Episode Fifteen – Quora Questions on Mathematics

Today we are going to answer some Quora questions on the topic of mathematics.

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Episode Transcript

[Please note that this may not exactly match the audio. However, there should be no significant differences.]


Metaphysics of Physics is the much needed and crucial voice of reason in the philosophy of science, rarely found anywhere else in the world today. We are equipped with the fundamental principles of a rational philosophy that gives us the edge, may make us misfits in the mainstream sciences but also attracts rational minds to our community.

With this show, we are fighting for a more rational world, mostly by looking through the lens of the philosophy of science. We raise awareness of issues within the philosophy of science and present alternative and rational approaches.

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Hi everyone! This is episode fifteen of the Metaphysics of Physics podcast and I am Ashna, your host and guide through the hallowed halls of the philosophy of science. Thanks for tuning in!

Today we are going to answer some Quora questions on the topic of mathematics.

As some of you will already know, this episode comes out while Dwayne and I are on our honeymoon in sunny Australia, so of course, this episode was recorded and scheduled for release well in advance. We will be sure to share some photos when we return from our adventures!

Gold Coast beach
We might be here when you listen to this.

As you listen to this, we are now husband and wife philosophers. Pretty neat huh?

Anyway, back to the show! As there has been a lot of wedding related stuff going on, this will be a shorter episode as we did not have time for a lot of questions. I hope you enjoy the questions we answered in the time available.

But, without further ado, let us start with our Quora questions.

Is it possible that an alien civilization has completely different mathematics than ours? Is mathematics absolute?

First of all, what is mathematics?

Let us define it as the science of method whereby we establish quantitative relationships between things for the purpose of measurement.

This makes sense, right? A great deal of mathematics is dedicated to the measurement of physical attributes such as size, volume, etc.

But mathematics does not only measure physical attributes. It can also be used to quantify abstract concepts, such as probabilities. These do not directly refer to the physical attributes of entities, but nonetheless refer to some measurable aspect of reality.

If performed properly and if it is measuring the same quantities, mathematics should be objective and get equivalent results. The units of measurement may well be different, but once you account for these differences, the results should be the same.

Why? Because the facts of reality being measured are the same no matter what the units are or which alien civilization is performing the measurements. Assuming the same things are being measured.

The symbols might differ, but aliens probably have many of the same core mathematical concepts.

Does that mean that the mathematical methods must be the same? Not necessarily.

As mathematics is a science of method, there may be multiple valid methods which can be used to establish quantitative relationships and arrive at valid measurements.

For instance, if you want to measure the volume of an irregular solid, you can potentially use a number of different methods in calculus to find the volume. Or, you can use something other than calculus, although the results may not be quite as accurate.

Any mathematical method is valid, as long as it gets sufficiently reliable results. And what qualifies as “sufficiently reliable” really depends on the context and how accurate the results need to be.

So, it is entirely possible that alien civilizations have some mathematical methods we do not know of, which work fine in the proper context.

So, is mathematics absolute? Well, yes. If performed properly, different methods should arrive at equivalent results based on the same facts of reality. Even if the mathematical methods may differ in their details.

6 thoughts on “Episode Fifteen – Quora Questions on Mathematics”

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  2. Your episode 15 podcast has a title:
    Episode Fourteen – Life 3.0: A Slow Death, Part One

    That should be Episode Fifteen.
    This shows two episodes called Episode Fourteen in a playlist.

    Happy Honeymoon, by the way, you two deserve it.

    • So far we have been unable to see where it says that. Perhaps it shows up with the wrong title and we have not noticed yet?

      Possible, as I type this response, we have only just arrived back home and have not had a lot of time to check this out. We will check it out after some sleep. Or perhaps it is fixed now?

      Thank you by the way. It was a great and indeed very well deserved honeymoon. 🙂

  3. Well I can’t upload a screenshot, but when I view properties on the downloaded mp3 file MOP-2019-3-22-quora-questions-on-mathematics.mp3
    The title references podcast 14 from 2019-02-22 but the description shows the correct podcast 15 information.

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