RE: Applied vs. Theoretical

From: Ben Goertzel <>
Date: Sun, 1 Dec 2002 14:21:01 -0500

Tim May wrote:
> As I hope I had made clear in some of my earlier posts on this, mostly
> this past summer, I'm not making any grandiose claims for category
> theory and topos theory as being the sine qua non for understanding the
> nature of reality. Rather, they are things I heard about a decade or so
> ago and didn't look into at the time; now that I have, I am finding
> them fascinating. Some engineering/programming efforts already make
> good use of the notions [see next paragraph] and some quantum
> cosmologists believe topos theory is the best framework for "partial
> truths."
> The lambda calculus is identical in form to cartesian closed
> categories, program refinement forms a Heyting lattice and algebra,
> much work on the fundamentals of computation by Dana Scott, Solovay,
> Martin Hyland, and others is centered around this area, etc.

FWIW, I studied category theory carefully years ago, and studied topos
theory a little... and my view is that they are both very unlikely to do
more than serve as a general conceptual guide for any useful undertaking.
(Where by "useful undertaking" I include any practical software project, or
any physics theory hoping to make empirical predictions).

My complaint is that these branches of math are very, very shallow, in spite
of their extreme abstractness. There are no deep theorems there. There are
no surprises. There are abstract structures that may help to guide thought,
but the theory doesn't tell you much besides the fact that these structures
exist and have some agreeable properties. The universe is a lot deeper than

Division algebras like quaternions and octonions are not shallow in this
sense; nor are the complex numbers, or linear operators on Hilbert space....

Anyway, I'm just giving one mathematician's intuitive reaction to these
branches of math and their possible applicability in the TOE domain. They
*may* be applicable but if so, only for setting the stage... and what the
main actors will be, we don't have any idea...

-- Ben Goertzel
Received on Sun Dec 01 2002 - 14:20:19 PST

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