I am over the moon about this interview over at The Atlantic. Ross Anderson dials up a philosopher of physics (!) and comes away with a long, thoughtful, surprisingly penetrable conversation. It’s the most startlingly synaptic thing I’ve read in weeks.
As you might expect from a conversation with a physics philosopher, it’s hard to blockquote—really, just go make some coffee and read the whole thing—but I did like this part, because it makes the case that physics might still be part of our human universe, not just an increasingly abstract description of some uber-folded N-dimensional meta-scrapple:
Do you think that physics has neglected some of these foundational questions as it has become, increasingly, a kind of engine for the applied sciences, focusing on the manipulation, rather than say, the explanation, of the physical world?
Maudlin: Look, physics has definitely avoided what were traditionally considered to be foundational physical questions, but the reason for that goes back to the foundation of quantum mechanics. The problem is that quantum mechanics was developed as a mathematical tool. Physicists understood how to use it as a tool for making predictions, but without an agreement or understanding about what it was telling us about the physical world. And that’s very clear when you look at any of the foundational discussions. This is what Einstein was upset about; this is what Schrodinger was upset about. Quantum mechanics was merely a calculational technique that was not well understood as a physical theory. Bohr and Heisenberg tried to argue that asking for a clear physical theory was something you shouldn’t do anymore. That it was something outmoded. And they were wrong, Bohr and Heisenberg were wrong about that. But the effect of it was to shut down perfectly legitimate physics questions within the physics community for about half a century. And now we’re coming out of that, fortunately.
Props to Anderson for introducing me to Tim Maudlin and props to The Atlantic Tech for running something like this.