Do We Live Inside a Mathematical Equation?
From the arc of a baseball to the orbits of the planets, mathematical patterns are everywhere. But according to physicist Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, it’s not enough to say that math governs our universe. Rather, he believes that reality itself is a mathematical structure. What the heck does that mean? We caught up with Tegmark after his presentation at yesterday’s symposium “Is Beauty Truth?” at the annual meeting of AAAS (which publishes ScienceNOW).
Q: What makes a mathematical theory beautiful?
M.T.: For me, it’s usually when there’s an unexpected connection between two things I thought were unrelated. Imagine if you walked into an art museum and saw a very beautiful sculpture in one corner, and something else in the other corner, but there’s a big veil between them. And then suddenly someone lifts the veil and you see that the two things are just parts of a much grander structure. Seeing that whole makes you understand the pieces much better.
The beautiful mathematical regularities that have been uncovered have typically been unifications, where instead of having one mathematical description for this and a different one for that, we realize there’s a single mathematical structure that encompasses all of it. So for me, it would be a natural conclusion if everything could be unified, if there’s a single mathematical structure that is our reality, and all of the mathematical structures that we’ve discovered before are part of this more beautiful whole.
Q: Wait a minute. What do you mean, the universe is a mathematical structure?