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2006

"WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?"


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CONTRIBUTORS


Alun Anderson

Philip W. Anderson

Scott Atran

Mahzarin Banaji

Simon Baron-Cohen

Samuel Barondes

Gregory Benford

Jesse Bering

Jeremy Bernstein

Jamshed Bharucha

Susan Blackmore

Paul Bloom

David Bodanis

Stewart Brand

Rodney Brooks

David Buss

Philip Campbell

Leo Chalupa

Andy Clark

Gregory Cochran
Jerry Coyne

M. Csikszentmihalyi

Richard Dawkins

Paul Davies

Stanislas Deheane

Daniel C. Dennett
Keith Devlin
Jared Diamond
Denis Dutton
Freeman Dyson
George Dyson
Juan Enriquez

Paul Ewald

Todd Feinberg

Eric Fischl

Helen Fisher

Richard Foreman

Howard Gardner

Joel Garreau

David Gelernter

Neil Gershenfeld

Danie Gilbert

Marcelo Gleiser

Daniel Goleman

Brian Goodwin

Alison Gopnik

April Gornik

John Gottman

Brian Greene

Diane F. Halpern

Haim Harari

Judith Rich Harris

Sam Harris

Marc D. Hauser

W. Daniel Hillis

Donald Hoffman

Gerald Holton
John Horgan

Nicholas Humphrey

Piet Hut

Marco Iacoboni

Eric R. Kandel

Kevin Kelly

Bart Kosko

Stephen Kosslyn
Kai Krause
Lawrence Krauss

Ray Kurzweil

Jaron Lanier

David Lykken

Gary Marcus
Lynn Margulis
Thomas Metzinger
Geoffrey Miller

Oliver Morton

David G. Myers

Michael Nesmith

Randolph Nesse

Richard E. Nisbett

Tor Nørretranders

James O'Donnell

John Allen Paulos

Irene Pepperberg

Clifford Pickover

Steven Pinker

David Pizarro

Jordan Pollack

Ernst Pöppel

Carolyn Porco

Robert Provine

VS Ramachandran

Martin Rees

Matt Ridley

Carlo Rovelli

Rudy Rucker

Douglas Rushkoff

Karl Sabbagh

Roger Schank

Scott Sampson

Charles Seife

Terrence Sejnowski

Martin Seligman

Robert Shapiro
Rupert Sheldrake

Michael Shermer

Clay Shirky

Barry Smith

Lee Smolin

Dan Sperber

Paul Steinhardt

Steven Strogatz
Leonard Susskind

Timothy Taylor

Frank Tipler

Arnold Trehub

Sherry Turkle

J. Craig Venter

Philip Zimbardo

FRANK TIPLER
Professor of Mathematical Physics, Tulane University; Author, The Physics of Immortality

Why I Hope the Standard Model is Wrong about Why There is More Matter Than Antimatter

The Standard Model of particle physics — a theory of all forces and particles except gravity and a theory that has survived all tests over the past thirty years — says it is possible to convert matter entirely into energy. Old-fashioned nuclear physics allows some matter to be converted into energy, but because nuclear physics requires the number of heavy particles like neutrons and protons, and light particles like electrons, to be separately conserved in nuclear reactions, only a small fraction (less than 1%) of the mass of the uranium or plutonium in an atomic bomb can be converted into energy. The Standard Model says that there is a way to convert all the mass of ordinary matter into energy; for example, it is in principle possible to convert the proton and electron making up a hydrogen atom entirely into energy. Particle physicists have long known about this possibility, but have considered it forever irrelevant to human technology because the energy required to convert matter into pure energy via this process is at the very limit of our most powerful accelerators (a trillion electron volts, or one TeV).

I am very much afraid that the particle physicists are wrong about this Standard Model pure energy conversion process being forever irrelevant to human affairs. I have recently come to believe that the consistency of quantum field theory requires that it should be possible to convert up to 100 kilograms of ordinary matter into pure energy via this process using a device that could fit inside the trunk of a car, a device that could be manufactured in a small factory. Such a device would solve all our energy problems — we would not need fossil fuels — but 100 kilograms of energy is the energy released by a 1,000-megaton nuclear bomb. If such a bomb can be manufactured in a small factory, then terrorists everywhere will eventually have such weapons. I fear for the human race if this comes to pass. I very hope I am wrong about the technological feasibility of such a bomb.


