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Nobelist: Beauty as physics’ “secret weapon”


FRANK WILCZEK, Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics and 2004 Nobel Laureate Further to Biology of the Baroque, in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio’s Steve Paulson at Nautilus, Nobelist (2004) Frank Wilczek argues that

Beauty Is Physics’ Secret Weapon

We recognize beauty when we see it, right? Michelangelo’s David, Machu Picchu, an ocean sunrise. Could we say the same about the cosmos itself? Frank Wilczek, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thinks we can. And should. In his new book A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design, Wilczek lays out his case for the elegance of mathematics and the coherence of nature’s underlying laws.

Was beauty important to Einstein and the other founders of modern physics?

Absolutely, although they didn’t always think about it explicitly. Einstein and [James Clerk] Maxwell—and going back to Newton—all had this instinct for breaking down problems into small parts, with the idea that they would be comprehensible, and then you could build up to more complicated things that would have this kind of exuberance. Einstein was the decisive figure in bringing this second aspect of the beauty of nature—symmetry—to new heights. The theory of relativity is very much in the mold of change without change. You can look at the world from a moving platform and different things rushing at you or away from you will look quite different, but the same laws will apply as in the stationary frame. That’s the essence of the theory of relativity. You change the way things look and yet the laws are still valid.

The interview degenerates later into stuff like:

Do you think science will ever crack the fundamental problem of how we get our mental world out of material stuff?

Yes, I do. How should I say it? I think we’re maybe 90 percent of the way there.

You’re an optimist!

No, I think I’m just interpreting things correctly. Not long ago it seemed very mysterious that patterns of ones and zeros could encode how you do computations; for instance, how you play chess. But now we can design systems that work on ones and zeros that do something very much like thinking. Increasingly you have meaningful interactions with systems like Siri that are just manipulating patterns of ones and zeros. Those ones and zeros are embodied in physical objects, namely transistors, so that’s very close to saying that mind is embodied in physical objects. These are concrete objects that we designed. More.

Who designed? How? If he is right, we can’t know beauty. That is, beauty can only be seen from a perspective that is not fully part of the thing itself.

What does “90% of the way there” mean in the context?

One thing you can be sure of, he won’t be asked to explain. Readers, what would you ask him?

<See also: What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

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I agree that beauty is just, i say , just symmetry. so there is no beauty but onloy accuracy. right answers in the universe. BECAUSE , since the fall, we have so much error YET we make the average the mean or the right answer then we FALSELY invented the concept of beauty. Beauty is right and pleasing. We like it rightly. physics rightly is about accuracy. and so its "beauty". Yet its not anything other then a accurate measured truth. We just like it better then error and chaos etc. Indeed computers have nothing to do with thinking. Thats sloppy thinking. Chess is only a game of memory. Its not a thinking mans game. The mind is only a memory machine I say. Thinking is from our soul and is not material and is in the image of God's thinking. No dots and dashes. Robert Byers
Beauty is a spiritual concept. It is not a property of the physical universe. The fact that we can see beauty is proof, not only of our consciousness/spirit, but that the universe was designed and created by conscious beings. Mapou
Readers, what would you ask him?
On materialism there is absolutely no known reason we should expect the beauty, symmetry and elegance to which you allude. Yet there it is. Do you expect us to believe it is all an uncanny cosmic coincidence that beauty, symmetry and elegance exists? If not, how do you explain it? Barry Arrington
Readers, what would you ask him?
Why did consciousness evolve? How does consciousness provide a selective advantage? Why does blue look like blue? What is the hard problem of consciousness? How do you distinguish causation from correlation? Name six Nobel prize winning scientists and five outstanding non-Nobelist scientists who believed consciousness is non-physical because of evidence. (Answer here: http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/p/62014-contents-evidence-for-afterlife.html#articles_by_subject_afterlife) Jim Smith
"But now we can design systems that work on ones and zeros that do something very much like thinking." It beggars belief that a Nobel prize winner could say something as staggeringly stupid as this. Anyone -- and I mean anyone -- who has thought the least bit about the matter knows that a supercomputer crunching algorithms is absolutely nothing like human consciousness. *sigh* The corrupting influence of scientism makes fools of even very smart people. Barry Arrington

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