Your Garage Summer Reading Amazon Fashion Learn more nav_sap_plcc_ascpsc $5 Albums Explore Premium Audio Fire TV Stick Sun Care Patriotic Picks Shop-by-Room Amazon Cash Back Offer AnnedroidsS3 AnnedroidsS3 AnnedroidsS3  Amazon Echo  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Amazon Echo Introducing new colors All-New Kindle Oasis AutoRip in CDs & Vinyl Best Camping & Hiking Gear in Outdoors
Customer Discussions > Science forum

Looking for data - A Poll on Atheists, Theists and Mathematics


Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-25 of 26 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 19, 2010 12:58:02 PM PDT
CIAN OBRIEN says:
I am not looking to start a deep discussion or stir up a debate but merely poll volunteers for data to develop a forming hypothesis. We are all familiar with the types of debates posted here and in other forums and while participating I have tended to notice a pattern.

My hypothesis is that people who have difficulty believing in a deity, and how others can, also have difficulty comprehending mathematical objects as anything other than mental constructs. i.e. That mathematical objects have no ontological value, that they are completely mind dependant. I am looking to see if this is explicitly the case, and if the inverse is also true. Are those who are likewise compelled to see guided intelligence in the universe, more likely to view mathematical objects as non-extended existing entities? And lastly, if these hold true, what is ratio of exceptions to this possible rule of thumb?

So here are the questions:

Are you an atheist, a theist or someone who does hold a firm position on theism?
Are you prone to believe that say the natural number "2", has ontological value outside of human minds?
Are you prone to believe that an integer such as "-2", has ontological value outside of human minds?
Are you prone to believe that an irrational number such as Pi, has ontological value outside of human minds?
Are you prone to believe that an imaginary numbers usually represented as "i" or the square root of "-1", have ontological value outside of human minds?

Thanks in advance to your participation or any reference to sources on this subject.

Posted on Mar 19, 2010 1:05:40 PM PDT
A lot hinges on what you mean by "ontological value outside of human minds" but I think I probably support your hypothesis: I am an atheist, and I am decidedly anti-Platonist in my views about mathematical objects. I don't think that 2 is any more real than i, though we do experience it more directly (because it models much simpler situations in the physical world).

Posted on Mar 19, 2010 2:06:03 PM PDT
Caryatid says:
I am a mathematician by education (BA and MS), statistician and probability distribution user in work life, and tutor two pre-calculus/ trig students on side. I'm not an atheist, and my spirtuality is of a very traditional Judeo-Christian variety. I am not a regular attendee at my religion's house of worship at present, though I have been at various times as recently as 6 months ago, and until age 18. I do observe the major religious holidays of my faith, as they occur 2-3 times per year. However, I am also receptive to the possibilities of non-monotheistic belief systems. I note the implicit "blasphemy" but.... Let's say I'm agnostic when it comes to multi-deity pantheons and animism.

To answer your question:
No, I find no inherent "ontological value" in a given number, be it integer, imaginary, prime, very large or small. I make one exception: a few transcendental numbers such as "e" (2.71, logarithm base e, or natural log ln), pi (describing circumference and area of circle and much more), the universal parabolic constant, Gelfond-Schneider constant, Chaitan constant, gamma function and factorials, a few others. My perception of these numbers, due to their signifcance and recurrence in the natural world, is probably a form of superstition, which I acknowledge to an extent. I felt similar sentiments about certain physical constants, that describe relationsips in more than one field of science, when younger.

I don't feel the same way about Fibonacci sequence, nor E8 lie algebra, yet an equally strong case could be made there probably. I hope this provides you with a usable data point for your purposes.

Posted on Mar 19, 2010 3:45:13 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 19, 2010 4:11:16 PM PDT
Michael H. says:
I say "two" is that inherent property that certain collections, such as the following, have in common: **; --; $$; etc. Beyond that it gets difficult.

Edit: agnostic, by the way.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 19, 2010 3:57:40 PM PDT
tom kriske says:
athiest; i think mathematics is the yang... to the realists yin.

Posted on Mar 19, 2010 4:21:05 PM PDT
Fascinating question. I am very anti organized religion but find plenty of spiritual content in the findings of science itself (I.e. emergence, the elegance of e=mc2, etc). I, like Caryatid, don't find ontological aspect to integers but do for numbers like e, pi, and the rest. I'd tack on fibinocci and the golden ratio and a host of related mathematical ideas. I find the fact that algebra and numbers can so effectively describe and model the physical world moving and mysterious. It hits my "complexity bone".

