Interview with physicist Sean Carroll

3:AM magazine has an interesting interview with physicist Sean Carroll (author of several books, as well as the blog Preposterous Universe).

The interview touches on a number of topics, from the relationship between science and philosophy:

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.

to emergence:

I think emergence is absolutely central to how naturalists should think about the world, and how we should find room for higher-level concepts from tables to free will in a way compatible with the scientific image. But “weak” emergence, not strong emergence. That is simply the idea that there are multiple theories/languages/vocabularies/ontologies that we can use to usefully describe the world, each appropriate at different levels of coarse-graining and precision.

to the multiverse:

I’m actually a moderate when it comes to the multiverse. There are folks who reject the idea out of hand, based either on simplistic philosophy of science (“things I can’t see shouldn’t be part of science”) or worries about ontological extravagance (“that sure is a lot of universes you need to invoke to explain a relatively paltry amount of data”). The first objection is just wrong, and the second is based on a misunderstanding; we should judge ontological extravagance by the number of ideas/concepts in a theory, not by the volume of space or number of entities it predicts. The multiverse is compelling to some physicists because it is a prediction of a very simple set of ideas (especially inflationary cosmology), and we should take the predictions of our models seriously.

(via 3quarksdaily)


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