On my left hand side, I have the observation that mathematics is fun. A fun practice. We reach consensus. Never mind the reputation it has for being esoteric and difficult, its practice, as anyone can plainly see, is its ability to garner consensus. In mathematics, unlike every other sphere of human endeavor, we can agree on when we agree. Your proof holds up, or it doesn’t.

If we broaden the domain just a little, and include the thoroughly modern fusion that is theoretical physics within the practice of mathematics, then we see that the practice does, not only tend to generate consensus, but that we relate the consensus so generated to our understanding (if we are materialists, physicalists, or other kinds of knock-on-wood realists) to our notion of that which is real. In seeking our place within the universe, we accord a role to physics/mathematics, a special place.

But very often we realize that the best matches between physics and mathematics are beautiful and elegant. We see them and know they must be true because they are so aesthetically pleasing. So we see that the practice of mathematics has both the ability to garner consensus and the ability to be guided by our human notion of beauty to an understanding of who and what we are.

But we place faith in mathematical models in other domains too. Economics is a case in point. Here the models are breaking down. The Friedman Myth of markets and equilibria no longer seems to work.

I have long thought that “money” is broken. But now I see that it is Maths and the way we regard its practice that is the problem. We can garner consensus through the practice of mathematics, but we need to negotiate, carefully, the trust we place in the applied models (including that of theoretical physics, with its big bangs and black holes and all) because in agreeing where we must agree, there we define ourselves.

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