Eugene Wigner on Complexity and Regularity

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On 17 November 1902, Eugene Paul Wigner (1902–1995) was born in Budapest, Hungary. As noted in some sources, Dr. Wigner’s secondary education was at the Lutheran Gymnasium of Budapest, where he first met John von Neumann (1903–1957).

The 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics was co-awarded to Prof. Wigner, along with Johannes Jensen (1907–1973) and Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1906–1972), “for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles.”

Quote from The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences (1960):

“It is … a miracle that in spite of the baffling complexity of the world, certain regularities in the events could be discovered … [I]t is not at all natural that ‘laws of nature’ exist, much less that man is able to discover them … The present writer had occasion … to call attention to the succession of layers of ‘laws of nature,’ each layer containing more general and more encompassing laws than the previous one and its discovery constituting a deeper penetration into the structure of the universe than the layers recognized before. However, the point which is most significant in the present context is that all these laws of nature contain, in even their remotest consequences, only a small part of our knowledge of the inanimate world. All the laws of nature are conditional statements …”

Referenced:
—Larsson, Ulf. “Cultures of Creativity: the Centennial Exhibition of the Nobel Prize.” V.2. (Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Pub./USA, 2001), 167. http://goo.gl/FC6o2j.
—Schechter, Bruce. “My Brain is Open: The Mathematical Journeys of Paul Erdos.” (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1998), 25. http://goo.gl/YPD6Pa.
—Wigner, Eugene P. “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.” New York University. 11 May 1959. Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics 13.1 (1960): 1-14. Image: http://2016.wigner.mta.hu/en/wigner

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Werner Heisenberg, From the known to the unknown

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“The existing scientific concepts cover always only a very limited part of reality, and the other part that has not yet been understood is infinite. Whenever we proceed from the known into the unknown we may hope to understand, but we may have to learn at the same time a new meaning of the word ‘understanding’.”

Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976)
German theoretical physicist and one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics

 

James Clerk Maxwell: Light in Nature and in Faith

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The Scotch physicist James Clerk Maxwell FRS FRSE (13 June 1831 in Edinburgh – 5 November 1879 in Cambridge) was one of the chief figures among 19th century physicists. His most notable achievement was formulating the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon.  Maxwell’s equation for electromagnetism have been called the “second great unification in physics” after the first equations by Isaac Newton. He saw great significance in a universe where the laws of nature fit together like pieces in a puzzle. In those links, he saw the existence and goodness of God and the mystery of the divine.

His Christian faith permeated his scientific work and, according to his own testimony, was at times a source of inspiration. One of his prayers was:

“Almighty God, Who hast created man in Thine own image, and made him a living soul that he might seek after Thee, and have dominion over Thy creatures, teach us to study the works of Thy hands, that we may subdue the earth to our use, and strengthen the reason for Thy service; so to receive Thy blessed Word, that we may believe in Him Whom Thou hast sent, to give us the knowledge of salvation and the remission of our sins. All of which we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

He favored a world-view which includes ideas like the ones in the modern chaos theory such as ‘sensitive dependence to initial conditions‘. In his 1873 lecture on determinism and free will, he says:

“The subject of the essay is the relation to determinism, not of theology, metaphysics, or mathematics, but of physical science,—the science which depends for its material on the observation and measurement of visible things, but which aims at the development of doctrines whose consistency with each other shall be apparent to our reason…

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Maxwell can be seen, together with Poincaré, as a forerummer of Lorenz’ Butterfly effect (1963) . Image credit

For example, the rock loosed by frost and balanced on a singular point of the mountain-side, the little spark which kindles the great forest, the little word which sets the world a fighting, the little scruple which prevents a man from doing his will, the little spore which blights all the potatoes, the little gemmule which makes us philosophers or idiots. Every existence above a certain rank has its singular points: the higher the rank the more of them. At these points, influences whose physical magnitude is too small to be taken account of by a finite being, may produce results of the greatest importance. All great results produced by human endeavor depend on taking advantage of these singular states when they occur.

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.

The man of tact says “the right word at the right time,” and, “a word spoken in due season how good is it!” The man of no tact is like vinegar upon nitre when he sings his songs to a heavy heart. The ill-timed admonition hardens the heart, and the good resolution, taken when it is sure to be broken, becomes macadamised into pavement for the abyss.

