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Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli.

I wrote about this guy last year: http://clantilyscad.com/2012/05/25/science-is-not-about-certainty/

He’s back with an Edge Conversation about Free Will and Physics.

Via Rovelli on a new Edge.org article:

Any attempt to link this discussion to moral, ethical or legal issues, as is often been done, is pure nonsense… There is no contradiction between saying that a stone flew into the sky because a force pushed it, or because a volcano exploded. In the same manner, there is no contradiction in saying we do not commit murder because something is encoded in the decision-making structure of our brain or because we are bound by a moral belief.

Free will has nothing to do with quantum mechanics. We are deeply unpredictable beings, like most macroscopic systems. There is no incompatibility between free will and microscopic determinism. The significance of free will is that behavior is not determined by external constraints, not by the psychological description of our neural states to which we access. The idea that free will may have to do with the ability to make different choices on equal internal states is an absurdity, as the ideal experiment I have described above shows. The issue has no bearing on questions of a moral or legal nature. Our idea of being free is correct, but it is just a way to say that we are ignorant on why we make choices.”

I haven’t studied philosophy formally at all, but I like what this guy has to say about it so far. I’ll tab Rovelli on my list of favorite scientists who also know how to write.

From what I understand from my superficial philosophical dialogue-watching, I agree with Sam Harris that free will is an “incoherent concept.”

But free will is a mindfuck of a thing to get your head around. Even without any discussion of quantum mechanics.

Categories: Knowledge has vagina dentata so don’t you fuck with it, Science Tags: Carlo Rovelli, determinism, Edge, free will, metaphysics, philosophy, physics, quantum mechanics

All physicists have to look nerdy. It’s part of the job description.

Edge.org has a conversation with theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli:

Science is not about the data. The empirical content of scientific theory is not what is relevant. The data serves to suggest the theory, to confirm the theory, to disconfirm the theory, to prove the theory wrong. But these are the tools that we use. What interests us is the content of the theory. What interests us is what the theory says about the world. General relativity says space-time is curved. The data of general relativity are that Mercury perihelion moves 43 degrees per century, with respect to that computed with Newtonian mechanics.

Who cares? Who cares about these details? If that was the content of general relativity, general relativity would be boring. General relativity is interesting not because of its data, but because it tells us that as far as we know today, the best way of conceptualizing space-time is as a curved object. It gives us a better way of grasping reality than Newtonian mechanics, because it tells us that there can be black holes, because it tells us there’s a Big Bang. This is the content of the scientific theory.

I just discovered Edge.  They have some good shit melding philosophical questions with scientific inquiry.  The kind of stuff I want to write if I ever make it through my formal education.  Totes subscribing.

[edit]

I have to add commentary on this particular post. I can see what Rovelli is getting at, but I don’t like the rhetoric. It’s too dismissive of the importance of data, of the relationship between reason and theory. The arrogance in the rhetorical question, “Who cares about these details?” is particularly grating.

Physicists often try to play with “deep” writing and often fail. (Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman is the other example that immediately comes to mind.) The nature of their occupation involves describing reality, and reality is undoubtably complex. But if you’re a scientist that wants to do metaphysics, you had better choose your language very carefully or risk sounding like a tool.

Categories: Knowledge has vagina dentata so don’t you fuck with it Tags: Carlo Rovelli, certainty, Edge.org, metaphysics, physicists, scientific inquiry