That was an excellent post and qualifies as a treasure to be found on this site!

wtf wrote:When infinities arise in physics equations, it doesn't mean there's a physical infinity. It means that our physics has broken down. Our equations don't apply.

I totally get that. In fact even our friend Max gets that.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/ ... g-physics/

Thanks for the link and I would have showcased it all on its own had I seen it first

The point I am making is something different. I am pointing out that:

All of our modern theories of physics rely ultimately on highly abstract infinitary mathematics

That doesn't mean that they necessarily do; only that so far, that's how the history has worked out.

I see what you mean, but as Max pointed out when describing air as seeming continuous while actually being discrete, it's easier to model a continuum than a bazillion molecules, each with functional probabilistic movements of their own. Essentially, it's taking an average and it turns out that it's pretty accurate.

But what I was saying previously is that we work with the presumed ramifications of infinity, "as if" this or that were infinite, without actually ever using infinity itself. For instance, y = 1/x as x approaches infinity, then y approaches 0, but we don't actually USE infinity in any calculations, but we extrapolate.

There is at the moment no credible alternative. There are attempts to build physics on constructive foundations (there are infinite objects but they can be constructed by algorithms). But not finitary principles, because to do physics you need the real numbers; and to construct the real numbers we need infinite sets.

Hilbert pointed out there is a difference between boundless and infinite. For instance space is boundless as far as we can tell, but it isn't infinite in size and never will be until eternity arrives. Why can't we use the boundless assumption instead of full-blown infinity?

1) The rigorization of Newton's calculus culminated with infinitary set theory.

Newton discovered his theory of gravity using calculus, which he invented for that purpose.

I didn't know he developed calculus specifically to investigate gravity. Cool! It does make sense now that you mention it.

However, it's well-known that Newton's formulation of calculus made no logical sense at all. If \(\Delta y\) and \(\Delta x\) are nonzero, then \(\frac{\Delta y}{\Delta x}\) isn't the derivative. And if they're both zero, then the expression makes no mathematical sense! But if we pretend that it does, then we can write down a simple law that explains apples falling to earth and the planets endlessly falling around the sun.

I'm going to need some help with this one. If dx = 0, then it contains no information about the change in x, so how can anything result from it? I've always taken dx to mean a differential that is smaller than can be discerned, but still able to convey information. It seems to me that calculus couldn't work if it were based on division by zero, and that if it works, it must not be. What is it I am failing to see? I mean, it's not an issue of 0/0 making no mathematical sense, it's a philosophical issue of the nonexistence of significance because there is nothing in zero to be significant.

2) Einstein's gneral relativity uses Riemann's differential geometry.

In the 1840's Bernhard Riemann developed a general theory of surfaces that could be Euclidean or very far from Euclidean. As long as they were "locally" Euclidean. Like spheres, and torii, and far weirder non-visualizable shapes. Riemann showed how to do calculus on those surfaces. 60 years later, Einstein had these crazy ideas about the nature of the universe, and the mathematician Minkowski saw that Einstein's ideas made the most mathematical sense in Riemann's framework. This is all abstract infinitary mathematics.

Isn't this the same problem as previous? dx=0?

3) Fourier series link the physics of heat to the physics of the Internet; via infinite trigonometric series.

In 1807 Joseph Fourier analyzed the mathematics of the distribution of heat through an iron bar. He discovered that any continuous function can be expressed as an infinite trigonometric series, which looks like this:

$$f(x) = \sum_{n=0}^\infty a_n \cos(nx) + \sum_{n=1}^\infty b_n \sin(nx)$$

I only posted that because if you managed to survive high school trigonometry, it's not that hard to unpack. You're composing any motion into a sum of periodic sine and cosine waves, one wave for each whole number frequency. And this is an infinite series of real numbers, which we cannot make sense of without using infinitary math.

I can't make sense of it WITH infinitary math lol! What's the cosine of infinity? What's the infnite-th 'a'?

4)

Quantum theory is functional analysis.

If you took linear algebra, then

functional analysis can be thought of as infinite-dimensional linear algebra combined with calculus. Functional analysis studies spaces whose points are actually functions; so you can apply geometric ideas like length and angle to wild collections of functions. In that sense functional analysis actually generalizes Fourier series.

Quantum mechanics is expressed in the mathematical framework of functional analysis. QM takes place in an infinite-dimensional

Hilbert space. To explain Hilbert space requires a deep dive into modern infinitary math. In particular, Hilbert space is

complete, meaning that it has no holes in it. It's like the real numbers and not like the rational numbers.

QM rests on the mathematics of uncountable sets, in an essential way.

Well, thanks to Hilbert, I've already conceded that the boundless is not the same as the infinite and if it were true that QM required infinity, then no machine nor human mind could model it. It simply must be true that open-ended finites are actually employed and underpin QM rather than true infinite spaces.

