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Ask Ethan: Where Is The Line Between Mathematics And Physics?

17 Mar 2018, 14:01 UTC
Ask Ethan: Where Is The Line Between Mathematics And Physics?
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Simulations of how the black hole at the center of the Milky Way may appear to the Event Horizon Telescope, depending on its orientation relative to us. These simulations assume the event horizon exists, that the equations governing relativity are valid, and that we’ve applied the right parameters to our system of interest. (Imaging an Event Horizon: submm-VLBI of a Super Massive Black Hole, S. Doeleman et al.)They seem almost indistinguishable in some regards, but only one of them represents our physical Universe.When it comes to describing the physical world, we can do it anecdotally, as we commonly do, or we can use science. That means gathering quantitative data, finding correlations between observables, formulating physical laws and theories, and writing down equations that allow us to predict the outcomes of various situations. The more advanced the physical situation we’re describing, the more abstract and complex the equations and the theoretical framework gets. But in the act of formulating those theories, and writing the equations that describe what will happen under a variety of conditions, aren’t we leaping into the realm of mathematics, rather than physics? Where is that line? That’s the question of our Patreon supporter Rob Hansen, who asks:Where ...

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