Mathematical physics

use of mathematics to solve physics problems

Mathematical physics refers to development of mathematical methods for application to problems in physics.


  • There are at present fundamental problems in theoretical physics awaiting solution, e.g., the relativistic formulation of quantum mechanics and the nature of atomic nuclei (to be followed by more difficult ones such as the problem of life), the solution of which problems will presumably require a more drastic revision of our fundamental concepts than any that have gone before. Quite likely these changes will be so great that it will be beyond the power of human intelligence to get the necessary new ideas by direct attempts to formulate the experimental data in mathematical terms.
    • Paul Dirac, "Quantised Singularities in the Electromagnetic Field" (1931)
  • At this point an enigma presents itself which in all ages has agitated inquiring minds. How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality? Is human reason, then, without experience, merely by taking thought, able to fathom the properties of real things?
    In my opinion the answer to this question is, briefly, this: as far as the propositions of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.
  • Mathematicians are only dealing with the structure of reasoning, and they do not really care what they are talking about. They do not even need to know what they are talking about, or, as they themselves say, whether what they say is true. I will explain that. You state the axioms, such-and-such is so, and such-and-such is so. What then? The logic can be carried out without knowing what the such-and-such words mean. If the statements about the axioms are carefully formulated and complete enough, it is not necessary for the man who is doing the reasoning to have any knowledge of the meaning of the words in order to deduce new conclusions in the same language. … But the physicist has meaning to all his phrases. That is a very important thing that a lot of people who come to physics by way of mathematics do not appreciate. Physics is not mathematics, and mathematics is not physics. One helps the other. But in physics you have to have an understanding of the connection of words with the real world.
    • Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965), Ch. 2 : The Relation of Mathematics to Physics
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