KEITH DEVLIN
Mathematician; Executive Director, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford; Author, The Millennium Problems

We are entirely alone

Living creatures capable of reflecting on their own existence are a one-off, freak accident, existing for one brief moment in the history of the universe. There may be life elsewhere in the universe, but it does not have self-reflective consciousness. There is no God; no Intelligent Designer; no higher purpose to our lives.

Personally, I have never found this possibility particularly troubling, but my experience has been that most people go to considerable lengths to convince themselves that it is otherwise.

I think that many people find the suggestion dangerous because they see it as leading to a life devoid of meaning or moral values. They see it as a suggestion full of despair, an idea that makes our lives seem pointless. I believe that the opposite is the case. As the product of that unique, freak accident, finding ourselves able to reflect on and enjoy our conscious existence, the very unlikeliness and uniqueness of our situation surely makes us highly appreciative of what we have.

Life is not just important to us; it is literally everything we have. That makes it, in human terms, the most precious thing there is. That not only gives life meaning for us, something to be respected and revered, but a strong moral code follows automatically.

The fact that our existence has no purpose outside that existence is completely irrelevant to the way we live our lives, since we are inside our existence. The fact that our existence has no purpose for the universe — whatever that means — in no way means it has no purpose for us. We must ask and answer questions about ourselves within the framework of our existence as what we are.


GEORGE B. DYSON
Science Historian; Author, Project Orion

Understanding molecular biology without discovering the origins of life

I predict we will reach a complete understanding of molecular biology and molecular evolution, without ever discovering the origins of life.

This idea is dangerous, because it suggests a mystery that science cannot explain. Or, it may be interpreted as confirmation that life is merely the collective result of a long series of incremental steps, and that it is impossible to draw a precise distinction between life and non-life.

"The only thing of which I am sure," argued Samuel Butler in 1880, "is that the distinction between the organic and inorganic is arbitrary; that it is more coherent with our other ideas, and therefore more acceptable, to start with every molecule as a living thing, and then deduce death as the breaking up of an association or corporation, than to start with inanimate molecules and smuggle life into them. "

Every molecule a living thing? That's not even dangerous, it's wrong! But where else can you draw the line?


GREGORY COCHRAN
Consultant in adaptive optics and an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Utah

There is something new under the sun — us

Thucydides said that human nature was unchanging and thus predictable — but he was probably wrong.  If you consider natural selection operating in fast-changing human environments, such stasis is most unlikely. We know of a number of cases in which there has been rapid adaptive change in humans; for example, most of the malaria-defense mutations such as sickle cell are recent, just a few thousand years old.  The lactase mutation that lets most adult Europeans digest ice cream is not much older.

There is no magic principle that restricts human evolutionary change to disease defenses and dietary adaptations: everything is up for grabs.  Genes affecting personality, reproductive strategies, cognition, are all able to change significantly over few-millennia time scales if the environment favors such change — and this includes the new environments we have made for ourselves, things like new ways of making a living and new social structures.  I would be astonished if the mix of personality types favored among hunter-gatherers is "exactly" the same as that favored among peasant farmers ruled by a Pharaoh.  In fact they might be fairly different.

There is evidence that such change has occurred. Henry Harpending and I have, we think, made a strong case that natural selection changed the Ashkenazi Jews over a thousand years or so, favoring certain kinds of cognitive abilities and generating genetic diseases as a side effect.  Bruce Lahn's team has found new variants of brain-development genes: one, ASPM, appears to have risen to high frequency in Europe and the Middle East in about six thousand years.  We don't yet know what this new variant does, but it certainly could affect the human psyche — and if it does, Thucydides was wrong.  We may not be doomed to repeat the Sicilian expedition: on the other hand, since we don't understand much yet about the changes that have occurred, we might be even more doomed.  But at any rate, we have almost certainly changed. There is something new under the sun — us.
         
This concept opens strange doors.  If true, it means that the people of Sumeria and Egypt's Old Kingdom were probably fundamentally different from us: human nature has changed — some, anyhow — over recorded history. Julian Jaynes, in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, argued that there was something qualitatively different about the human mind in ancient civilization.  On first reading, Breakdown seemed one of the craziest books ever written, but Jaynes may have been on to something.
      
If people a few thousand years ago thought and acted differently because of biological differences, history is never going to be the same.


FREEMAN DYSON
Physicist, Institute of Advanced Study, Author, Disturbing the Universe


Biotechnology will be thoroughly domesticated in the next fifty years

Biotechnology will be domesticated in the next fifty years as thoroughly as computer technology was in the last fifty years.