Like Max said,

"Not only do we lack evidence for the infinite but we don’t need the infinite to do physics. Our best computer simulations, accurately describing everything from the formation of galaxies to tomorrow’s weather to the masses of elementary particles, use only finite computer resources by treating everything as finite. So if we can do without infinity to figure out what happens next, surely nature can, too—in a way that’s more deep and elegant than the hacks we use for our computer simulations."We can *claim* physics is based on infinity, but I think it's more accurate to say *pretend* or *fool ourselves* into thinking such.

Max continued with,

"Our challenge as physicists is to discover this elegant way and the infinity-free equations describing it—the true laws of physics. To start this search in earnest, we need to question infinity. I’m betting that we also need to let go of it."He said, "let go of it" like we're clinging to it for some reason external to what is true. I think the reason is to be rid of god, but that's my personal opinion. Because if we can't have infinite time, then there must be a creator and yada yada. So if we cling to infinity, then we don't need the creator. Hence why Craig quotes Hilbert because his first order of business is to dispel infinity and substitute god.

I applaud your effort, I really do, and I've learned a lot of history because of it, but I still cannot concede that infinity underpins anything and I'd be lying if I said I could see it. I'm not being stubborn and feel like I'm walking on eggshells being as amicable and conciliatory as possible in trying not to offend and I'm certainly ready to say "Ooooohhh... I see now", but I just don't see it.

ps -- There's our buddy Hilbert again. He did many great things. William Lane Craig misuses and abuses Hilbert's popularized example of the infinite hotel to make disingenuous points about theology and in particular to argue for the existence of God. That's what I've got against Craig.

Craig is no friend of mine and I was simply listening to a debate on youtube (I often let youtube autoplay like a radio) when I heard him quote Hilbert, so I dug into it and posted what I found. I'm not endorsing Craig lol

5) Cantor was led to set theory from Fourier series.

In every online overview of Georg Cantor's magnificent creation of set theory, nobody ever mentions how he came upon his ideas. It's as if he woke up one day and decided to revolutionize the foundations of math and piss off his teacher and mentor Kronecker. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Cantor was in fact studing Fourier's trigonometric series! One of the questions of that era was whether a given function could have more than one distinct Fourier series. To investigate this problem, Cantor had to consider the various types of sets of points on which two series could agree; or equivalently, the various sets of points on which a trigonometric series could be zero. He was thereby led to the problem of classifying various infinite sets of real numbers; and that led him to the discovery of transfinite ordinal and cardinal numbers. (Ordinals are about order in the same way that cardinals are about quantity).

I still can't understand how one infinity can be bigger than another since, to be so, the smaller infinity would need to have limits which would then make it not infinity.

In other words, and this is a fact that you probably will not find stated as clearly as I'm stating it here:

If you begin by studying the flow of heat through an iron rod; you will inexorably discover transfinite set theory.

Right, because of what Max said about the continuum model vs the actual discrete. Heat flow is actually IR light flow which is radiation from one molecule to another: a charged particle vibrates and vibrations include accelerations which cause EM radiation that emanates out in all directions; then the EM wave encounters another charged particle which causes vibration and the cycle continues until all the energy is radiated out. It's a discrete process from molecule to molecule, but is modeled as continuous for simplicity's sake.

I've long taken issue with the 3 modes of heat transmission (conduction, convention, radiation) because there is only radiation. Atoms do not touch, so they can't conduct, but the van der waals force simply transfers the vibrations more quickly when atoms are sufficiently close. Convection is simply vibrating atoms in linear motion that are radiating IR light. I have many issues with physics and have often described it as more of an art than a science (hence why it's so difficult). I mean, there are pages and pages on the internet devoted to simply trying to define heat.

https://www.quora.com/What-is-heat-1https://www.quora.com/What-is-meant-by-heathttps://www.quora.com/What-is-heat-in-physicshttps://www.quora.com/What-is-the-definition-of-heathttps://www.quora.com/What-distinguishes-work-and-heatPhysics is a mess. What gamma rays are, depends who you ask. They could be high-frequency light or any radiation of any frequency that originated from a nucleus. But I'm digressing....

I do not know what that means in the ultimate scheme of things. But I submit that even the most ardent finitist must at least give consideration to this historical reality.

It just means we're using averages rather than discrete actualities and it's close enough.

I hope I've been able to explain why I completely agree with your point that infinities in physical equations don't imply the actual existence of infinities. Yet at the same time, I am pointing out that our best THEORIES of physics are invariably founded on highly infinitary math. As to what that means ... for my own part, I can't help but feel that mathematical infinity is telling us something about the world. We just don't know yet what that is.

I think it means there are really no separate things and when an aspect of the universe attempts to inspect itself in order to find its fundamentals or universal truths, it will find infinity like a camera looking at its own monitor. Infinity is evidence of the continuity of the singular universe rather than an existing truly boundless thing. Infinity simply means you're looking at yourself.

Anyway, great post! Please don't be mad. Everyone here values your presence and are intimidated by your obvious mathematical prowess

Don't take my pushback too seriously

I'd prefer if we could collaborate as colleagues rather than competing.