Philosophy of Science 84 (5):916-930 (2017)

Samantha Wakil
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Pure mathematics can play an indispensable role explaining empirical phenomena if recent accounts of insect evolution are correct. In particular, the prime life cycles of cicadas and the geometric structure of honeycombs are taken to undergird an inference to the best explanation about mathematical entities. Neither example supports this inference or the mathematical realism it is intended to establish. Both incorrectly assume that facts about mathematical optimality drove selection for the respective traits and explain why they exist. We show how this problem can be avoided, identify limitations of explanatory indispensability arguments, and attempt to clarify the nature of mathematical explanation.
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DOI 10.1086/694154
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References found in this work BETA

Realism, Mathematics and Modality.Hartry Field - 1988 - Philosophical Topics 16 (1):57-107.
What Makes a Scientific Explanation Distinctively Mathematical?Marc Lange - 2013 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64 (3):485-511.
Mathematical Explanation in Science.Alan Baker - 2009 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (3):611-633.
The Explanatory Power of Phase Spaces.Aidan Lyon & Mark Colyvan - 2008 - Philosophia Mathematica 16 (2):227-243.

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Citations of this work BETA

Bipedal Gait Costs: a new case study of mathematical explanation in science.Alan Baker - 2021 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 11 (3):1-22.
Mathematical Explanation and Indispensability.Vineberg Susan - 2018 - Theoria : An International Journal for Theory, History and Fundations of Science 33 (2):233-247.

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