- In this paper I try to evaluate what I regard as the main attempts at explaining the effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences, namely
- Algorithmic Complexity Theory.
- The first position has been defended by Mark Steiner, who claims that the “user friendliness” of nature for the applied mathematician is the best argument against a naturalistic explanation of the origin of the universe.
- The second is naturalistic and mixes the Kantian tradition with evolutionary studies about our innate mathematical abilities.
- The third turns to the Fregean tradition and considers mathematics a particular kind of language, thus treating the effectiveness of mathematics as a particular instance of the effectiveness of natural languages.
- The fourth hypothesis, building on formal results by Kolmogorov, Solomonov and Chaitin, claims that mathematics is so useful in describing the natural world because it is the science of the abbreviation of sequences, and mathematically formulated laws of nature enable us to compress the information contained in the sequence of numbers in which we code our observations.
- In this tradition, laws are equivalent to the shortest algorithms capable of generating the lists of zeros and ones representing the empirical data. Along the way, I present and reject the “deflationary explanation”, which claims that in wondering about the applicability of so many mathematical structures to nature, we tend to forget the many cases in which no application is possible.
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