• Question: Would mathematical truths still exist if there were no people to think about them?

    Asked by Greta Thunberg on 22 Jan 2020. This question was also asked by Mother PI.
    • Photo: Christina Pagel

      Christina Pagel answered on 22 Jan 2020:

      I think yes. There are differences though – fundamental constants like pi and e just express fundamental things about the universe and would always be there. Then there are mathematical theorems that also express objective truths (e.g pythagoras’ theorem). Then there are more abstract theorems about how e.g. numbers behave… they are true and will always be true but they exist within the system of mathematics that we have built. I think that if say aliens had developed a different mathematical system, those things would continue to be true but might be expressed differently to how we express them.

    • Photo: Daniel Bearup

      Daniel Bearup answered on 22 Jan 2020:

      No. Mathematics is a construction, a system of rules that we have developed over time to answer questions. If there was no-one to use mathematics, mathematics would not exist.

      However the mathematics we’ve developed is based on being useful. I would expect that another intelligent species, that needed tools to address “mathematical” problems, would ultimately develop the same set of rules with only cosmetic differences (e.g. their prefered base).