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LATEST DIALOGUES The Tantric Gift of Math’s Mystery


Is math an invention of the human brain? Or does math exist in some abstract world, with humans merely discovering its truths? The debate has been raging since the time of the ancient Greeks.

Predictably, one of the answers seems to be: it depends on whom you ask. While most physicists are more or less evenly split, an overwhelming majority of engineers believe Mathematics is invented, while most mathematicians, along with Plato, view Math as an fundamental truth, independent of mankind, which we slowly uncover as we go.

Edward Frenkel is no exception to the statistics. Indeed it is with a rare enthusiasm that he defends the Platonist conviction:

He is not alone. Godfrey Harold Hardy, Roger Penrose, Kurt Gödel and many others have sided with Plato, while David Hilbert, Georg Cantor, the group known as Nicolas Bourbaki, and even Einstein held the opposite view.

Even if you have chosen a camp, however, the mystery remains intact. If you believe mathematics is invented by humans just like cars and operas, then, why does the world seem to obey its laws? As Einstein famously asked “How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality?” Or as Eugene Wigner wrote in his 1960 article The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences “The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics to the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.”

On the other hand, if, like Frenkel, you believe mathematics exists independent of humans, that it was here before we evolved and will continue on long after we’re extinct, if you are, in short, a Platonist then you will ask: why are we humans able to grasp these concepts, to understand, in the words of Galileo, the language of God? And you will exclaim, with Einstein again: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

So far, no one has any good answer. Some would see it as a problem. I regard it as an gift. Every time our thought process leads us to an apparently unsolvable conundrum, there is the invitation to recognize the limitations of thought itself, and to access Truth beyond the world of ideas. There is the opportunity to see that we have been trying to box reality in an either-or proposition of our own creation, and that it does not fit!

Take, as an analogy, the age-old debate between free will and destiny. Both of these are concepts. The idea that something could have happened any different than it did only exists in my head; so does the idea that it was predetermined to happen the way it did. Since we cannot rewind time, there is no conceivable experiment that can decide between these two statements. Therefore, the question itself is non-scientific, irrelevant, ill-conceived. It isn’t a question about Reality, it is a question about the model we’ve constructed about it, and it shows, exquisitely, the limitations of that model.

Another great opportunity to practice this ancient tantric meditation from Kashmir Shaivism: picture holding these two opposite ideas, one in each hand. First let one penetrate you, then let the other. When you feel ready, hold both together in your mind, as long as needed. When the illusion of linear thought is revealed, suddenly drop them both. You will feel like a heavy weight just lifted off your shoulders.

One step further, know the ineffable…

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Science and Nonduality provides a forum where preeminent scientists, philosophers, teachers, artists and a large, international community gather to explore and advance the new paradigm emerging in spirituality, that is both grounded in cutting-edge science and consistent with the ancient wisdom of nonduality — the deep understanding of the interconnectedness of life.

5 Responses to “The Tantric Gift of Math’s Mystery”

  1. September 15, 2016 at 9:34 am, antianticamper said:

    “Mathematical Realism” is the view that mathematical objects exist as “objectively” as other objects, e.g. trees, cars, animals, etc. However not all mathematical realism is “Platonism” and realism need not be burdened by the ontological difficulties of Platonism. For a phenomenological view of mathematical realism, see the excellent book “Husserl and Realism in Logic and Mathematics.” Indeed, it is unfortunate that it is so little understood how well Phenomenology (especially Husserlian phenomenology) contributes to the clarification of objects as “independent” of the observing subject. Phenomenology, being essentially a contemplative practice grounded in the “epoche” may also serve as a gateway to the wisdom of Buddhism and Advaita. Finally though, practices such as dream yoga further deepen the mystery of objectivity, subjectivity, and intersubjectivity. Physical laws need not survive the transition from the waking world to the dreaming world. Yet it seems mathematical truths DO survive the transition.

    • September 15, 2016 at 3:09 pm, dana (dany) said:

      > my philosophy professor described math as a tautology–obvious truth–that would be totally unnecessary for an omniscient being; for the remainder of us apparent mortals it is processes that we use to discover that which is totally obvious; another question would be, “Does math even exist in a material environment that is an illusion–that itself is unreal?” (First Law of Vulcan Metaphysics: “Nothing unreal exists!” I’m not a robot; I am a Vulcan.)

  2. September 15, 2016 at 6:14 pm, Enso said:

    Mathematics is a language (or several) that describes unseen reality; it is not the reality itself. All languages are real, but they are not the realities they describe.

  3. September 22, 2016 at 11:07 pm, leesajohnson said:

    Mathematics Quotes
    (God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world. (Paul Dirac ))
    Mathematics is the science that deals with the logic of shape, quantity & arrangement. Math is all around us, in everything we do. It is the building block for everything in our daily lives, including mobile devices, architecture (ancient & modern), art, money, engineering, & even sports. Math really branches out after calculus, so there are tons of options, which may be disorienting to one who’s not quite sure what those options are exactly.

  4. October 28, 2016 at 1:19 am, Karl Gary said:

    Math is like an atom. It was there for humans to discover. Technology is of the same realm. Earth is nothing but science and technology, and humans will master both, Technology and its automation will free humans from money, war, and politics.

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