Why Math is the language of the Universe

Picture taken from xkcd

Recently I came across an interesting quote on the web:

“Applied Math is Physics; Applied Physics is Chemistry; Applied Chemistry is Biology; Applied Biology is Psychology; Applied Psychology is Sociology”

My first reaction was “Cool”. I mean, I could see why the memo of the quote was kind of true. But I didn’t give much thought to it in detail. And like we do with so much of the stuff we read, I stored the quote inside my head without proper scrutiny.

But the other day, I remembered the quote again, so wanted to give it deeper thought.

So, let’s analyze the quote. And to do so, let’s start from the absolute beginning, which means going back to the start of the Universe.

Our Universe, which means everything, came out of Matter and Energy. Matter and Energy then gave birth to Atoms, and these Atoms gave birth to Molecules. Some of these molecules then gave birth to complex life-creating molecules (proteins, DNA, RNA) which then gave birth to life and organism. And now, here we are, made up of these life-creating molecules, atoms, matter, and energy — thanks to all of the above steps. 

Now, let’s talk about the study of these steps in general (without getting too much bogged down into details and intricacies). So, the study of matter, energy, and their interactions is Physics. Then comes the study of atoms, molecules, and their interactions which is Chemistry. Soon followed up by the study of life making organic molecules, their interactions, and overall organism, which basically Biology.

Then comes the study of thinking part, on why these organisms do what they do, which is Psychology. Lastly comes the study of these organisms in groups and their interactions, which is Sociology.

So, as you can see, we are applying our knowledge of one domain to study other, (like applying the knowledge of matter and energy to understand atoms and molecules), each time going a level up, almost in a pyramid-like fashion. 

Just to make clear, the motive here is not to look down upon any of the domains as pure or impure but to rather appreciate the relationships among different fields of study and how we as humans have been able to add our knowledge layer upon layer. 

So, yeah, that’s it, that’s the quick memo of the quote. Except for one more and perhaps the most important part.

If you have noticed it by now, I have totally skipped the first (and the most basic) part. That is, Applied Math = Physics part! 

Well, the reason I skipped (or saved) the first one for the last, is because I had to contemplate more on this part than others. I mean, concepts like Matter and Energy, or Atoms and Molecules are real entities. Something that we know exists out there in reality. Whereas Math is abstract. So, it’s difficult to see how Math fits in all of these, and that too before everything.

So, let’s simplify our thoughts on what we mean by Physics first. Let’s take the same example of Matter and Energy. While there are the usual definitions and explanations, what we mean by Physics in this example is the study of rules or hidden patterns governing Matter and Energy (like E = mc2). 

And what exactly are these rules and patterns? Are they real (or material) entities? Not really. These rules and patterns are basically numbers. And these rules and numbers come from the application of Math.

Of course, the patterns are already out there in the Universe. It’s not like we first invent the rule (that is Physics) and the patterns appear afterward. Rather, we discover these patterns, by applying Math. 

Hence, Applied Math = Physics.

One last thought before singing off, where does Math come from? Well, just like the patterns of the Universe which are already out there, only for us to discover some of them later, math is also out there already — abound and infinite — waiting for us to discover. The parts we have discovered, we try to apply to understand our world better, by discovering the hidden rules and patterns. After all, the Universe expresses itself in the form of Math. And that is why — Math is the language of the Universe.

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