Numerology

Ever since the Pythagoreans many attempts to find truly ultimate models of the universe have ended up centering on derivations of numbers that are somehow thought to be characteristic of the universe. In the past century, the emphasis has been on physical constants such as the fine structure constant α ≃ 1/137.0359896, and usually the idea is that such constants arise directly from counting objects of some specified type using traditional discrete mathematics. A notable effort along these lines was made by Arthur Eddington in the mid-1930s, and certainly over the past twenty or so years I have received a steady stream of mail presenting such notions with varying degrees of obscurity and mysticism. But while I believe that every feature of our universe does indeed come from an ultimate discrete model, I would be very surprised if the values of constants which happen to be easy for us to measure in the end turn out to be given by simple traditional mathematical formulas.