What do you think of this question? Initially, one of the issues was excessive capitalization, but do you think that it's appropriate otherwise? I can see what the author is asking, but one could argue that it's not a well-worded/well-conveyed question, so I was wondering what the policy on this would be.

  • $\begingroup$ For future reference: please link specific-question discussions from the main post. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2010 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you dear InterestedQuest for asking this question. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2010 at 16:46

3 Answers 3


Whether mathematical concepts are based on anything solid is a perennial question. The questions and even some of the standard answers often include variations of the "based on lies" idea (e.g., strict formalism) and I think the OP should not have been pressured to change the wording. He gave his honest and sufficiently humble impression of the situation, and stronger words have been used (less humbly) by great mathematicians to describe the same apprehensions. Many people stop studying mathematics or lose interest in it due to similar worries about the unreality of the subject. If there are, in fact, simple convincing answers to the question it would not hurt to see them posted.

Anyway, this is another completely reasonable question voted down en masse just for being unconventionally or provocatively expressed. I upvoted as did Matt E but the downvotes presently overwhelm this, 10-to-2. If Bishop Berkeley's criticisms of the mathematics of his time were posed in a math.SE-equivalent environment they would have been downvoted and quickly closed. It would be good to develop a more tolerant site culture instead of making new case by case arguments each time from the "left wing" to (not always successfully) protect endangered questions.

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    $\begingroup$ @T.. I agree with you that the philosophical content of the question is completely reasonable. But if the OP chose to make his point by "provocatively expressing" his views, he perhaps should be willing to accept a certain amount of backlash from the "establishment". On a meta level, I see nothing wrong with people voting down the question to express their disagreement with its premise. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2010 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ I do wonder if many of the downvotes occurred in the first two hours (when the question was on the front page, had a rather outrageous title, and used lots of All Caps). If that is the case, I would even argue that the downvotes accomplished something: it led to the current revision of a question which is (in my opinion) reasonable in both content and language. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2010 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ @T: +1, hear, hear! $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2010 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ @T: thanks for your support. I changed it a lot. I also write an answer for my own question. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2010 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ Agree, the question (in the current form) does not deserve the downvotes it has. Just gave it a +1. $\endgroup$
    – Aryabhata
    Dec 27, 2010 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ I think that a question on the reality of mathematical entities could be reasonable, in theory. But the question as I see it now is very argumentative (I didn't see the version with all caps). I think that questions on philosophy of mathematics should be very welcome here, I and I would be happy to contribute to them. But argumentative pseudo-questions should be discouraged. The use of provocative language to make a point is fine, and Bishop is a fine example of it. But the purpose of a question here shouldn't be to make a point, I think. $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2010 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Carl: interesting criticisms are sometimes argumentative and polemical. e.g., Bishop Berkeley's "ghosts of departed quantities", Poincare's "set theory is a disease", Errett Bishop's "schizophrenia in modern mathematics" and his "constructivist manifesto". Some questions will seem to be ill formulated pseudo-questions because those asking don't know the answers or enough to make a sharper formulation. Where else are such people expected to go to get an answer? Reading a slew of philosophy-of-math or logic books would not necessarily help, and can take a lot of time. $\endgroup$
    – T..
    Dec 28, 2010 at 20:05

I didn't see the original many-caps version of the question, so this answer applies to the question as currently written.

I don't think it is a terrible question. The OP is asking basic questions about the meaning of mathematical concepts. The OP's comments about God suggest an (at least implicit) anti-idealist point-of-view, which means that the Platonistic view-point that satisfies e.g. me regarding the subjects of the OP's question is probably not satisfactory to the OP.

If there were a separate philosophy of mathematics SE site, then this question would belong there, but since there's not, I think it is quite appropriate here.

I also disagree with the implicit suggestion by various commenters that the OP simply doesn't understand the concepts being discussed. As the OP wrote, they are are a programmer, and (most likely) have a good technical facility with mathematics. The OP's concern is philosophical and (in my view) far from frivolous.

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    $\begingroup$ I see what you are saying, I removed my down vote after the question was de-capitalized. It does seem like the author has the best intentions, and they reacted to all the pointers with respect to editing pretty well -- I think it's safe to assume that the point was to actually understand the counter-intuitive (for the author) concepts. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2010 at 1:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Interested: Dear InterestedQuest, Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Regards, $\endgroup$
    – Matt E
    Dec 27, 2010 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ @InterestedQuest: Thank you dear InterestedQuest. I still have -4 votes :D. I changed my question a lot to become more acceptable. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2010 at 16:46

I think it's a terrible question, but (so far) an honest one. The issues it raises are worth addressing somewhere on math.SE, so I haven't closed it yet. But if the OP does not make an effort to understand the answers I will close the question.

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    $\begingroup$ The question is clear enough and the answers are good, so why make closing OP-dependent or (potentially) prevent more answers from appearing? $\endgroup$
    – T..
    Dec 26, 2010 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ Because (in my opinion) part of whether the question is subjective and argumentative depends on the OP's response to the answers. But I agree that this is debatable. $\endgroup$ Dec 26, 2010 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ Please let the community make closing decisions. Binding close votes should only be used for unarguably inappropriate content such as spam etc. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2010 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ Dear Yuan , I know it's terrible. I was confused. I'm sorry again if I ask it in a bad way. I changed it a lot to become more acceptable. Believe me or not, but asking that question helped me more than you can imagine :) ... thanks for your comments and attentions. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2010 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ BTW, I don't think that it should be closed. It's a real question. I agree with Bill if we want a bit more democratic community I think. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2010 at 17:04

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