What is the universe made of? Romantics would say it is made of stardust, realists would say it consists of matter. A famous cosmologist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Max Tegmark has a different idea: he states that the Universe is made of… mathematics.
Professor Tegmark, who has also formulated the so-called Ultimate ensemble theory of everything, argues that all structures which exist in the mathematical sense also exist physically. In his newly released book titled «Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality,» he analyzes his views.
According to Professor Tegmark, what exists in our world – from the ‘inanimate’ things like planets to the animate beings like humans – is part of a mathematical structure.
Each form of the matter consists of atoms, which have properties, such as the charge or spin. Similarly, space also has properties, such as dimensions, but eventually, the whole space is nothing but a mathematical structure.
“If one accepts the idea that both the space itself and all things in it have no other properties but their mathematical properties, then the idea that everything is mathematics starts to sound a little less crazy,” said the scientist in his lecture in New York last January.
“If my idea is wrong, then the physics is ultimately doomed. But if the universe is indeed mathematics, then there is nothing in it that we cannot understand.“
Professor Tegmark noted that it is possible to see patterns everywhere in nature. He used the Fibonacci sequence as an example, which a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers and is something we often see in nature.
Flowers of artichoke, among others, seem to perfectly fit in this mathematical pattern since the distance that each petal has from the previous follows this sequence.
Apart from the living world, mathematics, he added, is also ubiquitous in the lifeless world: when throwing a baseball into the air, it generally follows a parabolic path, while planets and other celestial bodies follow elliptical orbits.
The depiction of the beauty of nature
“There is an elegant beauty and simplicity in nature revealed by mathematical patterns and shapes and that our eyes cannot conceive,” said the professor.
He notes that the mathematical nature of the universe is one that gives scientists the ability to predict theoretically any observation or measurement in physics. For example, he said that mathematicians were those who predicted the existence of Neptune and the Higgs boson long before the “tangible” proof of them was found.
For Max Tegmark, the mathematical structure that exists in the physical world shows that mathematics is really there and not only in the human mind. He believes that one day, mathematics will help to unravel the secrets of the human brain and consciousness.
Could mathematics give us the solutions to the existential questions that have tortured human minds for millennia?
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