Do we need a radical reappraisal of the nature of physical law?
Also, review of "Existential Physics" by Sabine Hossenfelder.
Greetings to all readers and subscribers, and special greetings to the paid subscribers!
Please scroll down for the main topic of this newsletter. But first watch my conversation with the one and only Howard Bloom on spaceflight, human space expansion, NASA, Elon Musk, China, culture, media, physics, universal evolution.
The conversation with Howard was first published in the Turing Church podcast (audio only) with my list of questions and comments.
Over the next few months I plan to talk to several other people whose input I’d like to have for my next book. Some of the people I plan to talk to are Eric Steinhart, Rizwan Virk, Vitaly Vanchurin, Nicolas Gisin, and Bobby Azarian. I’ll publish the conversations in the Turing Church podcast.
Review of "Existential Physics" by Sabine Hossenfelder.
I have been reading with great interest “Existential Physics: A Scientist's Guide to Life's Biggest Questions” (2022), by Sabine Hossenfelder. First I read the book very fast to find out what Hossenfelder says, then again more carefully to savor how she says it.
This is a longer version of my Amazon review titled “This is physics that really matters.”
Hossenfelder, a professional physicist and a respected science writer, talks about what physics has to say on the Big existential issues that we, the public, really care about, such as “free will, afterlife, and the ultimate search for meaning.”
The explanations of physics given in the book are always good, and at times brilliant, but concise. I think the readers who’ll benefit most from the book are those who already know something about physics from more pedagogical introductions.
From the author’s previous works I was expecting an intransigent and unforgiving defense of reductionism in a fully deterministic universe without free will. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a more nuanced message.
Hossenfelder stays true to the no-nonsense approach of her first book “Lost in Math” (2018), where she castigated many physicists and entire swaths of theoretical physics, including everyone’s beloved string theory, for losing touch with physical reality. See my review of Hossenfelder’s first book.
Yet I think Hossenfelder will likely be criticized for offering too much consolation to wishful thinkers and leaving too many doors open to believers.
Take for example the idea that the universe could be a conscious being. Universal consciousness could be enabled by faster than light nonlocal connections sprinkled like fairy dust all over space and time. I guess some believers will incorporate this picture into their mental image of God. Hossenfelder isn’t enthusiastic about this and other weird ideas, but she admits that they are “compatible with all we know so far.”
Hossenfelder admits that science has nothing to say about “ascientific” ideas beyond its own framework. She is also open to the possibility that today’s science might be very far from having all the answers and “might only scratch the surface of so-far-unrecognized complexity.”
Answers to Big existential questions might be lurking in the gaps (e.g. quantum measurement, uncomputability) of our current understanding of physics.
One point where I disagree with Hosselfelder is where she claims that strong emergence must necessarily violate microphysical laws:
“But if you wanted to prove reductionism false, you’d have to show that describing a system in macroscopic terms results in different predictions than those you’d get from its microscopic description.”
But if microphysical laws are not fully deterministic but open to different outcomes, then there’s room for “other laws of physics” (see Erwin Schrödinger, “What Is Life?”) to choose one outcome without violating microphysical laws (see Thomas Nagel, “Mind and Cosmos”).
I also disagree on a few other points, but I think “Existential Physics” is a great book that everyone interested in Big existential issues (that is, really, everyone) should want to read.
Twitter exchange with Hossenfelder:
Other laws of physics?
After reviewing “The Romance of Reality: How the Universe Organizes Itself to Create Life, Consciousness, and Cosmic Complexity” by Bobby Azarian, I have been reading and thinking more about these things.
Life, said Erwin Schrödinger in “What Is Life?” (1944), “while not eluding the ‘laws of physics’ as established up to date, is likely to involve ‘other laws of physics’ hitherto unknown, which, however, once they have been revealed, will form just as integral a part of this science as the former.”
Can the emergence of life and consciousness be derived from known physics (or incremental evolutionary improvements thereof), or will making sense of life and consciousness need revolutionary change?
I asked Howard (see video above): Do we need radically new physics to understand universal evolution, or is today’s physics almost good enough? He replied that, yes, we need radically new physics. I tend to agree.