Is God a Mathematician?
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. (Jan. 6)