This means cheap and user-friendly tools and do-it-yourself kits, for gardeners to design their own roses and orchids, and for animal-breeders to design their own lizards and snakes. A new art-form as creative as painting or cinema. It means biotech games for children down to kindergarten age, like computer-games but played with real eggs and seeds instead of with images on a screen. Kids will grow up with an intimate feeling for the organisms that they create. It means an explosion of biodiversity as new ecologies are designed to fit into millions of local niches all over the world. Urban and rural landscapes will become more varied and more fertile.

There are two severe and obvious dangers. First, smart kids and malicious grown-ups will find ways to convert biotech tools to the manufacture of lethal microbes. Second, ambitious parents will find ways to apply biotech tools to the genetic modification of their own babies. The great unanswered question is, whether we can regulate domesticated biotechnology so that it can be applied freely to animals and vegetables but not to microbes and humans.


SIMON BARON-COHEN
Psychologist, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University; Author, The Essential Difference

A political system based on empathy

Imagine a political system based not on legal rules (systemizing) but on empathy. Would this make the world a safer place?

The UK Parliament, US Congress, Israeli Knesset, French National Assembly, Italian Senato della Repubblica, Spanish Congreso de los Diputados, — what do such political chambers have in common? Existing political systems are based on two principles: getting power through combat, and then creating/revising laws and rules through combat.

Combat is sometimes physical (toppling your opponent militarily), sometimes economic (establishing a trade embargo, to starve your opponent of resources), sometimes propaganda-based (waging a media campaign to discredit your opponent's reputation), and sometimes through voting-related activity (lobbying, forming alliances, fighting to win votes in key seats), with the aim to 'defeat' the opposition.

Creating/revising laws and rules is what you do once you are in power. These might be constitutional rules, rules of precedence, judicial rulings, statutes, or other laws or codes of practice. Politicians battle for their rule-based proposal (which they hold to be best) to win, and battle to defeat the opposition's rival proposal.

This way of doing politics is based on "systemizing". First you analyse the most effective form of combat (itself a system) to win. If we do x, then we will obtain outcome y. Then you adjust the legal code (another system). If we pass law A, we will obtain outcome B.

My colleagues and I have studied the essential difference between how men and women think. Our studies suggest that (on average) more men are systemizers, and more women are empathizers. Since most political systems were set up by men, it may be no coincidence that we have ended up with political chambers that are built on the principles of systemizing.

So here's the dangerous new idea. What would it be like if our political chambers were based on the principles of empathizing? It is dangerous because it would mean a revolution in how we choose our politicians, how our political chambers govern, and how our politicians think and behave. We have never given such an alternative political process a chance. Might it be better and safer than what we currently have? Since empathy is about keeping in mind the thoughts and feelings of other people (not just your own), and being sensitive to another person's thoughts and feelings (not just riding rough-shod over them), it is clearly incompatible with notions of "doing battle with the opposition" and "defeating the opposition" in order to win and hold on to power.

Currently, we select a party (and ultimately a national) leader based on their "leadership" qualities. Can he or she make decisions decisively? Can they do what is in the best interests of the party, or the country, even if it means sacrificing others to follow through on a decision? Can they ruthlessly reshuffle their Cabinet and "cut people loose" if they are no longer serving their interests? These are the qualities of a strong systemizer.

Note we are not talking about whether that politician is male or female. We are talking about how a politician (irrespective of their sex) thinks and behaves.

We have had endless examples of systemizing politicians unable to resolve conflict. Empathizing politicians would perhaps follow Mandela and De Klerk's examples, who sat down to try to understand the other, to empathize with the other, even if the other was defined as a terrorist. To do this involves the empathic act of stepping into the other's shoes, and identifying with their feelings.

The details of a political system based on empathizing would need a lot of working out, but we can imagine certain qualities that would have no place.

Gone would be politicians who are skilled orators but who simply deliver monologues, standing on a platform, pointing forcefully into the air to underline their insistence — even the body language containing an implied threat of poking their listener in the chest or the face - to win over an audience. Gone too would be politicians who are so principled that they are rigid and uncompromising.

Instead, we would elect politicians based on different qualities: politicians who are good listeners, who ask questions of others instead of assuming they know the right course of action. We would instead have politicians who respond sensitively to another, different point of view, and who can be flexible over where the dialogue might lead. Instead of seeking to control and dominate, our politicians would be seeking to support, enable, and care.


