Manual Down to the Bone: Quantum Gravity Book Five

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I think that science is the attitude of those who find funny the people saying they know something is absolute truth. Science is the awareness that our knowledge is constantly uncertain.

Down to the Bone (Quantum Gravity #5)

What I know is that there are plenty of things that science does not understand yet. And science is the best tool found so far for reaching reasonably reliable knowledge.

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Rovelli : Seriously: I think they are stupid in this. I have admiration for them in other things, but here they have gone really wrong. Look: Einstein, Heisenberg, Newton, Bohr You see: the scientists that talk philosophy down are simply superficial: they have a philosophy usually some ill-digested mixture of Popper and Kuhn and think that this is the "true" philosophy, and do not realize that this has limitations. Here is an example: theoretical physics has not done great in the last decades.

Well, one of the reasons, I think, is that it got trapped in a wrong philosophy: the idea that you can make progress by guessing new theory and disregarding the qualitative content of previous theories. This is the physics of the "why not? Why not another dimension, another field, another universe? Science has never advanced in this manner in the past.

Science does not advance by guessing. It advances by new data or by a deep investigation of the content and the apparent contradictions of previous empirically successful theories. Quite remarkably, the best piece of physics done by the three people you mention is Hawking's black-hole radiation, which is exactly this. But most of current theoretical physics is not of this sort. Largely because of the philosophical superficiality of the current bunch of scientists.

Horgan : You have written about the Greek thinker Anaximander. Who was he, and why do you find him interesting? Rovelli : He is the guy who understood that the Earth is a stone that floats in the middle of the Sky without falling down. He understood that the Sky is not just above out head: it is also under our feet.

It surrounds us in every direction. He is the only one in the history of our planet who understood this, and convinced everybody else that this is the case. In fact, he has done much more than this, but this is his greatest achievement. I find him immensely interesting because he represents one of the main steps in the development of scientific thinking. He is a giant. Horgan : Do you agree with philosopher Thomas Nagel that science needs a new paradigm to account for the emergence of life and consciousness in the cosmos?

Rovelli : No.

When we do not understand something, people are tempted to think that "some new paradigm" is needed, or a "great mystery" is there. Then we understand it, and all fog dissolves. But perhaps I should qualify the answer, because like this it is bit too rude and simplistic. I do not understand what "to believe in God" means. The people that "believe in God" seem like Martians to me. I do not understand them. I suppose this means that I "do not believe in God". If the question is whether I think that there is a person who has created Heavens and Earth, and responds to our prayers, then definitely my answer is no, with much certainty.

If the question is whether I believe that "God" is a powerful something in the people, which causes a lot of disasters but also a lot of good, then of course I believe it. In fact, I am extremely curious about religion. I think that we should study what is religion much more than what is done. There is a sort of taboo in this, a sort of respect towards people who "believe in God", which makes it difficult to understand better.

I think that viewing the "belief in God" just as a bunch of silly superstitions is wrong. The "belief in God" is one form of human religious attitude, and human religious attitude is something very general and universal about our functioning. Something which is important for man, and we have not yet understood. Rovelli : Of course yes: you can be great in solving Maxwell's equations and pray to God in the evening.

But there is an unavoidable clash between science and certain religions, especially some forms of Christianity and Islam, those that pretend to be repositories of "absolute Truths. It is the opposite: scientists know that there are things we simply do not know, and naturally question those who pretend to know. Many religious people are disturbed by this, and have difficulty in coping with it. Is attitude enough to get you through life and death? Will it get you a happy ending? Robson manages to create sufficient vulnerability for her main protagonists despite their staggering powers to evoke the necessary narrative tension and it is in the final instalment that we get a full, final slice of exactly what she has been aiming for throughout the series.

Has she succeeded in bridging the gulf between cyber-punk and classical fantasy with her own particular mix of both? Her nods to fanfic, gaming allusions and hardcore science fiction exposition tick all the boxes in that genre set, while her characterisation of all her main protagonists, particularly Lila as the can-do, conflicted heroine, provides the emotional engine driving the plot forward that is often missing in hard-core science fiction stories.

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