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Current Essay Contest

Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American

Previous Contests

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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Accounting for quantum fuzziness could help us measure space and time—and the cosmos—more accurately.

February 22, 2018

CATEGORY: Trick or Truth Essay Contest (2015) [back]
TOPIC: The Role of Mathematical Thought in Defining Physical Reality by Dan J. Bruiger [refresh]
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Author Dan J. Bruiger wrote on Mar. 10, 2015 @ 14:03 GMT
Essay Abstract

One reason for the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” is that it is never compared to nature itself, which is ambiguous, but to well-defined idealized versions (models). Math is consistent with nature in unfamiliar situations because it is consistent within itself.

Author Bio

Dan Bruiger is an independent researcher and amateur astronomer, with undergraduate studies at UCLA and UC Berkeley. He is the author of Second Nature: the man-made world of idealism, technology, and power, Trafford/Left Field Press 2006. He is currently preparing a new book for publication, The Found and the Made. He resides in the small community of Hornby Island, British Columbia and dances Argentine tango.

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Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 15, 2015 @ 19:00 GMT
Dear Dan Bruiger,

You wrote: “We cannot exhaustively know a natural reality, although we can exhaustively describe a theory of physics and list its elements and propositions.’

Abstract we cannot know or do anything. This is what real me thinks: This is my single unified theorem of how the real Universe is occurring: Newton was wrong about abstract gravity; Einstein was wrong...

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Anonymous wrote on Mar. 22, 2015 @ 18:14 GMT

There's a lot of quotable material here, steeped in wisdom. Math and physics must be considered in their context as embodied cognition. I assume you are saying that they and their relationship come about due to reasoning. You provide a kind of wariness to ascribing reality to our theory and modeling. That is good. I propose that wariness too but not so eloquently.

Good job.


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James Lee Hoover replied on Apr. 13, 2015 @ 17:27 GMT

Time grows short, so I am revisiting essays I’ve read to assure I’ve rated them. I find that I rated yours on 3/22, as I sometimes do when I can immediately relate to it. I find that somehow it attributed my comments to an anonymous responder. I hope you get a chance to look at mine:


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Christopher Adams Horton wrote on Mar. 28, 2015 @ 18:36 GMT
Dan, your thoughtful and carefully worded essay looks like a search for a way to share a vision or larger idea about the nature of science and reality with the world. You clearly have thought deeply about issues of how our perceptions of reality are fundamentally distinct from that reality, and about how physics and even more so math in abstracting from that reality impose on it our own...

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Author Dan J. Bruiger replied on Mar. 29, 2015 @ 17:12 GMT
Dear Christopher,

Thank you for your appreciative and thoughtful comments, and for directing me to the two papers you mentioned. Both refer significantly to Kant. David Hestenes’ paper says right at the outset that “Kant shifted the focus of epistemology from structure of the external world to structure of mind.” This is exactly what I think needs to happen in both physics and math. A science that does that is what I call “second-order” science, because it necessarily refers to its own sources, methods, structure, epistemology, etc. It seems that historically, then, natural philosophy did not follow Kant’s advice but rather defined itself as “first-order” science, strictly embracing a third-person description of the world, leaving reflection on its methods to philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc.

I am not a mathematician, physicist, or any other kind of specialist, but I can see the importance of opening up fundamental questions such as these papers propose. I am very interested in the human need for certainty and how it shapes society. (Think of “security” issues, for example.) As forms of cognition, both physics and math seem to serve that need; conversely, re-thinking them might provide alternative models for society and governance.

Thanks again,


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Gary D. Simpson wrote on Apr. 16, 2015 @ 22:58 GMT

This is a very nice essay.

It reminds me of the drunken man looking for his car keys under the lamp post. When asked where he dropped them he replied "over there" and pointed away from himself. When asked why he was looking here, he replied "the light is better". We like to use the tools that work for us.

The best description of it that I can give is "thoughtful". Nothing you have written is particularly profound taken alone, but as a complete whole it is an excellent proposition ... very well argued.

Best Regards and Good Luck,

Gary Simpson

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Peter Jackson wrote on Apr. 18, 2015 @ 17:49 GMT

It was a great pleasure to read your essay. I was reminded how close our philosophies have proved previously as I agreed every sentence. Of course scoring shouldn't be all about agreement so your max score will be also genuinely for the excellent clarity, content, organisation style etc. etc.

I particularly like your 'maths is simulation' view. Just as astronomy, many simulations use flawed input and can fool us. My own essay identifies a key case where we've been fooled (the great red & green sock switch con trick) which has fundamental implications across physics. I hope you can get to read and score it as I'm sure you'll like it.

Very best wishes


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Author Dan J. Bruiger replied on Apr. 18, 2015 @ 18:07 GMT
Hi, Peter

Thanks for your appreciation, gratefully received. Due to personal circumstances, I haven't had much time to read the essays this year, let alone comment or vote (actually I never vote). I will try to make time to read yours.



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