Friday, October 8, 2010

Let's be clear about what I mean

In Section 1.5 of "The Observational Foundations of Physics," Cook poses this question:

Why is it that mathematics appears as almost essential to physics, is it because the world is made that way, a notion that goes back to the Pythagoreans, or is it because we choose to study those aspects of the world that can be put into mathematical form... or do we bend the world to make it conform to our mathematics?

I'm not so sure that these questions can be answered by investigating the relationship between mathematics and observations as Cook proposes. Rather, the questions seem best dealt with in terms of language and meaning. What does Cook really mean when he asks whether or not the world was "made" to be mathematical? What are the "aspects" of the world that we study; are they objects or ideas? In what way do we "bend" the world?

I think Cook (and myself) may be constrained by the language in which the questions are posed. If that is the case, then it seems reasonable to assert that language plays a significant role in the formation of scientific hypotheses and consequently in science itself.