Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Manuel Barrantes recently published an article in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy. Titled “Explanatory Information in Mathematical Explanations of Physical Phenomena,” the article focuses on cases of natural phenomena that, allegedly, require purely mathematical explanations. Such cases are known as mathematical explanations of physical phenomena or MEPPs.
Barrantes argues that in MEPPs it is not enough to deduce the phenomenon to be explained from mathematical theorems. However, he contends, a mathematical proof of those theorems is not necessary either.
In a MEPP, “[t]he main focus should be on whether the mathematical operations performed in the mathematical model convey explanatory information about the represented empirical structures. As long as they do this, it does not matter whether these operations amount to mathematical proofs,” he says.
According to Barrantes, “what distinguishes MEPPs from ordinary scientific explanations is that a suitable mathematical model captures all and only the features relevant to explaining the empirical situation at hand. This does not mean, however, that the existence of MEPPs supports the view that the structure of the physical world is mathematical.”