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    The utterly prosaic connection between physics and mathematics

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    Eugene Wigner famously argued for the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" for describing physics and other natural sciences in his 1960 essay. That essay has now led to some 55 years of (sometimes anguished) soul searching --- responses range from "So what? Why do you think we developed mathematics in the first place?", through to extremely speculative ruminations on the existence of the universe (multiverse) as a purely mathematical entity --- the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis. In the current essay I will steer an utterly prosaic middle course: Much of the mathematics we develop is informed by physics questions we are tying to solve; and those physics questions for which the most utilitarian mathematics has successfully been developed are typically those where the best physics progress has been made.Comment: 12 pages. Minor edits on an essay written for the 2015 FQXi essay contest: "Trick or truth: The mysterious connection between physics and mathematics

    A framework for the natures of negativity in introductory physics

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    Mathematical reasoning skills are a desired outcome of many introductory physics courses, particularly calculus-based physics courses. Positive and negative quantities are ubiquitous in physics, and the sign carries important and varied meanings. Novices can struggle to understand the many roles signed numbers play in physics contexts, and recent evidence shows that unresolved struggle can carry over to subsequent physics courses. The mathematics education research literature documents the cognitive challenge of conceptualizing negative numbers as mathematical objects--both for experts, historically, and for novices as they learn. We contribute to the small but growing body of research in physics contexts that examines student reasoning about signed quantities and reasoning about the use and interpretation of signs in mathematical models. In this paper we present a framework for categorizing various meanings and interpretations of the negative sign in physics contexts, inspired by established work in algebra contexts from the mathematics education research community. Such a framework can support innovation that can catalyze deeper mathematical conceptualizations of signed quantities in the introductory courses and beyond
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