What is an experiment in mathematical practice? New evidence from mining the Mathematical Reviews

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From a purely formalist viewpoint on the philosophy of mathematics, experiments cannot (and should not) play a role in warranting mathematical statements but must be confined to heuristics. Yet, due to the incorporation of new mathematical methods such as computer-assisted experimentation in mathematical practice, experiments are now conducted and used in a much broader range of epistemic practices such as concept formation, validation, and communication. In this article, we combine corpus studies and qualitative analyses to assess and categorize the epistemic roles experiments are seen—by mathematicians—to have in actual mathematical practice. We do so by text-mining a corpus of reviews from the Mathematical Reviews, which include the indicator word “experiment”. Our qualitative, grounded classification of samples from this corpus allows us to explore the various roles played by experiments. We thus identify instances where experiments function as references to established knowledge, as tools for heuristics or exploration, as epistemic warrants, as communication or pedagogy, and instances simply proposing experiments. Focusing on the role of experiments as epistemic warrants, we show through additional sampling that in some fields of mathematics, experiments can warrant theorems as well as methods. We also show that the expressed lack of experiments by reviewers suggests concordant views that experiments could have provided epistemic warrants. Thus, our combination of corpus studies and qualitative analyses has added a typology of roles of experiments in mathematical practice and shown that experiments can and do play roles as epistemic warrants depending on the mathematical field.

Udgave nummer2
Antal sider21
StatusUdgivet - 2024

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© 2024, The Author(s).

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