Talk:The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

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Does the influence of a paper belong in an article on the paper, or in other articles entirely? The stuff that is not just quoting from the paper could be in the article on Wigner, but it would then need to also be in other places... — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 23:38, 19 January 2003 (UTC)[reply]


Moved this page to properly capitalised title, thus hopefully making clear that this is about a specific work rather than a general article. --Robert Merkel 23:55, 19 January 2003‎ (UTC)

Yes, it is, thanks.
But it's about a very abstract work with many implications. The reason the paper matters is that, in practice since 1960, Wigner was borne out. There is a robust cognitive science investigation of 'is it the experimenter, the experiment, or the experimental phenomenon that is actually described here'. There isa robust discussion of possible alternate cognitions, e.g. other hominid, alien species, artificial life. The dire situation Wigner pointed to as a symptom has also come true: string theorists argue about how real the math or the theory can be since it's untestable and so abstract that very few mathematicians can understand it. So it's still confusing how much to quote and how much to comment, and how much to introduce of the articles very deep significance.
we should leave a redirect in place since there are other articles that refer to it with the lowercased title - they'll be fixed as time allows. Thanks. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 00:00, 20 January 2003 (UTC)[reply]


VfD discussion for The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Physical Sciences, which now redirects here.

Text copied from The_Unreasonable_Effectiveness_of_Mathematics_in_the_Natural_Sciences. Markalexander100 03:16, 17 May 2004 (UTC)[reply]

  • Delete, no reason to have it under this title. --Starx 03:20, 17 May 2004 (UTC)[reply]
  • I went ahead and speedy deleted it since it was just a copy/paste job. -- Cyrius|&#9998 03:25, May 17, 2004 (UTC)
  • You might want to go back and take another look. It's back. - Lucky 6.9 21:32, 17 May 2004 (UTC)[reply]
    • I think you're confused. We've got two pages here, Natural Sciences, and Physical Sciences. The "Physical" one is up for deletion as a bad copy/paste job of the "Natural" version, and has been recreated as a redirect by Eric B. and Rakim, which isn't a problem. The article you put the VfD notice on was the "Natural" version, which isn't at issue. Oh, and keep the redirect, it seems like a reasonable mistake to make. -- Cyrius|&#9998 22:15, May 17, 2004 (UTC)
    • Ah, so it is. Thanks. - Lucky 6.9 23:44, 17 May 2004 (UTC)[reply]


Reference 1 to "Mathematics Under the Microscope, Alexandre Borovik, 2006" is not correct. The first part point to a page that no longer exists. More importantly, the quote "There is only one thing which is more unreasonable than the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics, and this is the unreasonable ineffectiveness of mathematics in biology." does not occur in the Borovik's book. Maybe in the article, but that's no longer available. I found one reference that suggests that the quote is from Israel Gelfand instead ( ). Here one Alexandre Borovik (!) attributes the quote to Gelfland. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:11, 19 November 2009 (UTC) Fixed it. Alexandre Borovik actually qoutes Gelfland in his atricle. The article link now points to, because the original atricle no longer exists. I could not find the original quote by Gelfland, so we have to take Borovik's word for it. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:44, 19 November 2009 (UTC)[reply]


The article as it now stands with the Gelfland quote and the time-conditioned uncertainty that Wigner expressed concerning heredity and physics propagates a misconception that mathematics and physics have little or no role in biology. This was somewhat true until the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA in 1953 and the blossoming of computational biology over the last 15 years. The idea that life and heredity cannot be explained by physical principles is simply no longer tenable. Vitalism died a long time ago. That being said, the key point raised by Wigner remains completely valid and just as mysterious as when he wrote. Why should abstract rational concepts be able to explain biological systems that evolved haphazardly over million of years. Why should our concepts be able to explain the gross properties of galaxies that existed billions of years in the past? What is it about human thought that allows it to transcend space and time and come up with meaningful answers to questions far removed from everyday experience? We still don't have an answer to Wigner's basic question. Toroid (talk) 04:06, 1 January 2010 (UTC)[reply]

Gelfland quote is still very actual, mathematics is almost useless in biology. Computational biology is a tiny fraction of the field and so far has relatively little impact. The fact is that mathematics fails already in chemistry, we cannot even model simple atoms in a satisfactory way, complex molecules are completely beyond the reach. All we have are very crude "spherical cow" approximations which are mostly useless. Then again I don't find the usefulness of mathematics in natural sciences as a whole particularly surprising, there have long been mutual interaction between mathematicians and physicists. The number of mathematical structures is infinite but there is a strong bias to explore only those which are closely related to physical reality. And despite that effectiveness of mathematics still leaves much to be desired - even a simple 3 body problem cannot be computed exactly. All in all the perception described in the article is more due to bias then anything else.Sergiacid (talk) 08:13, 20 April 2010 (UTC)[reply]
Meh, you get what you pay for. The lack of impact in biology is mostly due to the fact that biologists are idiots who cannot and don't want to understand even the simplest mathematics. As long as it's OK to be a shit for brains and have a stellar career in the life sciences, this won't change. (talk) 07:53, 14 November 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Regarding the comment about "mathematics fails in chemistry", a reference that might be useful (somehow) integrating into something is:
Scerri, Eric R. (2004). "Just how ab initio is ab initio quantum chemistry?" (PDF). Foundations of Chemistry. 6 (1): 93–116. doi:10.1023/B:FOCH.0000020998.31689.16.
A commentary on the paper published in 2004 is:
Bretislav, Friedrich (Jan 2004). "HASN'T IT? A commentary on Eric Scerri's paper "Has Quantum Mechanics Explained the Periodic Table?", now published under the title "Just How Ab Initio is Ab Initio Quantum Chemistry?"". Foundations of Chemistry. 6: 117–132. Retrieved 20 December 2017. 07:32, 20 December 2017 (UTC)

