Why I Like Mathematics

Written by Liam McLennan

The reason that I like and enjoy mathematics is epistemological. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge, including ideas of truth, belief and justification.

I like mathematics because it is the only science that can ever prove a thing (proposition).

Mathematics is able to make proofs because it deals with abstract ideas that we define completely - thus proof is possible.

As a counter example, consider Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Kepler reconcilled planetary observations with Isaac Newton’s laws of motion and law of universal gravitation to provide a model for the motion of planets around the sun. It tells us that orbits are elliptical and that planets move faster when they are closer to the sun.

Kepler's laws of planetary motion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Gonfer

It is the law that tells us that the sun will continue to rise each day. It is as close to an absolute truth that physics (the next best science) can get. But planets, and gravity, are not artificial abstractions that we created and thus we can never be sure that we have the complete picture.

Kepler’s laws of planetary motion start to fail when we look at the orbit of Mercury. Mercury is close enough to the sun that the effect of general relativity (due to the mass of, and proximity to, the sun) cause variation from what is predicted by Kepler’s laws. Kepler and Newton felt, as we all do, that they existed in a regular, three dimensional space. Little did they know that the universe is four dimensional and even the orbit of planets is an illusion produced when straight motion in a four dimensional space is projected into three dimensions (or something).

We don’t KNOW anything - except what we know via mathematics.