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 19, 2010 4:23:57 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Sep 7, 2011 11:09:52 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 19, 2010 4:31:37 PM PDT
Uueerdo says:
To be honest, I am not sure if anything can be said to have "ontological value" outside of a mind. Seems like a bit of a contradiction to me. The existence of a consistent ratio common to all circles between their circumference and diameter is not added to or subtracted from by our labelling it 'pi' nor by our inability to actually accurately conceptualize it. Even things as simple as .. || ++ etc as MH pointed out do not need our labelling them 2 to have something in common with each other. However, that commoness may be more or less perceivable depending on the observer...was that 2, 2, 2 or 2, 2, 4 or 11 88 88? Since our number system is about how we perceive and conceptualize things, it is hard to say that it would have "ontological value" "outside of human minds".

But maybe I am just misunderstanding the question...it happens alot on Fridays.

Posted on Mar 19, 2010 4:37:41 PM PDT
I'm an atheist, but my maths skills are complete rubbish even if I'm a Computer Engineer.
I find beauty in pairs, but I don't identify pair with the number 2. Numbers are but constructs. Useful tools if you will.
I find beauty in patterns, like symbols, number sequences and fractals, but nothing ontological.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 19, 2010 6:00:25 PM PDT
"... atheist, a theist or ..." Agnostic, leaning toward atheist.

"Are you prone to believe that say the natural number "2", has ontological value outside of human minds?" I am not prone to say that anything has "ontological value", because I do not know what it means. I do think that in a universe without human minds, 2 things would still be different from 1 thing or 3 things, if that is what you are driving at.

"Are you prone to believe that an integer such as "-2", has ontological value outside of human minds?" I guess so, in the same sense as above--if you take away 2 things, it is different from taking away 1 thing or 3 things.

"Are you prone to believe that an irrational number such as Pi, has ontological value outside of human minds?" This seems tantamount to asking if is there such a thing as a circle. My answer is yes, to a reasonable degree of approximation. The more closely a real figure approximates an ideal circle, the more closely the ratio of its circumference to its diameter approximates Pi.

"Are you prone to believe that an imaginary numbers usually represented as "i" or the square root of "-1", have ontological value outside of human minds?" If my thinking above means anything in terms of ontological value, then Yes, because (-1)^1/2 pops up in equations that describe real phenomena, just as Pi pops up in describing real phomena.

Even though I do not know what "ontological value" means, this question has sure led to some interesting answers.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2010 7:07:10 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 20, 2010 7:32:38 AM PDT
Jack Shandy says:
I'm an atheist, and I don't think mathematical objects have any existence in the 'real' world. Like the number 2. Its 'value' would depend on the reality of distinct objects. Approximately we can see the universe full of distinct objects, but when you look on a more fundamental level, it seems hard to even define the term object rigorously.

But we can always invent a mathematical universe containing all mathematical ideas. Doing mathematics is then exploring that universe. I'm currently reading The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose, and he seems a bit of a Platonist. And I think somewhere he has a point. Does a mathematical theorem become true the moment it is proven (or from the moment of its formulation), or was it true all along? And if it was true all along, even before it was formulated for the first time, doesn't it have some kind of independent existence after all?

Do all mathematical theorems revert to ambiguity the moment humanity is wiped out, and can any successive intelligent race prove the opposite of what we have done, based on the same axioms? I find that hard to believe.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2010 11:45:21 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Sep 7, 2011 11:09:53 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2010 1:12:45 PM PDT
Bean Slap says:
That doesnt sound like an actual hypothesis but a claim and then an attempt at finding data that coresponds to it. It would be the equivalent of saying that I believe that those who stub their toe in January will get in car wrecks in December and then finding everyone who has had both a car wreck in December and stubbed their toe in January. Theres also no basis for cause, but for just an amatuer attempt its a bit amusing.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2010 1:14:33 PM PDT
Bean Slap says:
....and what in the world do you mean by 'holding any ontological value outside the human mind?'

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2010 2:24:07 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 20, 2010 3:01:09 PM PDT
Jack Shandy says:
I disagree. The mathematical statement "Pythagoras' theorem follows from the axioms of Euclidean geometry" is a true statement, independent of the real-world applicability of Euclidean geometry.
I'll even go so far as to claim that a mathematical truth is at least as true as any 'real entity/process' it attempts to describe is true, since by rigorously defining/describing that real entity/process we are invariably led to use mathematics to do it. I'm more of the opinion that (our concept of) reality is defined by the mathematics we use to describe it.

And about the existence of mathematical theorems before they are conceptualized, I also disagree with your viewpoint. I think that given any set of axioms (whether or not complete and/or consistent), the totality of provable statements is a fixed collection. We just need to find them and prove them. So we could define the mathematical universe as the collection of all possible axioms, of which any subset defines a collection of provable statements which can be considered to exist even if we would never even entertain the idea of basing our mathematics on those axioms. Or something like it :)

Posted on Mar 20, 2010 7:16:26 PM PDT
Tero says:
What was the purpose of lumping these questions together? Ah, paragraph 2.

I am not a believer in "truths" as some philosophical thinkers label it. If it has some practical value, use the concept.

