In pursuit of the natural laws of the universe, human beings have accomplished remarkable things. We’ve outlined the principles of gravity and thermodynamics. We’ve built enormous machines to dig into the deepest parts of the Earth, to understand what happens at the shortest quantum distances, and equally large machines to take pictures of the most distant parts of the cosmos. Still, there remain a number of foundational gaps in our knowledge—gaps that have allowed some wild ideas to take root. Some scientists hypothesize that, with every decision we make, our universe forks into multiverses, that consciousness arises from the quantum movements of microtubules, that the universe itself is conscious, or that there is this cat in a box and not in a box at the same time. These ideas, and related big questions about the nature of the universe, are the subject of particle physicist Sabine Hossenfelder’s new book, Existential Physics. In it, she argues that many of these far-out theories, put forward without evidence, are on par with religious belief. Physics, she contends, does not yet provide the answers to all of our questions—and it’s doubtful that it ever will.
Go beyond the episode:
- Sabine Hossenfelder’s Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions
- And her previous book, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray
- More questions (and answers) on Hossenfelder’s blog, Backreaction, and YouTube Channel, Science Without the Gobbledygook (or, you can try your hand at parsing her scholarly papers)
- The first images from the James Webb Space Telescope are indeed impressive
- For another physicist’s perspective, listen to our interview with Stephon Alexander about his experience as a self-identified outsider in the field
Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.
Subscribe: iTunes • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast
Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)
Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.
Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.