Possible flaws?[edit]

Nice read and a lot of good points. Too bad that it has a ton of pitfalls where the author has logic fail. There's one in practically every paragraph, so I won't list them all but if someone feels like it...

First, this has contradictions early on. 2nd, there's the concept of quantum mechanics, where events _seem_ to be circular, although in principle all paths are taken and effectively are layered (Even if there's multiple futures, time travel is impossible that tries to make 2 contradictary events occur - they simply can't observe each other - this is analogous to a black hole but for double-slit experiments - you can't 'unobserve' events). Feedback can exist that doesn't contradict itself. A self-consistent past and present in other words. 3rd is that it ignores the concept that reality is often layered, in that for example chemistry depends on atomic physics. (talk) 18:58, 17 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]


I have a problem with the wording in However, in a passage discussing cognitive bias Wigner cautiously labeled as "not reliable," he went further. Neither did I find a satisfactory way to "parse" (analyze grammatically) that sentence. It is not even evident to the uninitiated that this is Wigner criticizing Wigner, not Putnam criticizing Wigner. -- (talk) 21:38, 19 May 2016 (UTC)[reply]

putnam arguably have nothing to do in a section on "wigner's observations" (unless, perhaps, he is Wigner's friend?); he should be moved to "responses". in the meantime, perhaps something like "In a passage discussing cognitive bias (cautiously labeled as "not reliable"), however, Wigner went further" would be clearer? k kisses 14:59, 5 February 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Maxwell and waves[edit]

About the mention of Maxwell's equations and electromagnetic waves, what exactly is being implied here? The text does not make it quite clear that Maxwell proposed the wave theory, even going as far as proposing that light was an EM wave and even calculating its speed. Then this mention of Hughes for "the discovery of EM waves" is kind of weird, there is no reason not to be mentioning Hertz instead. Also about gravity, explaining the motion of planets was clearly the goal there, and not explaining why things fall here on the surface of the Earth. But I cannot tell, how much of these criticisms would be actually directed to the original article we are talking about, or just to this Wikipedia article?... -- NIC1138 (talk) 17:13, 27 April 2017 (UTC)[reply]

{{Italic title}}?[edit]

I was just about to add {{italic title}} when I noticed others had done so, and that it had been removed several times. If this is an article about the paper, it should be italicized. If it is an article about the concept, then perhaps it should be renamed to the "Effectiveness of mathematics", or at least be put in all lower case. If the article is not renamed, please leave this discussion at the top as it is a common edit. Dpleibovitz (talk) 21:15, 8 December 2017 (UTC)[reply]

Responses to Wigner seems incomplete[edit]

It seems inconsistent to note that there are at least six notable discussions of this paper and only elaborate on three of these responses. This article could greatly improved by expanding the responses section to include all of these- or provide some explanation as to why six are mentioned but only three are discussed. While I understand that the three discussions that are elaborated upon are by physicists and mathematicians that may have the greatest and closest knowledge of the subject, I would be much more interested and engaged by the other responses which fall are by individuals that do not work in physics/math. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Barcodeplane (talkcontribs) 19:54, 9 December 2019 (UTC)[reply]

"This conflict"[edit]

What does "this conflict" refer to in this statement in the article:

Peter Woit, a theoretical physicist, believes that this conflict exists in string theory,...

That needs to be clarified. I would post a template on the sentence requesting more info., but I'm not sure what the best template is. --David Tornheim (talk) 21:24, 17 September 2020 (UTC)[reply]

@David Tornheim: Not sure if this will help, but another editor introduced me to the WikiBlame tool, which allows one to find where content was first introduced. Here is the diff. It was introduced by an IP user who hasn't edited in many years using that IP address, so my guess is that you won't get a response to a direct query. The referent isn't clear to me even reading it in its original context. But maybe you'll understand better than I did? -- FactOrOpinion (talk) 00:08, 19 September 2020 (UTC)[reply]
@FactOrOpinion: Yes, I am well familiar with Wikiblame and, indeed, used it before posting this. I would have asked the IP editor myself, but as you noted, that person is long gone. I'm hoping someone who knows more about the subject can say something. Thanks for your feedback. --David Tornheim (talk)