DENIS DUTTON
Professor of the philosophy of art, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, editor of Philosophy and Literature and Arts & Letters Daily

A "grand narrative"

The humanities have gone through the rise of Theory in the 1960s, its firm hold on English and literature departments through the 1970s and 80s, followed most recently by its much-touted decline and death. 

Of course, Theory  (capitalization is an English department affectation) never operated as a proper research program in any scientific sense — with hypotheses validated (or falsified) by experiment or accrued evidence. Theory was a series of intellectual fashion statements, clever slogans and postures, imported from France in the 60s, then developed out of Yale and other Theory hot spots.  The academic work Theory spawned was noted more for  its chosen jargons, which functioned like secret codes, than for any concern to establish truth or advance knowledge. It was all about careers and prestige. 

Truth and knowledge, in fact, were ruled out as quaint illusions.  This cleared the way, naturally, for an "anything-goes" atmosphere of academic criticism. In reality, it was anything but anything goes, since the political demands of the period included a long list of stereotyped villains (the West, the Enlightenment, dead whites males, even clear writing) to be pitted against mandatory heroines and heroes (indigenous peoples, the working class, the oppressed, and so forth).

Though the politics remains as strong as ever in academe, Theory has atrophied not because it was refuted, but because everyone got bored with it.  Add to that the absurdly bad writing of academic humanists of the period and episodes like the Sokal Hoax, and the decline was inevitable.  Theory academics could with high seriousness ignore rational counter-arguments, but for them ridicule and laughter were like water thrown at the Wicked Witch.  Theory withered and died.

But wait. Here is exactly where my most dangerous idea comes in. What if it turned out that the academic humanities — art criticism, music and literary history, aesthetic theory, and the philosophy of art — actually had available to them a true, and therefore permanently valuable, theory to organize their speculations and interpretations?  What if there really existed a hitherto unrecognized "grand narrative" that could explain the entire history of creation and experience of the arts worldwide?

Aesthetic experience, as well as the context of artistic creation, is a phenomenon both social and psychological. From the standpoint of inner experience, it can be addressed by evolutionary psychology: the idea that our thinking and values are conditioned by the 2.6 million years of natural and sexual selection in the Pleistocene.

This Darwinian theory has much to say about the abiding, cross-culturally ascertainable values human beings find in art. The fascination, for example, that people worldwide find in the exercise of artistic virtuosity, from Praxiteles to Hokusai to Renee Fleming, is not a social construct, but a Pleistocene adaptation (which outside of the arts shows itself in sporting interests everywhere).  That calendar landscapes worldwide feature alternating copses of trees and open spaces, often hilly land, water, and paths or river banks that wind into an inviting distance is a Pleistocene landscape preference (which shows up in both art history and in the design of public parks everywhere).  That soap operas and Greek tragedy all present themes of family breakdown ("She killed him because she loved him") is a reflection of ancient, innate content interests in story-telling.

Darwinian theory offers substantial answers to perennial aesthetic questions. It has much to say about the origins of art. It's unlikely that the arts came about at one time or for one purpose; they evolved from overlapping interests based in survival and mate selection in the 80,000 generations of the Pleistocene. How we scan visually, how we hear, our sense of rhythm, the pleasures of artistic expression and in joining with others as an audience, and, not least, how the arts excite us using a repertoire of universal human emotions: all of this and more will be illuminated and explained by a Darwinian aesthetics.

I've encountered stiff academic resistance to the notion that Darwinian theory might greatly improve the understanding of our aesthetic and imaginative lives.  There's no reason to worry.  The most complete, evolutionarily-based explanation of a great work of art, classic or recent, will address its form, its narrative content, its ideology, how it is taken in by the eye or mind, and indeed, how it can produce a deep, even life-transforming pleasure.  But nothing in a valid aesthetic psychology will rob art of its appeal, any more than knowing how we evolved to enjoy fat and sweet makes a piece of cheesecake any less delicious. Nor will a Darwinian aesthetics reduce the complexity of art to simple formulae.  It will only give us a better understanding of the greatest human achievements and their effects on us.

In the sense that it would show innumerable careers in the humanities over the last forty years to have been wasted on banal politics and execrable criticism, Darwinian aesthetics is a very dangerous idea indeed.  For people who really care about understanding art, it would be a combination of fresh air and strong coffee.


KEVIN KELLY
Editor-At-Large, Wired; Author, New Rules for the New Economy


More anonymity is good

More anonymity is good: that's a dangerous idea.

