The laws that govern the universe seem to be written in the language of mathematics. The greatest scientists have been struck by how strange this is. In his essay “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” physicist Eugene Wigner confesses that the mathematical underpinning of nature “is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.” Feynman confesses, “Why nature is mathematical is a mystery…. The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.”‘

This astonishment springs from the recognition that the universe doesn’t have to be this way. There is no special reason why the laws of nature we find on earth should also govern a star billions of light years away. It is easy to imagine a universe in which conditions change unpredictably from instant to instant, or even a universe in which things pop in and out of existence. There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone one that abides by the rules of mathematics.

Yet the universe seems to be ordered. I say “seems” because there is no way to prove this is so. There are peculiar things going on in quantum physics that call into question the premise that the universe follows stable rules. Even so, scientists cling to their long-held faith in the fundamental rationality of the cosmos. Convinced in advance that rules exist, and that human reason is up to the task of uncovering those rules, scientists continue to try to find them. These articles of faith are essential for science to function. Without the “irrational” belief that we live in an ordered universe, modern science is impossible. Science also relies on the equally unsupported belief that the rationality of the universe is mirrored in the rationality of our human minds.