Sunday, April 13, 2014

reality is a mathematical structure

vice |  Max Tegmark has a theory about reality. According to Max, who is a cosmologist and professor of physics at MIT, all that exists, all this familiar stuff—that ergonomic chair you are sitting on, your body and your brain, even the space surrounding you— is math and we are merely “self-aware parts of a giant mathematical object.”

 It’s a heady concept, but what does it even mean? In his new book Our Mathematical Universe, Max calls this idea the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, wherein the universe is envisaged as a mathematical structure. A mathematical structure is “an abstract set of entities with relations between them,” expounds Max in his book, and these relations do not just describe all that is, but actually are all that is.
Reading Our Mathematical Universe, which is part mind-bending scientific treatise and part autobiography, is no casual jaunt. While the book offers a lot to readers, it also asks a lot in return. When I had the opportunity to chat with Max just before the holidays, I felt obligated to preface our conversation with the fact that although I had read the entirety of the book, I experienced difficulties in understanding chunks of it. To him, this presented no problem at all.

“You have to remember, Lex, that if you don’t feel you understand 100 percent about our Universe, nobody else does either!”

Fortunately for me, and anyone else interested in the possible realities of reality, Max is open to having his brain probed, which is what I hoped to achieve in our conversation. What I got from him was not just a deeper understanding of the details and implications of the contentious Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, but also how thinking about such grand ideas could assist you next time you find a parking ticket wedged under your windshield wiper.