Fancy algorithms and cool technology make true anonymity in mediated environments more possible today than ever before. At the same time this techno-combo makes true anonymity in physical life much harder. For every step that masks us, we move two steps toward totally transparent unmasking. We have caller ID, but also caller ID Block, and then caller ID-only filters. Coming up: biometric monitoring and little place to hide. A world where everything about a person can be found and archived is a world with no privacy, and therefore many technologists are eager to maintain the option of easy anonymity as a refuge for the private.

However in every system that I have seen where anonymity becomes common, the system fails. The recent taint in the honor of Wikipedia stems from the extreme ease which anonymous declarations can be put into a very visible public record. Communities infected with anonymity will either collapse, or shift the anonymous to pseudo-anonymous, as in eBay, where you have a traceable identity behind an invented nickname. Or voting, where you can authenticate an identity without tagging it to a vote.

Anonymity is like a rare earth metal. These elements are a necessary ingredient in keeping a cell alive, but the amount needed is a mere hard-to-measure trace. In larger does these heavy metals are some of the most toxic substances known to a life. They kill. Anonymity is the same. As a trace element in vanishingly small doses, it's good for the system by enabling the occasional whistleblower, or persecuted fringe. But if anonymity is present in any significant quantity, it will poison the system.

There's a dangerous idea circulating that the option of anonymity should always be at hand, and that it is a noble antidote to technologies of control. This is like pumping up the levels of heavy metals in your body into to make it stronger.

Privacy can only be won by trust, and trust requires persistent identity, if only pseudo-anonymously. In the end, the more trust, the better. Like all toxins, anonymity should be keep as close to zero as possible.


ALISON GOPNIK
Psychologist, UC-Berkeley; Coauthor, The Scientist In the Crib

A cacophony of "controversy"  

It may not be good to encourage scientists to articulate dangerous ideas.

Good scientists, almost by definition, tend towards the contrarian and ornery, and nothing gives them more pleasure than holding to an unconventional idea in the face of opposition. Indeed, orneriness and contrarianism are something of currency for science — nobody wants to have an idea that everyone else has too. Scientists are always constructing a straw man "establishment" opponent who they can then fearlessly demolish. If you combine that with defying the conventional wisdom of non-scientists you have a recipe for a very distinctive kind of scientific smugness and self-righteousness. We scientists see this contrarian habit grinning back at us in a particularly hideous and distorted form when global warming opponents or intelligent design advocates invoke the unpopularity of their ideas as evidence that they should be accepted, or at least discussed.

The problem is exacerbated for public intellectuals. For the media too, would far rather hear about contrarian or unpopular or morally dubious or "controversial" ideas than ones that are congruent with everyday morality and wisdom. No one writes a newspaper article about a study that shows that girls are just as good at some task as boys, or that children are influenced by their parents.

It is certainly true that there is no reason that scientifically valid results should have morally comforting consequences — but there is no reason why they shouldn't either. Unpopularity or shock is no more a sign of truth than popularity is. More to the point, when scientists do have ideas that are potentially morally dangerous they should approach those ideas with hesitancy and humility. And they should do so in full recognition of the great human tragedy that, as Isiah Berlin pointed out, there can be genuinely conflicting goods and that humans are often in situations of conflict for which there is no simple or obvious answer.

Truth and morality may indeed in some cases be competing values, but that is a tragedy, not a cause for self-congratulation. Humility and empathy come less easily to most scientists, most certainly including me, than pride and self-confidence, but perhaps for that very reason they are the virtues we should pursue.

This is, of course, itself a dangerous idea. Orneriness and contrarianism are in fact, genuine scientific virtues, too. And in the current profoundly anti-scientific political climate it is terribly dangerous to do anything that might give comfort to the enemies of science. But I think the peril to science actually doesn't lie in timidity or self-censorship. It is much more likely to lie in a cacophony of "controversy".   


LEE SMOLIN
Physicist, Perimeter Institute; Author, Three Roads to Quantum Gravity

Seeing Darwin in the light of Einstein; seeing Einstein in the light of Darwin

The revolutionary moves made by Einstein and Darwin are closely related, and their combination will increasingly come to define how we see our worlds: physical, biological and social.

Before Einstein, the properties of elementary particles were understood as being defined against an absolute, eternally fixed background. This way of doing science had been introduced by Newton. His method was to posit the existence of an absolute and eternal background structure against which the properties of things were defined. For example, this is how Newton conceived of space and time. Particles have properties defined, not with respect to each other, but each with respect to only the absolute background of space and time. Einstein's great achievement was to realize successfully the contrary idea, called relationalism, according to which the world is a network of relationships which evolve in time. There is no absolute background and the properties of anything are only defined in terms of its participation in this network of relations.

