Physics and Imagination

“I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” -Albert Einstein

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

-Richard Feynman

There’s a deeper reason to valorize Einstein’s claim about imagination in physics. What I feel he is really saying is that imagination precedes knowledge, and indeed establishes the precondition for it. You might say that when the shape of imagination sufficiently fits the world, knowledge results.

The real point is that imagination in physics is what the paths to the future, to new knowledge, are built from. Actual knowledge – things we can accept as “true”, in the sense that they offer tried and tested ways of predicting how the world behaves – has been assembled into an edifice as wonderful and as robust as the Gothic cathedrals of stone, the medieval representations of the physical and spiritual universe. But at the point where knowledge runs out, only imagination can take us further. I think this is what Einstein was driving at.

https://philipball.blogspot.com/2019/09/physics-and-imagination.html

How should we talk about what’s happening to our planet?

Interesting article connecting the issue of language and climate change. This also gets at the fact that we don’t always communicate what we think we are and that different groups of people communicate differently. Frank Luntz, discussed below, often uses the adage: It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

The science community is supposed to interpret for the rest of us, but its dialect does not always pack rhetorical oomph. “I didn’t realize that pointing to a climate graph I think is the Rosetta stone — people don’t see it the way I see it,” says Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “We as humans don’t experience an exponential curve viscerally, in our gut.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/how-should-we-talk-about-whats-happening-to-our-planet/2019/08/26/d28c4bcc-b213-11e9-8f6c-7828e68cb15f_story.html

More on Luntz

Frank Luntz is a popular American pollster but also famous for helping the Republican Party hone its messaging and use of language in the 1990s and 2000s. He authored a famous memo on messaging the “War on Terror.” One can argue with the ethics of what he did (intentionally tying 9/11 and Iraq in people’s minds without ever explicitly making the connection for example) but his work was devastatingly effective. This memo made for much better discussion teaching TOK 10 years ago but I think is very interesting to still study.

Download Luntz Memo On Terrorism

Here is Luntz being challenged about another famous memo he wrote on climate change. He has since changed his mind.

Image of Luntz now discussing messaging on discussing climate change.

Why Are Deepfakes So Effective? It’s because we often want them to be true

Developing deep fake detection technology is important, but it’s only part of the solution. It is the human factor—weaknesses in our human psychology—not their technical sophistication that make deep fakes so effective. New research hints at how foundational the problem is.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/why-are-deepfakes-so-effective/

Beauty is truth, truth is beauty, and other lies of physics

I think it’s time we take a lesson from the history of science. Beauty does not have a good track record as a guide for theory-development. Many beautiful hypotheses were just wrong, like Johannes Kepler’s idea that planetary orbits are stacked in regular polyhedrons known as ‘Platonic solids’, or that atoms are knots in an invisible aether, or that the Universe is in a ‘steady state’ rather than undergoing expansion.

And other theories that were once considered ugly have stood the test of time.

https://aeon.co/ideas/beauty-is-truth-truth-is-beauty-and-other-lies-of-physics

 

A Scientist Must Go where the Evidence Leads

When our cherished ideas are contradicted by the facts, we must avoid the human tendency to double down on those ideas.

Impartial attention to evidence should get priority over inertia or social pressure in dictating the mainstream scientific agenda. An honest response of scientists to failed models would set an exemplar for intellectual leadership on how to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk, about revising our notions of reality when the evidence demands we must. This has implications for all aspects of life—including public policy.

The ability to refresh our models of reality over time is the trademark of wisdom. The commitment of using our best models of reality to navigate forward is the trademark of outstanding leadership.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/a-scientist-must-go-where-the-evidence-leads/

Podcast: What Our Monuments (Don’t) Teach Us About Remembering The Past

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Monuments don’t mean things on their own. They mean things because we make them mean things. So this Robert E. Lee statue, which I suspect most Charlottesvillians would have walked past and ignored as well, has taken on a new valence. And I think that’s an important reminder. Monuments are not static things that have a single narrative behind them. Monuments are things that we create. Monuments are objects whose meaning and significance we create daily.