The Beauty of Mathematics in Science

Gerardus 't Hooft; Moderator: Günther Dissertori

Category: Agora Talks

Date: 1 July 2024

Quality: HD MD SD

The Beauty of Mathematics in Science (2024) - Gerardus 't Hooft; Moderator: Günther Dissertori



Conference Room 1–3

Moderator: Günther Dissertori
ETH Zurich, Switzerland


Mathematics is a beautiful language for many sciences, in particular for physics. In marvellous experiments, elementary particles had been analysed, where it was found that they are sensitive to a force called the "weak force", and it was deduced that this force is transmitted by heavy elementary particles with spin. But the mathematical equations did not add up as expected. An extra particle without spin had to be there as well: the Higgs particle. All these particles are known to obey the rules of quantum mechanics, but does this mean that elementary particles aren't real, like rocks or planets?
A similar question can be asked for objects formed by the gravitational force: black holes. These also obey mathematical equations as if they aren't real. What is going on?
Mathematics is not about reality, and being quantum mechanical does not mean that something cannot be real. This is my present research topic: mathematics, including the mathematics for quantum phenomena, is nothing but a language. And it is beautiful. I am worried about the way math is taught in high schools: it must first of all be explained that math is about numbers and about shapes. Complicated stories with colorful pictures in glossy text books are hiding the fact that the stories are irrelevant. As soon as you reduced the questions to the logic of counting, of adding and multiplying numbers, and playing with shapes like triangles, mathematics becomes beautiful and simple, understandable for anyone with a bit of patience.