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Richard Feynman on the limitations of mathematics – Lars Syll

In a recent comment to me, Jorge Buzaglo wrote this truly interesting comment. Nobel Prize winner (for physics) Richard Feynman on the use of mathematics:

“Mathematicians, or people who have very mathematical minds, are often led astray when ‘studying’ economics because they lose sight of the economics. They say: ‘Look, these equations … are all there is to economics’; it is admitted by the economists that there is nothing which is not contained in the equations.

” The equations are complicated, but after all they are only mathematical equations and if I understand them mathematically inside out, I will under- stand the economics inside out. Only it doesn’t work that way. Mathematicians

who study economics with that point of view – and there have been many of them – usually make little contribution to economics and, in fact, little to mathematics. They fail because the actual economic situations in the real world are so complicated that it is necessary to have a much broader understanding of the equations.“

I have replaced the word “physics” (and similar) by the word “economics” (and similar) in this quote from p 2-1 in: R. Feynman, R. Leighton and M. Sands, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, vol 2, Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1964.

Source: Real World Econ Rev, 9/11/18

Prof Lars Syll is an economic historian at Malmö University College, Sweden.

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