Why is our scientific description of the universe based on mathematics? If you've taken physics or chemistry classes, it might seem obvious that the laws of nature are mathematical, but in fact it's a very deep mystery. I should admit right from the start that I am not a particular expert on this subject, but since this is a blog, I am entitled to spout off about all sorts of things that I know nothing about.

*Caveat emptor*. By the way, I also don't speak Latin. I just use it to make myself appear smarter than I really am.

Eugene Wigner, who was one of the great figures in quantum mechanics, was one of the first people to think about this problem. He wrote a famous article on it: "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences," which you can read

here. But why is this even a mystery? The way we learn mathematics in school obscures the true nature of math. In grade school and high school, math is firmly embedded in physical reality -- it's a way of solving real-world problems. We learn arithmetic in order to balance our check books (does anyone besides me do that anymore?) and we learn algebra in order to determine the age of our friends, like Suzy, who is twice as old as Jim was when Jim was as old as Suzy is now. But "real" mathematics, as practiced by professional mathematicians, is nothing like that. Mathematics involves the construction of increasingly complex mathematical structures, which seem to have no basis in physical reality. If you doubt my view, take a look at a random entry at the

Mathworld website. And yet abstract mathematical structures frequently turn up in physical theories, often decades after they were first invented. Differential geometry, which examines curved spaces that seem to have no relation to the physical universe, turns out to be the basis of general relativity (whose centenary we are celebrating this month). Abstract algebra (not the algebra you learned in high school, but things like group theory and linear algebra) lies at the foundation of quantum mechanics. So why do these inventions of mathematicians turn up so reliably in physical theories?