What scares you more: that I will talk of death, and injustice, and spiritual annihilation? Or that I will explain how the equation
Pfi = ∑ Γ(S)
affects your life?
Admit it. You want death. You want injustice.
You want spiritual annihilation.
I get it, I get it. Math is an annoyance; math is anathema. As it did for the learn’d astronomer, math makes you unaccountable tired and sick.
Maybe math scares you. Or worse—maybe math bores you. Fear you can take, and anxiety in equal measure; but boredom, never. It wasn’t time but boredom that sunk Ozymandias into the lone and level sands. Because—
Because (you say) math is about numbers. That’s it. It’s just numbers. By enumerating, you take away a spark. That which can be counted, can be dismissed. A mathematician is a bean counter with a pocket protector, somewhere on the spectrum, digitizing nature, walling off the soul with a wall of 1’s and 0’s.
But it isn’t true.
I could plead that mathematicians don’t usually think of numbers. They think about patterns, symmetries, interconnectedness. They see math in the petals of a daisy, and in the predator/prey cycle of lynx and snowshoe hares. Math is in the strength of nanowires, and the delicacy of hoar frost, and the oomph of an engine, and the whorls of a Spirograph.
I could plead that math is about connections, structures. Math is the study of logical systems. Numbers are beside the point.
Beside the point.
I’m looking right now at the white-board in my office. Ignore the calendar with a picture of Crater Lake, and ignore the poster of Han in Carbonite, and ignore the Albert Einstein action figure, and the pamphlet which says “Welcome Aboard Marine One.” Focus on the white-board itself: it’s covered with equations, in red and green and blue, with doodles, starts and stops, arrows and spirals, letters both Roman and Greek. There are graphs of velocity vs. time. There’s a derivative, and an integral. There’s Newton’s 2nd Law, half-erased.
There are no numbers on the board.
I could plead still, but here is what I know: that math is beauty, and that the whole world is math. Here in my ivory tower, I adhere to the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, which posits that the multiverse is itself is “just” a mathematical structure. It’s not infinite turtles, but math, all the way down.
Jump if you like: you’ll never hit the bottom.
And what of the equation I gave? What does it say? To whom does it speak?
It comes from a paper I wrote, across a gulf of years and disciplines. It says, in English, that the probability of going from quantum state A to quantum state B is the sum of all the products of closed-loop amplitudes that include A and B.
I am A.
You are B.
To get from me to you, we have to count all the ways we can interact, including ways that go backwards from you to me.
We add up all the ways.
And in the end you don’t have a number, but possibilities.