God Created the Integers, Man Created God

Michael Atiyah gives a presidential address on Mind, Matter, and Mathematics (good alliteration).  In it he discusses the difference between mathematical philosophy and natural philosophy.  It’s an interesting read throughout.

But, near the end he says:

Mathematical physicists believe that there are indeed simple and beautiful mathematical equations that govern the universe, and that the task of the scientist is to search for them. This is an article of faith.

An alternative faith is to believe in a God who created the universe and kindly provided us with laws or equations that we would be able to understand.

He touts that these are compatible philosophies.  As faiths, they are similar (I take issue with the first idea:  Mathematical equations do not “govern” the universe, they are just really good at representing it.)

But, more importantly, I disagree with the idea that belief in God is always compatible with science (an implication I think he was making).  In physics, it’s an easier sell.  There is nothing alive in physics.

A harder sell is in biology.  Belief in God is one thing, but belief in a soul is problematic.  If one believes in a soul, that every human (homo sapien) is singled out from among God’s creatures as different (better), then all of biological evolution (and what it can tell us about who we are) falls apart.

If it is true that humans ARE totally and fundamentally different than all of the other creatures on earth (and potentially on other planets), and if this is due to our having a soul, then we MUST abandon much of what we believe to be true in biology.

If biology is right, then we are not different in any fundamental way than other species.  Unique, sure.  (So is the norwhal.)  But, not totally different.

I am hesitant to say that a belief in a God-given soul is compatible with biological science, and from there science generally.

(HAT TIP:  Noncommutative Geo)

My new favorite way to waste time at work… without really wasting it

It doesn’t matter how hard I try to bring work on myself.  This job of mine has always been full of free time. After so many hours wasting my life on digg, I realized that I could use this time to make music.  I had always wanted to put more time into it but never really found the motivation to get good… but enforced boredom can be a powerful motivator.

Unfortunately, I think my job is a little uptight to let me bring my guitar in and start banging away.  But I have this laptop sitting in front of me.  One time I played around with a friend’s copy of Fruity Loops.  I made it through maybe an hour or two – not exactly the recipe for a virtuoso electronic composition.  Recently though, a friend that’s devoted a lot more of his life than I to creative pursuits has turned me on to something better.

Pure Data is the answer to so many questions I hadn’t even thought to ask.  It’s a synthesizer.  It’s a processor for other audio signals.  It’s a sequencer.  More than that, it’s a general purpose drag and drop audio programming language.  It’s like Legos for your ears.

If you have any free time in front of a computer that you can’t spend elsewhere, you could do a lot worse than a free download and this 10 minute tutorial:

I love that this thing is purpose built as software.  Unlike Reason, Fruity Loops and any VST plugin I’ve ever looked at, Pure Data makes no attempt to look anything like the music making we were used to before computers.  It’s in good company that way. A lot of the big jumps in computing happened as an acknowledgment that software doesn’t need to look and feel like anything from the real world.  I’ve been really disappointed the last few years with the relatively incremental pace of change in software and hardware.  This environment, even if it’s based on the circa-1990 Max/MSP, is rekindling my faith.

Free Will, God, and Newcomb’s Problem: Part 2

In the last post on Newcomb’s problem and Free Will, we went over a 2 person game to be played with God. The key problem we were facing was whether or not Free will can coexist with an all knowing being that has powerful predictive capabilities. That is, if God always knows what you are going to do, and is in fact able to change the future based on what he knows about your actions now, are you really free?

Continue reading


Well, I am happy to see that with the start of school that our viewing stats are up!  I hope that y’all are getting something from our posts – but I am also hoping for something from you!  Yes, feedback and content – as has been said many times before, mathematics is a social endeavor!  Comment on what we post; put up your own thoughts; if anyone is interested in writing articles, drop us a line!

Please, don’t think of this as some private blog where you don’t have any say!  Ask questions!  Pose problems!  Argue!  (Politely, of course.)  Send links to interesting things.  It’s all good, and we are all in this together.

Hope to hear from you soon!


Proof of God … Again

I promise to soon finish my discussion about Newcomb’s freewill/god paradox, but in lieu of that, here’s a post by MarkCC ranting about yet another “proof” of God.

Our genius prover starts off with a bunch of definitions. They’re a classical example of what I call “obfuscatory mathematics”; that is, mathematical notations and definitions that are created for the purposes of obstruction, not clarification. Obfuscatory math is one of the best signs that what follows is going to be bullshit. Before I get to that, allow me to rant for a moment.

The Existence of Free Will: Newcomb’s Problem

William Newcomb, a physicist at the Livermore Radiation Lab in California, in 1960 posed a problem, about which the great Philosopher Robert Nozick said, “it is a beautiful problem. I wish it were mine.”It’s a problem that highlights the trouble with the idea of Free Will. To illustrate it, I am using the Game Theoretic interpretation of this problem used by Philip D. Straffin, in his book “Game Theory and Strategy.”

To quote Straffin:

Suppose there are two black boxes which you cannot see into. Box #1 contains $1000. Box #2 contains either $1,000,000 or nothing, depending on something we’ll mention in a moment. You have two choices.

1. you may take both boxes, or

2. you may take only box #2

Now, let us assume there is a God, or someone with equally powerful predictive powers. Sometime in the past, God made a prediction about which box you, today, are going to choose.

If God predicted that you were a greedy bastard with no sense of adventure, and would choose option number 1, taking both boxes, then he would smite you and leave box number 2 empty.

On the other hand, if God thought you the gambling type, and predicted that you’d choose option 2, taking only the mystery box, then he would have rewarded your future gutsy-ness by putting in the full 1 million.

The next key is that you, of course, as a good Religious person, believe that God is one heck of a good predictor of outcomes. He may not be perfect, but you assume he’s right at least a good 90% percent of the time. You trust him.

But, then again, as a learned child of the enlightenment, you also strongly believe that God gave us all free will. That we have a choice in life. Life, and our actions are not all predetermined.

What would you do?

Next time we’ll go over the arguments to be made for both choices and what Robert Nozick had to say about them.

Pic of the Day: Socrates takes Hemlock

Since the (tentative) name of this blog is so heavily reliant on the Greek Philosophical tradition, I thought it appropriate to put up a picture about the founder of that tradition, and what happens to such philosophers when they get “uppity.”  From Socrates came Plato, from Plato came Aristotle and his school the Lyceum.
The Pythagorian Mathematikoi didn’t fair too well either.  Many were killed, and at one point the members of one of their schools were locked inside it, and burned alive.

Science, Mathematics, Philosophy, Art, Politics, War, Death.  They are not in anyway disjoint sets.   The very act of discussion is an act of freedom and democracy.   It isn’t absolute.  It can disappear overnight.