philosophy of mathematics

Most of us have a rough idea that computers are made up of complicated hardware and software. But perhaps few of us know that the concept of a computer was envisioned long before these machines became ubiquitous items in our homes, offices and even pockets.

Are number, space and time features of the outside world or a result of the brain circuitry we have developed to live in it? Some interesting parallels between modern neuroscience and the mathematics of 19th century mathematician Bernard Riemann.

On the face of it the Universe is a fairly complex place. But could mathematics ultimately lead to a simple description of it? In fact, should simplicity be a defining feature of a "theory of everything"? We ponder the answers.

In this, the second part of this series, we look at a mathematical notion of complexity and wonder whether the Universe is just too complex for our tiny little minds to understand.

Paraconsistent mathematics is a type of mathematics in which contradictions may be true. In such a system it is perfectly possible for a statement A and its negation not A to both be true. How can this be, and be coherent? What does it all mean?

We all take for granted that mathematics can be used to describe the world, but when you think about it this fact is rather stunning. This article explores what the applicability of maths says about the various branches of mathematical philosophy.

In the 1930s the logician Kurt Gödel showed that if you set out proper rules for mathematics, you lose the ability to decide whether certain statements are true or false. This is rather shocking and you may wonder why Gödel's result hasn't wiped out mathematics once and for all. The answer is that, initially at least, the unprovable statements logicians came up with were quite contrived. But are they about to enter mainstream mathematics?

Many people like mathematics because it gives definite answers. Things are either true or false, and true things seem true in a very fundamental way. But it's not quite like that. You can actually build different versions of maths in which statements are true or false depending on your preference. So is maths just a game in which we choose the rules to suit our purpose? Or is there a "correct" set of rules to use? We find out with the mathematician Hugh Woodin.

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It is thought that the next great advances in biology and medicine will be discovered with mathematics. As biology stands on the brink of becoming a theoretical science, Thomas Fink asks if there is more to this collaboration than maths acting as biology's newest microscope. Will theoretical biology lead to new and exciting maths, just as theoretical physics did in the last two centuries? And is there a mathematically elegant story behind life?

If you like mathematics because things are either true or false, then you'll be worried to hear that in some quarters this basic concept is hotly disputed. In this article Phil Wilson looks at constructivist mathematics, which holds that some things are neither true, nor false, nor anything in between.
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