet you’ll get some interesting replies.

I haven’t read the full article yet, Beelzebubba, but I don’t find the bit you quoted very satisfactory. The author continues:

There may be some interesting philosophical issues in there, but in terms of science, it’s untestable and useless.

This statement: “Modern theoretical physicists tend to be Platonists, suspecting that mathematics describes the universe so well because the universe is inherently mathematical” is also problematical. We know that the universe is amenable to mathematical description, we’ve been doing it for millennia. All that the author is saying is that the universe is inherently amenable to mathematical description, which is a conjecture that leads us precisely nowhere.

Right, so if you want more philosophical and less entertaining than freido, the answer to the question “Why does the universe correspond to mathematics?” is a combination of “It doesn’t!” and “Because that’s the kind of math we use.”

I mean, there are all kinds of possible maths: Even classical geometry has a couple logically consistent variants depending on whether you allow parallel lines to meet. Or imagine a math where equality isn’t commutative (i.e. A=B doesn’t mean that B=A). Why not?

Now the universe obviously doesn’t correspond to all of these maths, since they contradict each other. What happens is we use the math that fits the universe. Or better yet, fits the part of the universe we’re trying to describe at the time.

It turns out that the classical geometry we all know where parallel lines never meet is great for designing buildings and bridges, and surveying small to medium parcels or land and some other things. But it doesn’t work when we’re plotting airline routes, because it turns out that on the surface of the Earth, parallel lines indeed do meet (what a bizarre f**ked up universe, huh?), so we need to use an alternate geometry.

And it looks like on the scale of galaxies and stuff, parallel lines sometimes can meet, so the good ol’ mathematical geometry is right out the window there, too. Einstein thought the alternate surface-of-the-globe type geometry (with some additions) might work, and it does pretty well for predicting where Mercury will be and so forth. But now some guys are saying that to be more accurate we need a whole different geometry that uses 14 dimensions! Hey, I told you it was a wacky universe.

And there are lots of things about the universe that nobody’s come close to inventing the math for. There’s no equation for even one of the simplest universes we can imagine: a simple newtonion universe with three objects and no forces but gravity.

And nobody has the math for why some babies’ smiles look like old men, what happens to make basil and pine nuts magically turn into pesto, why are women so contrary (bless their hearts)? If the universe is mathematical and orderly, give me the equation for the popularity of Kenny G, damn you.

I will be laughing all day about this line. Funny, funny, funny. That would be a rather long equation… much like one of his “concerts.”

Another nitpic Freido, a dogs ass is closer to 105-107 F.

I wanted to add (Unless he had a “cold ass dog”)

Spelling and grammar subject to change with out notice!

They do?

Back to the OP - could it be a reference to Fibonacci numbers (which I barely understand)?

Math evolved as an abstract way of describing our perceived physical universe. Math is our brain’s little note pad that’s used to sketch and describe the world around us. Math is fluid, math changes as we make new discoveries or prove previous assumptions to be false.

Math can also be used to effectively humiliate people that aren’t as smart as you are. Did you know the number zero was invented much later than the other digits? I knew that. I always enjoyed studying math because the pages of the textbooks smell really good.

There is a nifty branch of math called statistics. Scientists use statistics to prove their theories are much better than your theories because scientists have big egos. After a scientist performs an experiment, he uses statistics to force his observations to match his theory. People have also been known to use statistics as an excuse to lose large sums of money in the stock market.

If you want to study higher math someday, it’s probably a good idea to wear really thick glasses and learn the Greek alphabet. The majority of higher math subjects are widowed from any real world application. Higher math is an answer waiting for a problem. The weight of a textbook used to study a mathematical concept is inversely proportional to the complexity of the concept. The highest branch of math is called, well it has no name, it’s kind of like the Artist Formally Known As Prince. This branch of math is so advanced, so obscure, that the textbook is a single page, and the page reads “X”. Mathematicians theorize this branch of math will someday be used to explain driving directions in downtown Boston.

So have fun with math boys and girls. Learn big words like homeomorphism, but make sure no gay bashers are within earshot.

I believe it was RM Mentock who said:

[sub][sup]Actually it was Russell :slight_smile: [/sup][/sub]

Not quite …

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/fahrenheit_daniel_gabriel.shtml

I found the article to provide some interesting information on why mathematics might be the basis for all life as we know it, but I’m neither mathematician nor physicist. The author goes on to say that it is testable, but I must admit that after that statement I was somewhat lost, particular with regard to quantifying ‘generic’. I would most certainly be interesting in knowing if there is any more factual answer than the speculation in that article, but then again I’m still trying to decode it :smiley:

Life is the basis for mathematics as we know it, not the other way around.