MATHEMATICS AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE
“We had quite a successful meeting at Castel Gandolfo and explored some of the issues,” says Dr. John Polkinghorne, the distinguished particle physicist and Templeton laureate in 2002. He is referring to the Humble Approach symposium “Mathematics and Its Significance,” held at Castel Gandolfo, southeast of Rome, in June 2007, which he chaired.

Polkinghorne is in no doubt as to what was the biggest question addressed by the symposium and which will continue to challenge researchers. “The main issue, I think, is going to be the nature of mathematics: is it discovery or is it invention? Is there a world of mathematical entities which mathematicians are exploring, or are they just concocting ingenious problems to demonstrate their logical skills? I think most of the participants believe that mathematics is indeed discovery and that, of course, is a claim that has to be justified and that’s being explored—we have another meeting in September in Cambridge.”

A book will be the outcome, which Polkinghorne describes as “moderately technical.” He adds, “I think it will be a useful contribution to the discussion of what is quite a contentious topic.” The symposium was conducted under the challenging premise: “An adequate evolutionary anthropology seems to require a richer context than afforded by conventional neo-Darwinism.”

Polkinghorne reinforces that thesis by observing that, instead of the rather basic mathematical skills the neo-Darwinian program would seem to suggest, our mathematical abilities are far more sophisticated. He believes our ancestors were drawn into developing higher mathematical skills “not by survival necessity but by simply intellectual delight.”