FOM: attitudes of core mathematicians and applied model theoriststoward f.o.m.

Stephen Fenner fenner at
Thu Jan 27 17:47:34 EST 2000

On Thu, 27 Jan 2000, Mark Steiner wrote:
> >
> > This reminds me of something I heard the physicist Sheldon Glashow (a
> > close colleague of Weinberg's) say during a lecture at Harvard back in the
> > 80s.  He was dismissing mathematicians' efforts to put quantum field
> > theory on a firm mathematical footing.  He said, quite seriously,
> > "mathematics is the handmaiden of physics," and his other remarks
> > suggested that pure mathematical pursuits are not really interesting or
> > important, except when they arise from or relate to physics.
> ...
> 	About Weinberg, I should stress that, despite what he writes about
> philosophy, when writing books intended to raise money for high energy
> physics, what he does in his working hours has great philosophical
> interest, particularly his views on mathematics, which he seems to
> regard more as the Queen of the sciences rather than its handmaiden.  He
> once wrote that the universe "is" an irreducible representation of a Lie
> group.  That is, we have gone back to 3rd century Pythagoreanism.  And
> he's "against" philosophy?

It's good that he shows a respect for Lie algebras and Lie groups, which
are both incredibly useful in physics.  I wonder how he and Glashow would
view areas like number theory or computability, which don't have any
obvious connection with physics.  [Glashow said this in the days before
public key cryptography was widely known.]

Stephen Fenner                       Phone: 803-777-2596
Computer Science Department          FAX:   803-777-3767
University of South Carolina         Email: fenner at
Columbia, SC  29208  USA             Web:

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