Archive for the ‘10 Science and Mathematics’ Category

10 Science and Mathematics

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Mathematics is an essential tool of science. When Mendel found in his controlled experiments that key characteristics of peas occurred in small integer ratios, he was certain that inheritance was carried by genes and that these existed in pairs. Carbon dating of the rocks on the Atlantic Ocean bed confirmed the sea-floor spreading of Wegener, and coupled with measurements of their magnetisation tell us the timing of reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field. In engineering we ‘construct’ and test aircraft engines, the Severn Bridge and the airflow over a racing car in the form of equations before we attempt the real thing.

In physics we find mathematics used to a much greater extent than in biology, chemistry or the Earth sciences, and often in a wholly new way.

Modern physics has inherited from Newton an equation for gravitational attraction that applies ‘hypothesis non fingo’[i], without a physical explanation or hypothesis. Maxwell’s equations are all that survives of his Herculean efforts to give a physical explanation to magnetism and light. By 1900, physics had become used to the idea that it must accept mathematical models of the World in lieu of physical description. (more…)