Physics, science that deals with the structure of matter and the interactions between the fundamental constituents of the observable universe. In the broadest sense, physics (from the GPeek physikos) is concerned with all aspects of nature on both the macroscopic and submicroscopic levels. Its scope of study encompasses not only the behaviour of objects under the action of given forces but also the nature and origin of gravitational, electromagnetic, and nuclear force fields. Its ultimate objective is the formulation of a few comprehensive principles that bring together and explain all such disparate phenomena.
Physics is the basic physical science. Until rather recent times physics and natural philosophy were used interchangeably for the science whose aim is the discovery and formulation of the fundamental laws of nature. As the modern sciences developed and became increasingly specialized, physics came to denote that part of physical science not included in astronomy, chemistry, geology, and engineering.
Physics plays an important role in all the natural sciences, however, and all such fields have branches in which physical laws and measurements receive special emphasis, bearing such names as astrophysics, geophysics, biophysics, and even psychophysics. Physics can, at base, be defined as the science of matter, motion, and energy. Its laws are typically expressed with economy and precision in the language of mathematics.
Both experiment, the observation of phenomena under conditions that are controlled as precisely as possible, and theory, the formulation of a unified conceptual framework, play essential and complementary roles in the advancement of physics. Physical experiments result in measurements, which are compared with the outcome predicted by theory. A theory that reliably predicts the results of experiments to which it is applicable is said to embody a law of physics. However, a law is always subject to modification, replacement, or restriction to a more limited domain, if a later experiment makes it necessary.
Mathematics, the science of structure, order, and relation that has evolved from elemental practices of counting, measuring, and describing the shapes of objects. It deals with logical reasoning and quantitative calculation, and its development has involved an increasing degree of idealisation and abstraction of its subject matter. Since the 17th century, mathematics has been an indispensable adjunct to the physical sciences and technology, and in more recent times it has assumed a similar role in the quantitative aspects of the life sciences.
In many cultures—under the stimulus of the needs of practical pursuits, such as commerce and agriculture—mathematics has developed far beyond basic counting. This growth has been greatest in societies complex enough to sustain these activities and to provide leisure for contemplation and the opportunity to build on the achievements of earlier mathematicians.
All mathematical systems (for example, Euclidean geometry) are combinations of sets of axioms and of theorems that can be logically deduced from the axioms. Inquiries into the logical and philosophical basis of mathematics reduce to questions of whether the axioms of a given system ensure its completeness and its consistency. For full treatment of this aspect, see mathematics, foundations of.
This does not mean, however, that developments elsewhere have been unimportant. Indeed, to understand the history of mathematics in Europe, it is necessary to know its history at least in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, in ancient Greece, and in Islamic civilisation from the 9th to the 15th century.
India’s contributions to the development of contemporary mathematics were made through the considerable influence of Indian achievements on Islamic mathematics during its formative years. A separate article, South Asian mathematics, focuses on the early history of mathematics in the Indian subcontinent and the development there of the modern decimal place-value numeral system. The article East Asian mathematics covers the mostly independent development of mathematics in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
The substantive branches of mathematics are treated in several domains. algebra; analysis; arithmetic; combinatorics; game theory; geometry; number theory; numerical analysis; optimization; probability theory; set theory; statistics; trigonometry.