It appears then that in our own nature there are more singular points,—where prediction, except from absolutely perfect data, and guided by the omniscience of contingency, becomes impossible,—than there are in any lower organisation. But singular points are by their very nature isolated, and form no appreciable fraction of the continuous course of our existence. Hence predictions of human conduct may be made in many cases. First, with respect to those who have no character at all, especially when considered in crowds, after the statistical method. Second with respect to individuals of confirmed character, with respect to actions of the kind for which their character is confirmed.”

Stanley L. Jaki – Science as a Pathway to God

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Stanley L. Jaki was born in 1924 in Györ, Hungary. He entered the Benedictine Order in 1942. After completing his undergraduate training in philosophy, theology and RoadofScience200mathematics in 1947, he went to the Pontifical Institute of San Anselmo, Rome, where he received a doctorate in theology in December 1950. In 1948 he was ordained a priest. Dr. Jaki held the STD in systematic theology, Istituto Pontificio di S. Anselmo (Rome, 1950), a PhD in physics from Fordham University (1957), and several honorary doctorates. Dr. Jaki gave the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 1974-75 and 1975-76. The lectures were published as The Road of Science and the Ways of God. In 1987, he was awarded  the Templeton Prize for furthering understanding of science and religion. Jaki authored more than two dozen books on the relation between modern science and orthodox Christianity.

From 1951, Dr. Jaki taught systematic theology at the School of Theology of St Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania. During this time, he attended in the same college courses in American history, literature, mathematics and sciences to secure American recognition of his undergraduate training done in Hungary. He received his BS from St Vincent College in 1954. The same year, he began doctoral research in physics in the Graduate School of Fordham University, New York, under the mentorship of the late Dr. Victor F. Hess, the discoverer of cosmic rays and a Nobel-laureate. Dr. Jaki’s thesis was published in the June 1958 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research under the title, “A Study of the Distribution of Radon, Thoron, and Their Decay Products Above and Below the Ground.” Between 1958 and 1960 he did research in the history and philosophy of physics at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. From 1960 to 1962 he was Visiting Fellow in the Program for the History and Philosophy of Science at Princeton University. From 1962 to 1965 he wrote the important work, The Relevance of Physics (University of Chicago Press, 1966). From 1975 to his death, he was Distinguished University Professor at Seton Hall University, in South Orange, New Jersey. He held doctorates in theology and in physics and was a leading contributor to the philosophy of science and the history of science, particularly to their relationship to Christianity.

He was among the first to claim that Gödel’s incompleteness theorem is relevant for theories of everything (TOE) in theoretical physics. Gödel’s theorem states that any theory that includes certain basic facts of number theory and is computably enumerable will be either incomplete or inconsistent. Since any ‘theory of everything’ must be consistent, it also must be incomplete.

He died on 7 April 2009 in Madrid, Spain following a heart attack. He was in Spain visiting friends, on his way back to the United States after delivering lectures in Rome on Faith and Science at the Pontificio Ateneo Regina Apostolorum.

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Sources: Griffolds Lectures,  Wikipedia

Further recommended reading:

John J. Mulloy, Fr. Stanley L. Jaki on Science as a Pathway to God

John Beaumont, Does science disprove God? A great philosopher-priest showed that it couldn’t 

Stacy A Trasancos, Fr. Stanley Jaki’s Definition of Science 

 

Georges Lemaitre on Physics and Providence

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Georges LeMaitre on Physics Chance Providence

 

« Physics does not exclude Providence. Nothing happens without its order or permission, even if this gentle action is not miraculous. Evolution, whether of the universe or of the living world, could be made at random by quantum leaps or mutations. Nevertheless, this chance has, from a superior point of view, been directed towards a goal. For us Christians, it was oriented towards the appearance of life. In what was done, there was life, intelligence and life was light in man and finally in humanity by the incarnation of the Man-God: the true light that illuminated our darkness.

