A dumb question from Dr. Collins

Dr. Francis Collins (director of the National Human Genome Research Institute) posted an article on CNN to go along with his interview.

I had to admit that the science I loved so much was powerless to answer questions such as “What is the meaning of life?” “Why am I here?” “Why does mathematics work, anyway?”

Well actually there were more questions that P.Z. Myers addresses on his great blog Pharyngula. I’m a bit surprised that Dr. Collins would ask:

Why does mathematics work, anyway?

The answer should be obvious to him, mathematics works because man (a few thousand years of brilliant men actually) designed it to work. There is no magic or mystery to mathematics and I can’t see how even the most religious person can think it is anything but a human designed system that is defined to be internally consistent. This reminds me of a discussion on an engineering mail list a few years ago. Someone had calculated something and came up with 0.99… (repeating decimal). I chimed in and pointed out that 0.99… = 1, the craziness ensued as many participants would not accept this fact of mathematics. What they failed to see is that mathematics is a human designed system that has this covered in its definition. Mathematics is NOT reality although it helps the sciences understand and predict real things. I think Einstein said it best:

As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. – Albert Einstein

Now if he had asked, why is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter an irrational number? (PI) Then that question, to me at least, is an unknown. However, I would not be surprised if Mathematicians have some good answers to that question as well.

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