Dr Robert Knowles awarded British Academy Fellowship
The three year postdoctoral fellowship based in the School of PRHS at the University of Leeds is entitled Mathematics: The Unlikely Engine of Scientific Discovery.
This project provides a novel, multidisciplinary solution to a deep, unresolved question concerning mathematics’ applicability in science. Pure mathematics is developed independently of science, in accordance with mathematicians’ internal aesthetic and explanatory standards. Yet it can facilitate profound discoveries about physical reality e.g. by providing the right language for describing new physical phenomena, and by allowing scientists to draw on mathematical analogies the physical significance of which is unknown. Such applicability is very surprising: how can mathematicians’ internal standards track objective physical reality? Dr Knowles will seek to answer this question by developing a theoretical account of the scientific utility of mathematics that is informed by historical accounts of mathematical theory development and scientific discovery. The hypothesis: given the nature and genesis of mathematical theories, and the ratio of successful to unsuccessful appeals to mathematical analogy in science, the extent of mathematics’ success in driving scientific discovery is unsurprising.