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Is God a Mathematician?

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


Bestselling author and astrophysicist Mario Livio examines the lives and theories of history’s greatest mathematicians to ask how—if mathematics is an abstract construction of the human mind—it can so perfectly explain the physical world.

Nobel Laureate Eugene Wigner once wondered about “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in the formulation of the laws of nature. Is God a Mathematician? investigates why mathematics is as powerful as it is. From ancient times to the present, scientists and philosophers have marveled at how such a seemingly abstract discipline could so perfectly explain the natural world. More than that—mathematics has often made predictions, for example, about subatomic particles or cosmic phenomena that were unknown at the time, but later were proven to be true. Is mathematics ultimately invented or discovered? If, as Einstein insisted, mathematics is “a product of human thought that is independent of experience,” how can it so accurately describe and even predict the world around us?

Physicist and author Mario Livio brilliantly explores mathematical ideas from Pythagoras to the present day as he shows us how intriguing questions and ingenious answers have led to ever deeper insights into our world. This fascinating book will interest anyone curious about the human mind, the scientific world, and the relationship between them.

From Publishers Weekly

Oct 20, 2008 – The title of astrophysicist Livio's latest wide-ranging science survey is a teaser since God rarely makes an appearance; along with the French astronomer Laplace, Livio has no need of that “hypothesis.” Rather, Livio (The Golden Ratio) is concerned with the contentious question: is mathematics a human invention? Or is it the intricate design of the universe that we are slowly discovering? Scientists in past centuries have argued for the latter, Platonist position. In the last 50 years, however, many scientists, calling into question the whole idea of scientific discovery, maintain that we have invented mathematics. Livio gives as one example the famous golden ratio, which has fascinated Western mathematicians for millennia and was originally emphasized for its mystical symbolism. But Chinese mathematicians, not sharing that outlook, didn't discover it—or maybe they just didn't need to invent it. Livio hedges his bets, unsatisfyingly arguing that mathematics is partly discovered and partly invented. But Livio is a smooth writer. His fans will enjoy this book, and new ones may discover him. B&w illus.

Customer Reviews

Well thought out, well written, interesting, but poorly executed by the publisher

Glad I read this book. I'm not a history buff, but learned some history of math because Livio looks at how the works and views of great mathematicians bear on the book's central question.

Many clear explanations of some of math's neatest ideas, and cogent thoughts about why math fits the world as well as it does (at least in places).

Only one complaint:

On iPhone, many math symbols are missing entirely (imagine reading 3 5 8 as an example of addition -- or worse, imagine reading 3 5 8 and not knowing what it's supposed to be an example of). Fortunately (or not), most of the equations are pretty simple.

Could I possibly be the only person who has read this book on iPhone (5S, latest iOS)? Certainly the publisher has not bothered. This, combined with the as-usual crappy graphics of all e-books, gives the iPhone version a somewhat unprofessional feel. (I've created epub files; I know how to make really pro-looking graphics and captions. It's not that hard.)

Livio's thinking deserves better, but shines through anyhow.

Is God a Mathematician?

This review pertains to the eBook version of the book which I have read. The question posed in the title of the book is rhetorical and hence cannot be answered in any definitive way. This becomes amply clear on reading the book. The word "God" could easily be replaced by "Nature." Alternatively, “God” could also be thought of as an acronym for the trinity: “Generator, Operator, Destroyer.” Such interpretation would have a strong relevance to quantum mechanics where one speaks of creation and annihilation operators for particles and fields.

One immediate comment on the book is that somehow the mathematical relations did not show clearly in many places, most notably in Chapter-4. Perhaps this was due to improper eBook conversion? This does hinder the clarity of discussion in these places. But overall the book is an enjoyable read. It traces a fascinating history of mathematics from ancient to modern times while exploring the nature of mathematics and its relevance to the physical world and other human pursuits. I found the discussion both instructive and informative. Especially stimulating were the quotes by numerous scholars and thinkers sprinkled throughout the book. The idea that mathematics is both invented and discovered by humans to understand the workings of nature only reflects the subtle character of mathematics. Thus the “unreasonable effectiveness” of mathematics in some areas of exploration and its “reasonable ineffectiveness” in some others remain intriguing. The “math-mystery” seems to prevail! Is this a human failing or inherent limitation of knowledge?

Is God a Mathematician?
View in iTunes
  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Mathematics
  • Published: Feb 22, 2011
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Seller: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc.
  • Print Length: 320 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings