Is Math Invented or Discovered?

“The enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious… there is no rational explanation for it,” wrote Nobel Laureate Eugene Wigner. There are mathematical descriptions of natural phenomena on all scales: Fibonacci series in flowers, logarithmic spirals in snails, fractals in mountain ranges, parabolas in home runs, and pi in the spherical shape of stars, planets, and bubbles. But is math discovered in nature or is it invented by humans and imposed on an agnostic reality? Will mathematics always be able to unlock the mysteries of the universe, or will we come to an end of its utility?

Join our Director of Sciences Janna Levin as she hosts cognitive scientist Rafael Nuñez and physicist Max Tegmark in a conversation to challenge our beliefs on mathematics—discovered or invented—and to question if mathematics does in fact provide a fundamental, beautiful structure to the universe. ♦

Scientific Controversies brings together two scientists in conversation to explore unsolved quandaries. The focus is on ideas and the unknown, the precipice between where we are now and where we imagine the future will bring us.