In science, the term physics envy is used to criticize a tendency (perceived or real) of softer sciences and liberal arts to try to obtain mathematical expressions of their fundamental concepts, as an attempt to move them closer to harder sciences, particularly physics.
The success of physics in "mathematicizing" itself, particularly since Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica, is generally considered remarkable and often disproportionate compared to other areas of inquiry. "Physics envy" refers to the envy (perceived or real) of scholars in other disciplines for the mathematical precision of fundamental concepts obtained by physicists. It is an accusation raised against disciplines (typically against soft sciences and liberal arts such as literature, philosophy, psychology, social sciences) when these academic areas try to express their fundamental concepts in terms of mathematics, which is seen as an unwarranted push for reductionism.
Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr discusses the issue of the inability to reduce biology to its mathematical basis in his book What Makes Biology Unique?. Noam Chomsky discusses the ability and desirability of reduction to its mathematical basis in his article "Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden."
- Philosophy of biology
- Philosophy of physics
- Philosophy of science
- Unreasonable ineffectiveness of mathematics
- For example, Eugene Wigner remarked "The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.", while Richard Feynman said "To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature ... If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in."
- Mayr (2004)
- Chomsky (2009)
- Chomsky, N. (2009). "The Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden?". Journal of Philosophy 106 (4): 167–200.
- Csikszent, M.; Hektner, J.M.; Schmidt, J.A. (2006). Experience Sampling Method: Measuring the Quality of Everyday Life. SAGE Publications. ISBN 978-1-4129-4923-1.
- Mayr, E. (2004). What Makes Biology Unique? Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84114-6.
- Mirowski, P. (1999). "The Ironies of Physics Envy". More Heat Than Light. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-42689-8.
- Schabas, M. (1993). "What's So Wrong with Physics Envy?". In de Marchi, N. Non-Natural Social Science. Duke University Press. p. 45. ISBN 0-8223-1410-X.
- Schram, S.; Caterino, B. (2006). Making Political Science Matter: Debating Knowledge, Research, and Method. New York University Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-4033-0.
- Overcoming ‘Physics Envy’, op-ed by two political scientists. New York Times, published March 30, 2012
- Physics Envy: "quants" and financial models, essay and book review of Models Behaving Badly by Emanuel Derman. Review by Burton Malkiel, WSJ, December 14, 2011
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