Posted on Mar 20, 2010 9:05:23 PM PDT
starguts says:
I am an undergraduate mathematics major.

Any idea which is defined as having the properties of the supernatural or the magical is invalid on its face; for the concept of anything superseding the 'natural world' yet still maintaining the property of existence outside of human skulls is logically unsound. In addition, the concept of faith (usually applied to ideas containing some element of the supernatural) is by definition non logical. Given these statements, which I think to be of sound reasoning, and given that I attempt to live my life on a pragmatic and approximately logical basis, I suppose that one could describe me as a non-believer in all matters of the numerous and diverse kinds of superstitious assertions in the absence of evidence.

Your other questions are (no offence) rather poorly formed; the various flaws in your wording have been discussed previously.

I would simply add, that one should not confuse the map with the territory. I think Ian Stewart's writings on this subject most closely resemble my own.

Posted on Mar 20, 2010 9:50:59 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 20, 2010 9:51:26 PM PDT
CIAN OBRIEN says:
Thanks all for those who answered with the intent to provide information. I find much of the information provided very interesting and I was attempting not to get into a deep discussion but there are some points of clarification that may make this more productive.

a_mathematician "A lot hinges on what you mean by "ontological value outside of human minds"

Yes, this is so. Let me try to clarify without over stating my position. Although this was considered poorly stated I was quite specific. I was not considering other minds only the ones we are aware of that seem to have fully developed the capacity we are discussing. I was specifically avoiding the minds of extraterrestrials or God or what have you. However these other minds could provide a haven for such objects if human minds ceased to exist.

Simply put existing or having ontological value is usually binary for most. Give it a 1 for something that exists, and a zero for something that does not. This is most likely a default assumption for most materialists. In some schools of thought there may be objects that are not binary, that is they have some level of existence between 1 and zero, this is sometimes called subsistence. Some ontological and mathematical systems claim that mathematical objects subsist. Alexius Meinong ontological system is a good example of this.

For the record, I am a theist, and I would give some level of ontological value for every type of mathematical object I mentioned in this poll. To those who believe this is some amateur claim, there is a lot here for any thinker of decent caliber to chew on. And for those of you who would off handedly dismiss this as nonsense, you will see as we progress that you may be on very precarious ground if you claim mathematics as having no ontological value, yet hold as a fundamental belief the findings of theoretical physics for your understanding of the universe, and the claimed fundamental objects ("particles") predicted by mathematical models even prior to any measurement of them. Would anyone make the claim that such predictions are blind faith or magical?

It occurred to me in some debates that others who depend on mathematics much more so for their world view than say I might, seem to hold the position that mathematics seems less "real" than I do, which seemed both odd and made sense in the same instance. It seems odd to me, that someone who puts great stock in theoretical physics, basically mathematical models as the basis of an all conclusive genesis of the universe, would not give the same ontological value to mathematical objects that I would grant. In a sense, it seemed our positions on mathematics should be reversed. If we continue to use the number "2" for example, I see it as a universal, not as a strict Platonist, but the concept of "two" is the same for me, and for you, and presumably for other sentient beings if they have the cognitive capacity. This is very different from other mental constructs, the color red, taste of wine, my idea of Fred. All of these mental constructs are variable from mind to mind. But the number "2", that is the same, exactly the same, for all minds, in all times and in all places. This constitutes evidence from my perspective, that my mental construct of 2, is not unique to my experience or my mind, it is universal and thus a comprehension of something real. Even more real than the taste of wine you and I might share over a meal. Now I do not expect to go out in a spaceship and find the number 2 orbiting a gas giant or some other physical object, however to my neural structures the fact that the number two has some existence outside of consciousness seems evident to me. It began to seem like the same mechanism that is at work when I claim the same with cosmic intelligence or God. Whether or not God or the number two exists is not what I am trying to debate here, but more importantly that the mechanism or capacity, that leads one such as myself to see mathematic objects as having existence outside of finite minds, may be the same mechanism or set of mechanisms' that compels me to be a theist. I am finding the inverse to be almost universally true.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2010 11:07:25 PM PDT
Kyle Towers says:
Cian,

I have a different difficulty in answering your questions. Perhaps I'm just being dense or perhaps I'm just unused to such philosophical ideas, which I frankly think are often near-meaningless. Is this like the question of whether a falling tree makes a sound if no one hears? The answer is a straightforward function of how you choose your definitions.

What do you mean by "mathematical objects"? A water molecule would have 2 hydrogen atoms whether there was a mind to conceive of the number 2 or not. Pi and phi are properties of 3D space; why is a mind needed?

As you know, I'm an atheist.

