What are the origins of math?
THE RECENT DISCOVERY OF THE HIGGS BOSON PARTICLE, which was predicted by mathematical formulas, shows the power of math to describe and predict the world around us—from the helical structure of DNA and the spirals of galaxies, to how rapidly epidemics spread and our universe is expanding. But is that because everything in our world is inherently mathematical and follows precise rules? Or do we tend to see mathematical patterns everywhere because of the way our brains embroider an orderly overlay over what we experience?
The origins of math has become a hot topic of debate as neuroscientists continue to uncover mathematical abilities we seem to be born with, and have pinpointed regions in the brain responsible for mathematical thinking. Other scientists are finding that certain math capabilities vary by culture and depend on how we interact with the world. Both types of findings suggest math is a human construct rather than a phenomenon that determines how the cosmos is constructed.
To explore this debate on the origins of math and why it matters, The Kavli Foundation led a roundtable discussion with two physicists, a neuroscientist, and a cognitive scientist…
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