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.
Behold: the iPad and the Kindle under a microscope.
I find the Kindle’s startling resemblance to real ink on real paper really appealing, and it makes me want to get my Kindle out again. I’ve been all-iPad for awhile now, but under the microscope, it’s revealed for what it is: a very, very clever imposter.
To be clear: that’s totally okay. Sometimes imposters turn out to be an improvement on the real thing. (There’s a fable about that, right? If not: there should be.) (Oh, right.)
I’m also quite moved—no exaggeration—by the images of real ink at 400X magnification. Ah, right: it’s tree-parts down there. It’s a sticky black substance slathered across the fissures of a flattened web of fiber. It’s stuff. The words are the soul; the book is the body.
(Via Avi Bryant.)
Ezra Klein (!) links to a weird and wonderful meditation on the strangely low entropy of the universe:
Why do we find ourselves so close to the aftermath of this very strange event, this Big Bang, that has such low entropy? The answer is, we just don’t know.
Then there’s an analogy with chickens and eggs.