Hey Bill Nye, 'Do Laws of Math Apply near Black Holes and the Edge of Space?'

Television Host and Science Educator

Calculus was invented by Isaac Newton in the middle of the 17th century, so does a historically contingent event hold true everywhere in the universe, even near black holes and at the edge of outer space? Yes, as far we know, mathematical laws are universal, says Bill Nye the Science Guy. Since the invention of calculus, we have come to know the movement of planets, asteroids, comets, etc. with highly accurate detail. And we can predict their movement regardless of where they are in the universe.

It is at least possible, however, that our present mathematical canon is insufficient to describe events everywhere in outer space. But that would mean that current laws were incomplete, not that they were wrong or failed to be universal. Humans are always adding to current mathematical models, and it's conceivable that major new mathematical discoveries have yet to be made. One such discovery may relate to "the singularity," or one divided by zero.

The result of this division is either unknowable or infinite, depending on your preference, says Bill Nye. In this video clip, he explains a series of mathematical problems that demonstrate how counterintuitive numbers can be, and how speculative their conclusions can become.

  • Transcript


Thomas: My name is Thomas and I'm from Los Angeles California and I was wondering if mathematics is truly universal? I'm not disputing it I'm just really wondering if mathematics, such as calculus, really like is the same near the edges of the universe? For all that we know or like near black holes because do mathematical laws breakdown? Thanks.

Bill Nye: Thomas, that is a great question about mathematics. As far as we know it works everywhere. Now, if we go to a place, as you suggested near a black hole, the edge of the universe, and mathematics doesn't work, we would say to ourselves well there's just mathematics that we don't understand and we have to add some more math to our canon of mathematical equations. It's very reasonable that there's math that's nobody knows how it works, but just understand that when it comes to the motion of planets, when it comes to how rockets work, when it comes to the paths of comets and asteroids and meteors, we understand this stuff inside out. However, it was only in the 1600s that these discoveries were made and so you'll also hear people talk all the time about the singularity. The singularity. And this to me is when you get one over zero. And one over zero is infinite, or it is unknowable. And I'll give you an example.

What's one thousandth? What's bigger one tenth or one thousandth? A tenth is bigger than a thousandth. Okay. Then what's bigger, one thousandth or one the thousandths? A thousandth is bigger. All right, now what about one over one ten thousandth? That's the thousand. But one over one millionth is a million. One over a billionth is one billion. So as the number get smaller and smaller the total, the inverse, the denominator causes the quantity to become bigger. And so if it's over zero it would become infinity or infinite, and nobody knows what happens at infinity. No one knows what's happens exactly at the singularity. Oh people speculate, but as near as we can tell math applies everywhere. That is a great question. Thank you.