Surprising numbers seem okay with it. A teenager’s question at Tik Tok ended up triggering an academic debate:
“I believe that the only way to make sense of mathematics is to believe that there are objective mathematical facts, and that they are discovered by mathematicians,” says James Robert Brown, a philosopher of science recently retired from the University of Toronto. “Working mathematicians overwhelmingly are Platonists. They don’t always call themselves Platonists, but if you ask them relevant questions, it’s always the Platonistic answer that they give you.”
Other scholars—especially those working in other branches of science—view Platonism with skepticism. Scientists tend to be empiricists; they imagine the universe to be made up of things we can touch and taste and so on; things we can learn about through observation and experiment. The idea of something existing “outside of space and time” makes empiricists nervous: It sounds embarrassingly like the way religious believers talk about God, and God was banished from respectable scientific discourse a long time ago …
Rovelli goes further, calling into question the universality of the natural numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4… To most of us, and certainly to a Platonist, the natural numbers seem, well, natural. Were we to meet those intelligent aliens, they would know exactly what we meant when we said that 2 + 2 = 4 (once the statement was translated into their language). Not so fast, says Rovelli. Counting “only exists where you have stones, trees, people—individual, countable things,” he says. “Why should that be any more fundamental than, say, the mathematics of fluids?” If intelligent creatures were found living within, say, the clouds of Jupiter’s atmosphere, they might have no intuition at all for counting, or for the natural numbers, Rovelli says.Dan Falk, “What is math?” at Smithsonian Magazine
That’s pretty deceptive, isn’t it? The natural numbers are what they are whether the intelligent aliens have a use for them or not. Carlo Rovelli stops short of saying that 2+2=5 but the article gives every sense that many would love to go there if only they could get some kind of a nudge.
Indeed, if that’s the best he can come up with, it is far to say that the war on Platonism is just the war on math, PhD version.
See also: One of Boghossian’s hoaxers started the Woke on the 2 + 2 + 5 drive.