Title

Are There Genuine Mathematical Explanations Of Physical Phenomena?

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

4-1-2005

Published In

Mind

Abstract

Many explanations in science make use of mathematics. But are there cases where the mathematical component of a scientific explanation is explanatory in its own right? This issue of mathematical explanations in science has been for the most part neglected. I argue that there are genuine mathematical explanations in science, and present in some detail an example of such an explanation, taken from evolutionary biology, involving periodical cicadas. I also indicate how the answer to my title question impacts on broader issues in the philosophy of mathematics; in particular it may help platonists respond to a recent challenge by Joseph Melia concerning the force of the Indispensability Argument.

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