In the 16th century, Kepler and Brahe founded a field that was to become one of the most important disciplines of our times: Physics as we know it today, the mother of all the Sciences. Since then we learned a great deal about the world around us. Still, physics amounts to only a handful of beautiful and profound ideas - in Einstein’s words, “God’s thoughts”... We will present a bird’s eye view of physics - with the benefit of hindsight - and talk about a few key principles upon which our modern understanding of the physical world is based.
But what are these ideas or divine thoughts? Are they the same or of the same kind as the first principles discussed by Aristotle? This is where philosophy will step in to clarify—and, of course, to further complicate—the role and the place of physics. We will call upon both Plato and Aristotle to discuss the most fundamental principles of knowledge, in the sense in which knowledge has been conceived in the West. But we will also talk about mythos, or thinking based on ambiguity that challenges the so-called rational, or scientific discourse.
This lecture will be a conversation between philosophy and physics in a different way than the previous ones.
First, we will discuss what string theory is. It purports to be the ultimate unifying framework of the physical laws. This theory emerged as a response to several overwhelming puzzles that arise within traditional physics—the puzzles that suggest that the laws of physics we love and rely on are logically inconsistent; that they are incompatible with each other. In recent years string theory made a great deal of progress in understanding black holes, in cosmology, and particle physics. We will review these advances and present a simple, powerful, and yet preposterous story of what string theory is. We will also discuss the importance of experimental evidence as opposed to logical and conceptual consistency.
Next, we will consider whether or not philosophy is useful. In doing so, we will return to its origins in Ancient Greece, and in particular, to Plato and Aristotle, but also draw on ideas of a contemporary French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. We will also have to confront the question of what philosophy is, as well as what makes one a philosopher.
Finally, we will comment on the convergences and the differences between these two kinds of knowledge.
In our daily lives we rely on the stability of our observations of the world, we expect events to follow predictable patterns. A sense of certainty and even determinism is an implicit and integral part of human experience. When we see a chair, for instance, we know it is physically present at an observed location; we are certain of its existence, and assume that we could walk over and sit on it.
Unfortunately—or, perhaps, fortunately— this is only an approximation to reality! Quantum mechanics tells us that, in fact, nothing is certain, that everything is possible at once. Nature itself is a set of probabilities: we can only talk about the likelihood of a chair being in a particular location, and about the likelihood of it remaining there a second from now… However crazy and disturbing this may sound, this is reality - tested extensively in numerous experiments, and used to build superconductors, lasers, and many other—almost magical—materials and instruments.
Quantum mechanics also tells us that the void is not empty, and this fact actually syncs well with our notions of the universe and its evolution. In this lecture we will discuss quantum mechanics and its philosophical implications. We will think about uncertainty in the world and ask ourselves what the void is.