philosophy from the preposterous universe

Sean Carroll interviewed by Richard Marshal in 3 A.M. Magazine.

A worth reading discussion about Philosophy and Physics.

“Science has data in addition to reason, which is the best cure for sloppy thinking. So in principle it might be possible for a very rigorous metaphysician to be so careful that everything they say is both true and useful; in practice, we human beings are not so smart, and a wise philosopher will always be willing to learn things from the discoveries of science.”

“Sean Carroll is the uber-chillin’ philosophical physicist who investigates how the preposterous universe works at a deep level, who thinks spats between physics and philosophy are silly, who thinks a wise philosopher will always be willing to learn from discoveries of science, who asks how we are to live if there is no God, who is comfortable with naturalism and physicalism, who thinks emergentism central, that freewill is a crucial part of our best higher-level vocabulary, that there aren’t multiple levels of reality, which is quantum based not relativity based, is a cheerful realist, disagrees with Tim Maudlin about wave functions and Craig Callender about multiverses, worries about pseudo-scientific ideas and that the notion of ‘domains of applicability’ is lamentably under-appreciated. Stellar!”

“There’s an important point here worth emphasizing. Science has an enormous advantage over other disciplines when it comes to making progress: namely, the direct confrontation with data forces scientists to be more imaginative (and flexible) than they might otherwise bother to be. As a result, scientists often end up with theories that are extremely surprising from the point of view of everyday intuition. A philosopher might come up with a seemingly valid a priori argument for some conclusion, only to have that conclusion overthrown by later scientific advances. In retrospect, we will see that there was something wrong about the original argument. But the point is that seeing such wrongness can be really hard if all we have to lean on is our ability to reason. Science has data in addition to reason, which is the best cure for sloppy thinking. So in principle it might be possible for a very rigorous metaphysician to be so careful that everything they say is both true and useful; in practice, we human beings are not so smart, and a wise philosopher will always be willing to learn things from the discoveries of science.”

3:AM: I was interested to see ‘mad dog naturalist’ Alex Rosenberg’s position being regarded as provocative by most of the assembled where perhaps I might have expected his austere brand of naturalism to have been acceptable. Were you surprised by this?

SC: Not at all surprised. Alex is a fantastic person to have a meeting like that, because he is absolutely committed to an unflinching acceptance of the consequences of his worldview, which in this case means tossing out all sorts of common-sense everyday phenomena as “illusions.” That gets right to the heart of the challenge to the modern naturalist: given that the world really is just a quantum state evolving in Hilbert space (or whatever physics ends up telling us that it is), what is the status of tables and chairs, baseball and democracy, beauty and moral responsibility? Everyone in the room agreed that the fundamental-physics picture gives a correct way of talking about the world; but is it the only way, and if not, what are the relationships between the different ways of talking?”

3:AM: Finally, are there any new ideas or facts coming out of physics now that will leave us all here at 3ammagazine in a state of mind boggled shock that will require us to revolutionize previously held views?

SC: Taking seriously this idea of “domains of applicability” of scientific theories, I think it is dramatically under-appreciated that we already have a theory (the Standard Model of particle physics plus general relativity) whose domain of applicability includes all of everyday experience. We will not be discovering any new fundamental forces or particles that are relevant to ordinary human life; we have the basic rules of that realm figured out. (Which isn’t to say we’re anywhere close to understanding how those basic rules are manifested in complicated real-world situations.)

But reality is much larger than the realm of our everyday experience, and we’re very far from having the whole world figured out. Obviously we don’t understand dark matter, dark energy, the Big Bang, quantum gravity, etc. We don’t even have a consensus on what really happens during the process of a quantum measurement. My own guess is that the most dramatic potential for new ideas lies at the intersection of quantum theory and cosmology. I previously confessed to having fondness for the multiverse, but we honestly don’t have a compelling model of it as yet. It’s absolutely conceivable that the whole multiverse idea is dramatically on the wrong track, and the truth is going to look completely different once we understand how space and time emerge from quantum mechanics. Even better and more exciting would be if we find that our current view of quantum mechanics is completely wrong and has to be replaced by something deeply different – I should only be so lucky. Click below for full interview;

http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/the-philosopher-physicist/

Posted By F. Sheikh