Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Thought 193: Value of Mathematics


"We have science these days precisely to the extent that we have decided to accept the testimony of the senses, 
– to the extent that we havlearned to sharpen them, arm them, and think them through to the end.
Everything else is deformity and pre-science: I mean metaphysics,
theology, psychology, epistemology. Or formal science, a system of signs:
like logic and that application of logic, mathematics.
They do not have anything to do with reality, not even as a problem;
they are equally distant from the question of whether
a sign-convention like logic has any value at all. –"

– Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols


I'm no mathematical wizard. 

That said, I did very well in my end of school maths exam and had fun solving a problem on this blog several years ago (Maths with Calvin).

Mathematics has been said to be god's language to man and there is undoubtedly a purity about its logic and much satisfaction to be gained from engaging with its ideas. 

I however feel that the aura around mathematics as being the highest form of knowledge slightly over-stretched not to say overrated.

In my perception, the fact that mathematics uses symbolic language that is hard to access and happens to have technological and scientific applications leads to the erroneous view that truth is mathematics or, at the least, logic. 

I can see the attraction this idea holds for many, particularly of a left-brain and unintuitive disposition, but I see it as potentially being a barrier to self-enlightenment in the sense of people giving up on introspective labour on the grounds that it is not exact like mathematics and will always be subject to disagreement.

As controversial but pet philosopher of mine Martin Heidegger used to state repeatedly in his lectures, being himself relatively proficient in the science under consideration, exactness is not the same thing as truth, that which is, and mathematical science is no more rigorous than other fields of human thought and activity like history, philology, philosophy or art, which are not as exact as mathematics but require an equivalent level of mental application and dedication (see his lecture What is Metaphysics? collected in the volume Pathmarks).

It is very convenient for those who want to prevent people from getting in touch with themselves and questioning the world around them to make the equation mathematics = truth in so far as high-end mathematics is restrictive in its accessibility and people will simply give up on even attempting to master it and carry on leading lives that avoid questioning the world they live in, thinking this to be a waste of time since lacking the quality of mathematical precision.