chapter  4
16 Pages

Polkinghorne on Mathematics and Chaos Theory

ByNicholas Saunders

One of the most remarkable aspects of mathematics is its ability to apply to the natural world. Why should an abstract mental creation be so astoundingly successful in underpinning the laws of nature as we understand them? Eugene Wigner once famously remarked that ‘the miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift that we neither understand nor deserve’.1 What underpinned Wigner’s comment is the widely held belief amongst mathematicians that mathematical constructs have a far wider domain of application than the setting in which they were originally developed. Indeed some scientists, such as Max Tegmark, have gone as far as to argue that there is such a degree of ‘unreasonable’ mathematical order in the universe that there can be no other explanation than that the physical world is completely mathematical.2