Friday, 30 October 2009
Science-Driven Mathematical Explanation
Alan Baker, Swarthmore College , Department of Philosophy
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning
Abstract: Does mathematics play an explanatory role in science? This question has been the topic of recent debate between mathematical platonists and their fictionalist opponents. However, little attention has been paid to what a general account of mathematical explanation in science might look like. The only account in the literature, due to Mark Steiner, states that a mathematical explanation in science consists of an explanatory proof of some mathematical result where this result is applied to some phenomenon in the world. I shall argue that this account is inadequate, because there are examples of mathematical explanation in science that do not involve explanatory proofs. Using two case studies from biology, I shall outline some ideas for a more satisfactory account of the explanatory role of mathematics in science.