Do Abstract Mathematical Axioms About Infinite Sets Apply To The Real, Physical Universe?


Suppose one has a system, the infinite set of positive integers, P, and one wants to study the characteristics of a subset (or subsystem) of that system, the infinite subset of odd positives, O, relative to the overall system. In mathematics, this is done by pairing off each odd with a positive, using a function such as O=2P+1. This puts the odds in a one-to-one correspondence with the positives, thereby, showing that the subset of odds and the original set of positives are the same size, or have the same cardinality. This counter-intuitive result ignores the “natural” relationship of one odd for every two positives in the sequence of positive integers, which would suggest that O is one-half the size of P. However, in the set of axioms that constitute mathematics, it is considered valid. Fair enough. In the physical universe (i.e., the starting system), though, relationships between entities matter. In biochemistry, if you start with an organism, say a rat, and you want to study its heart, you can do this by removing some heart cells and studying them in isolation in a cell culture system. But, the results often differ compared to what occurs in the intact animal because studying the isolated cultured cells ignores the relationships in the intact body between the cells, the rest of the heart tissue and the rest of the rat. In chemistry, if a copper atom were studied in isolation, it would never be known that copper atoms in bulk can conduct electricity because the atoms share their electrons. In physics, the relationships between inertial reference frames in relativity, and observer and observed in quantum physics can't be ignored. Relationships matter in the physical world, but the mathematics of infinite sets is still used to describe it. Does this matter? It seems to, at least in physics. Infinities cause numerous problems in theoretical physics such as non-renormalizability and problems in unifying quantum mehanics and general relativity . This suggests that the pairing off method and the mathematics of infinite sets based on it are analogous to a cell culture system or studying a copper atom in isolation if they are used in studying the physical universe because they ignore the inherent relationships between entities. In the real, physical world, the natural, inherent, relationships between entities can't be ignored. Said another way, the set of axioms that constitute abstract mathematics may be similar but not identical to the set of physical axioms by which the real, physical universe runs. This suggests that the results from abstract mathematics about infinities may not apply to or should be modified for use in physics.

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