Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Astonishing Fit of Mathematics

There's a cool video at New Scientist for all you math types.

Musician Michael Blake has composed a piece of music based on the Golden Ratio. The Golden Ratio is an irrational number whose decimal places go on to infinity. It has fascinated mathematicians, architects, artists, and musicians for two thousand years.

Blake assigned a musical note to each of the first fifteen digits and as the music plays he adds instruments to the composition producing a beautiful melody. Here it is:
Isn't it a rather startling fact that the mathematical structure of the universe should be musical? How did that happen? For that matter, isn't it astonishing that mathematical concepts fit the universe we live in and describe it so elegantly and precisely? That's really quite amazing. In 1960 physicist Eugene Wigner marveled:
The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.
Elsewhere he used the word "miracle" again to describe the awe-inspiring fit that mathematics has with the physical structure of the cosmos:
It is difficult to avoid the impression that a miracle confronts us here, quite comparable in its striking nature to the miracle that the human mind can string a thousand arguments together without getting itself into contradictions, or to the two miracles of laws of nature and of the human mind's capacity to divine them.
Scientists have been profoundly moved over the last thirty years by the discovery of how precisely calibrated the forces and parameters of the universe must be, and are, for conscious beings to exist anywhere in it. These phenomena have been referred to as "cosmic coincidences." The fact that the mathematics we can dream up in our minds can be used to describe that universe is surely another breath-taking example of a cosmic coincidence.