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Are there Genuine Mathematical Explanations of Physical Phenomena?

Alan Baker
Mind
New Series, Vol. 114, No. 454 (Apr., 2005), pp. 223-238
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the Mind Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3489104
Page Count: 16
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Are there Genuine Mathematical Explanations of Physical Phenomena?
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Abstract

Many explanations in science make use of mathematics. But are there cases where the mathematical component of a scientific explanation is explanatory in its own right? This issue of mathematical explanations in science has been for the most part neglected. I argue that there are genuine mathematical explanations in science, and present in some detail an example of such an explanation, taken from evolutionary biology, involving periodical cicadas. I also indicate how the answer to my title question impacts on broader issues in the philosophy of mathematics; in particular it may help platonists respond to a recent challenge by Joseph Melia concerning the force of the Indispensability Argument.

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