Monday 3rd July - 06:00 PM BST
The Debate: Fantasy, Faith and Physics
We think that we pursue the sciences solely for knowledge and truth. But is this a mistake? Untestable ideals like beauty have been baked into theories throughout the history of science. Paul Dirac, one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, proclaimed "it is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiment." And recently, Roger Penrose described string theory as a 'fashion', quantum physics as a 'faith', and cosmic inflation a as 'fantasy', arguing that scientists suffer from the very same prejudices that affect the rest of us.
Do we pursue science for a pure desire for the truth? Or should we accept that some beliefs, especially in the foundations of physics, are akin to religious beliefs dressed in mathematical language to give our theories meaning? Or would seeing science as simply another theology undermine the field and the progress made over the past few centuries?
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Sabine Hossenfelder is a theoretical physicist, author, musician, and science communicator who researches quantum gravity. She is a member of the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy, author of Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray and most recently, Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions. She is also known for her world-renowned YouTube channel Science Without The Gobbledygook.
Famed futurist and co-founder of String Field Theory, Michio Kaku has spent his career inspired by the search for a grand unifying theory of everything – carrying on Einstein’s quest to unite the four fundamental forces of nature. His latest book is Quantum Supremacy: How the Quantum Computer Revolution Will Change Everything.
Juan Maldacena is the Carl P. Feinberg Professor in the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study. Due to his field-defining contributions to the foundations of string theory and quantum gravity, Leonard Susskind has called him “the greatest theoretical physicist of his generation.”
Max Tegmark is a pioneering physicist, cosmologist, computer scientist, philosopher, and public intellectual based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tegmark is the author of Our Mathematical Universe, which argues that reality is fundamentally a mathematical structure. He is a frequent guest on the Lex Fridman podcast.
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