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What do you consider a deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?

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The Edge Question 2012: WHAT is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?:

Since this question is about explanation, answers may embrace scientific thinking in the broadest sense: as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, including other fields of inquiry such as philosophy, mathematics, economics, history, political theory, literary theory, or the human spirit. The only requirement is that some simple and non-obvious idea explain some diverse and complicated set of phenomena.

[Thanks to Steven Pinker for suggesting this year’s Edge Question and to Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, and George Dyson for their ongoing advice and support.]

Responses here, including Stanford physics prof Andrei Linde:

Why Is Our World Comprehensible?

[ … ]To summarize, the inflationary multiverse consists of myriads of ‘universes’ with all possible laws of physics and mathematics operating in each of them. We can only live in those universes where the laws of physics allow our existence, which requires making reliable predictions. In other words, mathematicians and physicists can only live in those universes which are comprehensible and where the laws of mathematics are efficient.

One can easily dismiss everything that I just said as a wild speculation. …

Just think, Stanford is a leading research centre.
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My submission would be Bishop Berkeley's reconciliation of the irreconcilable notions of mind and matter, which was that the material world doesn't actually exist (Principles of Human Knowledge/Three Dialogues). His idea could be summarized using a phrase that in his day hadn't yet been invented, namely "virtual reality"---the physical universe, which seems to be so real to us is in actuality a kind of virtual reality in which God assumes the role of the computer that guides, organizes, and orchestrates the experience of all our consciousnesses so that we all appear to inhabit the same physical universe. The laws of physics, chemistry, thermodynamics, etc. are the rules by which the virtual reality operates. In one stroke, this 1) eliminates the mind/body problem, 2) explains how miraculous events are possible, 3) explains how psi is possible, and 4) eliminates the problem of how consciousness and qualia can "emerge" or "arise" from inanimate matter (the brain). In addition, it eliminates the problem of how it is possible that the laws of quantum physics could be true, which seem so impossible under the assumption that there is a material world "out there", independent of us. Note: A great book that brings this idea up to date vis a vis modern physics is Maya: The World as Virtual Reality by Richard L. Thompson. It can be purchased from Amazon, but unfortunately seems to be out of print and even used is very expensive. Also, Bruce Gordon has an essay in The Nature of Nature, "A Quantum Theoretic Argument against Naturalism" in which he argues to the same conclusion from a consideration of quantum entanglement. Bruce David
I'd say that Darwin should be ahead of Einstein. Einstein described things beautifully, but Darwin actually explained. And algorithms don't come much more elegant than Darwin's. Elizabeth Liddle
Darwin's name is mentioned 60 times in the responses to that question. Second to Einstein (with 76), but ahead of Newton (who got 28 mentions). champignon
The only requirement is that some simple and non-obvious idea explain some diverse and complicated set of phenomena.
I can hear a few dozen keyboards harrumphing into action as I type, but that's gotta be the manner in which the simple processes of imperfect replication and competition in a finite world can build unaided into a crescendo of complexity, form and diversity. I realise this site is a testament to the intuition that this cannot be the case, but ... Chas D
Q: Why are all those who disagree with me such jerks? A: Because only in a universe where that would so would my genius be so evident to me. Hey, this science business is not only elegant, but easy! Jon Garvey

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