Chance does not exclude Providence. Perhaps chance provides the strokes mysteriously actuated by Providence. »

Georges Lemaitre, 1966

 

« La physique n’exclut pas la providence. Rien n’arrive sans son ordre ou sa permission, même si cette action suave n’a rien de miraculeux. L’évolution, que ce soit celle de l’univers ou du monde vivant, a pu se faire au hasard des sauts quantiques ou des mutations. Néanmoins, ce hasard a pu d’un point de vue supérieur être orienté vers un but. Pour nous chrétien, il a été orienté vers l’apparition de la vie. En ce qui a été fait, il y avait de la vie, de l’intelligence et la vie était lumière chez l’homme et enfin dans l’humanité par l’incarnation de l’Homme-Dieu : la vraie lumière qui a illuminé nos ténèbres.

Le hasard n’exclut pas la Providence. Peut-être le hasard fournit-il les touches qu’actionne mystérieusement la Providence. »

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Lemaître, « L’expansion de l’Univers: Réponses à des questions posées par Radio Canada le 15 avril 1966 », Revue des Questions Scientifiques, t. CXXXVIII (5e série, t. XXVIII), avril 1967, n°2, pp. 153-162, version revue et adaptée par O. Godart. In: Dominique Lambert, Georges Lemaître : repères biographiques. Revue des Questions Scientifiques, 2012, 183 (4) : 1-59

 

 

Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Mathematician of God

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Maria Gaetana Agnesi (16 May 1718 – 09 January 1799) was an Italian woman of remarkable intellectual gifts and attainments. Her father was professor of mathematics at Bologna. When nine years old she spoke Latin fluently, and wrote a discourse to show that liberal studies were not unsuited to her sex: “Oratio qua ostenditur artium liberalium studia femineo sexu neutiquam abhorrere”. This was printed at Milan in 1727. She is said to have spoken Greek fluently when only eleven years old, and at thirteen she had mastered Hebrew, French, Spanish, German, and other languages. She was called the “Walking Polyglot”. Her father assembled the most learned men of Bologna at his house at stated intervals, and Maria explained and defended various philosophical theses. She devoted herself especially to the study of mathematics. Maria showed a phenomenal aptitude for mathematics. She wrote an excellent treatise on conic sections, and in her thirteenth year her “Instituzioni Analitiche” was published in two volumes (Milan, 1748), the first treating of the analysis of finite quantities; the second, the analysis of infinitesimals. This, the most valuable result of her labours in this field, was regarded as the best introduction extant to the works of Euler. It was translated into English by Colson of Cambridge, and into French by d’Antelmy, with the notes of Abbé Bossuet. The plane curve, known as versiera, is also called “the Witch of Agnesi”. Maria gained such reputation as a mathematician that she was appointed by Benedict XIV to teach mathematics in the University of Bologna, during her father’s illness. This was in 1750, and two years later her father died. Maria then devoted herself to the study of theology and the Fathers of the Church. Her long aspirations to the religious life were destined to be gratified, for after acting for some years as director of the Hospice Trivulzio of the Blue Nuns in Milan, she joined the order and died a member of it, in her eighty-first year.

(“mathematician og God”: see  book by Massimo Mazzotti, The World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Mathematician of God, 2007

Gregor Mendel – the Father of Genetics

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Gregor Mendel

The title “Father of Genetics” can be attributed to Gregor Mendel in two capacities: he laid the groundwork for the new discipline of Genetics and he was an ordained priest and Augustinian monk – therefore, he was called “Father”, like all priests.

Gregor Johann Mendel was born in Hyncice, Moravia on 20 July 1822 in what is now the Czech Republic. The only son of a peasant farmer, Mendel attended local schools and the Philosophic Institute at Olomouc. In 1843, he entered the Augustinian Order at St. Thomas Monastery in Brno (German: Brünn) and began his theological studies at the Brünn Theological College. He was ordained to the priesthood on 6 August 1847.

The Augustinians had been established in Moravia since 1350, and St. Thomas Monastery was a center of creative interest in the sciences and culture. Its members included well-known philosophers, a musicologist, mathematicians, mineralogists and botanists who were heavily engaged in scientific research and teaching. The library contained precious manuscripts and incunabula, as well as textbooks dealing with problems in the natural sciences. The monastery also held a mineralogical collection, an experimental botanical garden and a herbarium. It was in this atmosphere, Mendel later wrote, that his preference for the natural sciences was developed.

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