“[The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word.” – Galileo Galilei.1
The story of humanity’s quest to understand the universe is narrated through the history of math. Math provides us with the means to describe the universe and to gain further insight into it.
But why is that? What is the connection between math and the universe?
Math is important in any theory related to the universe, but cosmologist Max Tegmark claims that the universe itself is made of math. In his book, Our Mathematical Universe, he claims that math is a human invention and that the universe is essentially one massive mathematical object. Math, he claims, does not describe the universe in the same way that atoms describe the objects they make up; rather, math is the universe.2
So, is math really the universe?
No,neither is the universe math nor has it been mathematicalized; however, math can provide a simple way of comprehending the complexity of the universe.5
So, exactly why is math so good at describing the universe?
The answer is simple. It is because math is everywhere.2
Nature is rich in math and patterns—abstract structures far more diverse than numbers, including radial shapes, symmetry, the fibonacci sequence, geometry, figures, numbers, and much more. These are some of the best examples to show how the natural universe is built on mathematical principles.3
In addition to motion and gravity, humans have gradually discovered many more recurring shapes and patterns in nature involving areas as diverse as electricity, magnetism, light, heat, chemistry, radioactivity, and subatomic particles. These patterns are encapsulated in what we refer to as the laws of physics. All of these laws can be described using mathematical equations.
One important consequence of the universe’s mathematical nature is that scientists could theoretically predict every physics observation or measurement. Math wasn’t just invented as an afterthought; it was made to help us better comprehend the world.
There is math in almost everything; the nonliving world is full of math concepts. For example, trades, architecture, music, arts, education, discovery, and much more. This foundation of basic math, which can be found in almost everything, was also the impetus for humans to ask more complex questions.
These questions necessitated precise mathematical models in order to look beyond the basics, which is one of the most important aspects of growth, discovery, and evolution. These concepts and theories serve as a foundation for other mathematical theories that aid in our better understanding of the universe. The theory of quantum mechanics, for example, was derived from Einstein’s work on general and special relativity.4
Math holds the potential of being humanity’s greatest invention.6 Even as we struggle to comprehend its limits, it forms an important part of our neural architecture and continues to empower us beyond mental limits.
The Universe has a very mathematical quality to it, and the closer we look, the more math we see. Math is, in fact, the language of the universe!7 And that’s the answer to this question.
- Galilei, Galileo (1564-1642) | Mathematical Association of America. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.maa.org/press/periodicals/convergence/quotations/galilei-galileo-1564-1642-1
- Is the Universe Made of Math? [Excerpt] – Scientific American. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-the-universe-made-of-math-excerpt/
- The Universe Is Mathematics, Physicist Says | Live Science. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.livescience.com/42839-the-universe-is-math.html
- Albert Einstein’s Remarkable Contributions to the World of Mathematics. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.byjusfutureschool.com/blog/albert-einsteins-contributions-to-mathematics/
- No, The Universe Is Not Purely Mathematical In Nature. (n.d.). Retrieved June 7, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2020/05/20/no-the-universe-is-probably-not-mathematical-in-nature/?sh=3cfbbb931165
- The Mathematical Universe | HowStuffWorks. (n.d.). Retrieved June 7, 2022, from https://science.howstuffworks.com/math-concepts/math5.htm
- Mathematics: The Beautiful Language of the Universe – Universe Today. (n.d.). Retrieved June 7, 2022, from https://www.universetoday.com/120681/mathematics-the-beautiful-language-of-the-universe/