Posted on Mar 21, 2010 2:59:27 AM PDT
Let me say, very briefly, why I take an anti-Platonist attitude to mathematical objects. The continuum hypothesis says that every infinite set of real numbers can be put into one-to-one correspondence with either the set of natural numbers or the set of real numbers. Speaking more loosely, there is no set of "intermediate size", uncountable, but smaller than the cardinality of the continuum.

Now a Platonist would say that there is a truth of the matter: either the universe (or some abstract realm, or whatever) contains a set of intermediate size or it doesn't. And for any two sets, either there is a one-to-one correspondence between them or there isn't. But the continuum hypothesis is a famous example of an undecidable statement -- we know that it is not possible to prove or disprove it. Since proof is the only method I know of deciding whether I believe in a mathematical statement, I find it natural to conclude that there just isn't an external fact of the matter as to whether CH is true.

I should add that some very serious set theorists (notably Hugh Woodin) do not come to the same conclusion. There is a very interesting programme to decide the truth of CH by coming up with extra axioms, arguing that they have such desirable consequences that they should be adopted, and then showing that they can be used to prove or disprove CH. It seems that according to this programme CH is false. I don't buy it myself, but neither do I have the expertise in that area to give a convincing dismissal of it. I suppose I might say that an axiom's having desirable consequences doesn't make that axiom true in a Platonic sense -- at best it makes it an axiom that would be convenient to adopt.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2010 6:08:54 AM PDT
Tero says:
This issue of 2 is pretty much nonsense. Yes binary is undertood by all beings that can count, but all other systems are just bookkeeping devices. They can all be converted to binary. They have no philosophical meaning.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2010 10:50:49 AM PDT
Strange, James, yours was the first post that I totally understood, or at least which I felt totally comfortable with. But then I'm not a mathematician.
Cian,
In answer to your question:
I have no difficulty in not believing in a deity (= atheist)
I also have no understanding of how people can submit to a deity.

Just a few days ago, strangely enough, I was wondering if 2, yes, 2, had any meaning outside the human mind. I never did really answer my question other than to think: I don't know.
Which probably means: it has a meaning only in the human mind
And therefore the same with all the other math concepts you mentioned.
Summary:
athgeist
No, no, no et al

PS the athgeist was a typo which I chose to leave uncorrected! lol

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2010 10:58:49 AM PDT
James G,

What a splendidly mathematical answer, which, after understanding the other James', I also understood. I might have made a mathematician after all. LOL

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2010 3:35:10 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 21, 2010 3:38:15 PM PDT
Don Jennings says:
CIAN's questions

Are you an atheist, a theist or someone who does hold a firm position on theism?
I am an atheist

Are you prone to believe that say the natural number "2", has ontological value outside of human minds?

Geez -- per various on-line dictionaries ontological means

"1. Of or relating to ontology.
2. Of or relating to essence or the nature of being.
3. Of or relating to the argument for the existence of God holding that the existence of the concept of God entails the existence of God."

Where "ontology" means "a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being"

Really and truly, I don't know how to answer the question. There are situations without human beings where 2 things (or multiples of two things) are significant: the fact that there are just about as many positive charges in the solar system as negative charges -- that is "an even number -- multiple of 2) results in the overall electrical neutrality of the solar system. There are about 20 ways of answering this question.

Are you prone to believe that an integer such as "-2", has ontological value outside of human minds?

There are quantities in the universe that are proxies for "-2" and, as such, I guess "-2" can be considered to exist outside the human mind.

Are you prone to believe that an irrational number such as Pi, has ontological value outside of human minds?

You know, these are all the same question: reality suggests these quantities but they are ultimately the way the human brain grasps and deals with the underlying reality. Are there perfect circles in nature? Plato in the person of Socrates says "no." So the perfect circle may be the product of human thought (although I would tend to think that it is a product of thought period).

Are you prone to believe that an imaginary numbers usually represented as "i" or the square root of "-1", have ontological value outside of human minds? See above.

Let me say that the use of bogus philosophical terms like "ontological" pollutes this poll. I don't know that there is a clear idea of "ontological" that could be considered a common idea among people. Why could you not say "did the number '2' exist before there were any people?' And to be clear you should have clarified that even more.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2010 5:12:13 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 21, 2010 5:13:42 PM PDT
Philip--Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. I actually thought it was a very pragmatic answer, whereas a mathematical answer might be very abstract. I tried to tie it to things that actually exist--thus, the number "2" may be a mathematical concept that arguably exists only in human minds, but it does correspond, for example, to the number of hands I really have, which is different from having any other number of hands.
‹ Previous 1 2 Next ›
[Add comment]
Add your own message to the discussion
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Prompts for sign-in
 


Recent discussions in the Science forum

 

This discussion

Discussion in:  Science forum
Participants:  18
Total posts:  26
Initial post:  Mar 19, 2010
Latest post:  Mar 22, 2010

New! Receive e-mail when new posts are made.
Tracked by 4 customers

Search Customer Discussions