Before Darwin, species were thought of as eternal categories, defined a priori; after Darwin species were understood to be relational categories-that is only defined in terms of their relationship with the network of interactions making up the biosphere. Darwin's great contribution was to understand that there is a process-natural selection-that can act on relational properties, leading to the birth of genuine novelty by creating complexes of relationships that are increasingly structured and complex.

Seeing Darwin in the light of Einstein, we understand that all the properties a species has in modern biology are relational. There is no absolute background in biology.

Seeing Einstein in the light of Darwin opens up the possibility that the mechanism of natural selection could act not only on living things but on the properties that define the different species of elementary particles.

At first, physicists thought that the only relational properties an elementary particle might have were its position and motion in space and time. The other properties, like mass and charge were thought of in the old framework: defined by a background of absolute law. The standard model of particle physics taught us that some of those properties, like mass, are only the consequence of a particles interactions with other fields. As a result the mass of a particle is determined environmentally, by the phase of the other fields it interacts with.

I don't know which model of quantum gravity is right, but all the leading candidates, string theory, loop quantum gravity and others, teach us that it is possible that all properties of elementary particles are relational and environmental. In different possible universes there may be different combinations of elementary particles and forces. Indeed, all that used to be thought of as fundamental, space and the  elementary particles themselves are increasingly seen, in models of quantum gravity, as themselves emergent from a more elementary network of relations.

The basic method of science after Einstein seems to be: identify something in your theory that is playing the role of an absolute background, that is needed to define the laws that govern objects in your theory, and understand it more deeply as a contingent property, which itself evolves subject to law.

For example, before Einstein the geometry of space was thought of as specified absolutely as part of the laws of nature. After Einstein we understand geometry is contingent and dynamical, which means it evolves subject to law. This means that Einstein's move can even be applied to aspects of what were thought to be the laws of nature: so that even aspects of the laws turn out to evolve in time.

The basic method of science after Darwin seems to be to identify some property once thought to be absolute and defined a prior and recognize that it can be understood because it has evolved by a process of or akin to natural selection. This has revolutionized biology and is in the process of doing the same to the social sciences.

We can see by how I have stated it that these two methods are closely related. Einstein emphasizes the relational aspect of all properties described by science, while Darwin proposes that ultimately, the law which governs the evolution of everything else, including perhaps what were once seen to be laws-is natural selection.

Should Darwin's method be applied even to the laws of physics?   Recent developments in elementary particle physics give us little alternative if we are to have a rational understanding of the laws that govern our universe. I am referring here to the realization that string theory gives us, not a unique set of particles and forces, but an infinite list out of which one came to be selected for our universe. We physicists have now to understand Darwin's lesson:  the only way to understand how one out of a vast number of choices was made, which favors improbably structure, is that it is the result of evolution by natural selection.

Can this work? I showed it might, in 1992, in a theory of cosmological natural selection. This remains the only theory of how our laws came to be selected so far proposed that makes falsifiable predictions.   

The idea that laws of nature are themselves the result of evolution by natural selection is nothing new, it was anticipated by the philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce, who wrote in 1891:

To suppose universal laws of nature capable of being apprehended by the mind and yet having no reason for their special forms, but standing inexplicable and irrational, is hardly a justifiable position. Uniformities are precisely the sort of facts that need to be accounted for. Law is par excellence the thing that wants a reason. Now the only possible way of accounting for the laws of nature, and for uniformity in general, is to suppose them results of evolution.

This idea remains dangerous, not only for what it has achieved, but for what it implies for the future. For there are implications have yet to be absorbed or understood, even by those who have come to believe it is the only way forward for science. For example, must there always be a deeper, or meta-law, which governs the physical mechanisms by which a law evolves?  And what about the fact that laws of physics are expressed in mathematics, which is usually thought of as encoding eternal truths?  Can mathematics itself come to be seen as time bound rather that as transcendent and eternal platonic truths? 

I believe that we will achieve clarity on these and other scary implications of the idea that all the regularities we observe, including those we have gotten used to calling laws, are the result of evolution by natural selection. And I believe that once this is achieved Einstein and Darwin will be understood as partners in the greatest revolution yet in science, a revolution that taught us that the world we are imbedded in is nothing but an ever evolving network of relationships.



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