The SUPERB Theories of Science

Roger PenroseA while back I did a post about my three favorite non-fiction authors: David Deustch, Roger Penrose, and Douglas Hofstadter (Gesundheit!). This post is about Roger Penrose.

Roger Penrose has an interesting categorization system for scientific theories that I’d like to share. (Later on, I’ll give David Deutsch’s alternative approach.) Penrose believes there are three categories of theories. They are:

  1. SUPERB
  2. USEFUL
  3. TENTATIVE

He goes on to say that say he’s considered making a fourth category called MISGUIDED but then thought better of it because he didn’t want to lose half of his friends.

In this post I want to talk about the seven scientific theories Penrose considers to be in the SUPERB category. These are the theories that, as Penrose puts it, have been phenomenal in their range and accuracy. Continue reading

Positivism vs. Scientific Realism: An Example

In my last post I started to discuss the differences between Positivism and Scientific Realism. To over simplify it, Positivism cares only about the predictive abilities of science and does not care about whether or not science is getting ever closer to some underlying truth. Scientific Realism takes all scientific theories seriously as approximations of an underlying truth.

Actually, despite what Deutsch says (in my last post), I feel Positivism has value. Though I generally agree with Deutsch, sometimes you just want to predict an outcome and you don’t really care about why it works. In fact, I think most people would be shocked to realize that this is how most science and engineering are done. Scientists rarely become philosophical about what their equations mean for reality.

However, Deutsch is right about one thing. Positivism ultimately fails to grasp the value of believing your explanations. It is only through believing your explanations that you can comprehend them. And only by comprehending them can you refine them into something even more useful. Continue reading

Computability and Comprehension – Is Science About Prediction?

Science is the process of how we use reason to find patterns in reality and then to explain them in finite explanations of reality that allow us to represent reality via processes that are computable.

In my last post, I introduced David Deutsch’s book, The Fabric of Reality. Deutsch’s main interest is in understanding – and by that he means understanding everything. Deutsch believes that understanding something is to have an accurate explanation of it and that this, in turn, serves as a sort of algorithmic compression of all observational data.

Deutsch’s point of view falls under what we might call Scientific Realism. It’s the idea that science is not just about coming up with clever predictions about the world, but rather it’s about discovering reality’s true nature and comprehending it. Continue reading

What Does it Mean to Comprehend Something?

In my last post I considered Physicist John Barrow’s view of what science is:

So we find that Barrow’s view of science is that it is the process of how we use reason to find patterns in reality and then to algorithmically compress them into finite steps and formula that allow us to represent reality via processes that are computable.

I am going to suggest this as our starting theory of reality, but there is much that can be challenged about this view and therefore refined.

But first, I want to consider the idea of comprehending something. What does it mean to “comprehend” something? The problem with a word like this is that it’s a single word that maps to multiple possible meanings. Harkening back to my first post, if I ask you if you comprehend PI, what would that mean? Is it even possible to “comprehend PI” at all? It’s an infinitely large number, after all. It is therefore beyond comprehension isn’t it?

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Explaining Quantum Physics – The Nature of Reality

In this post I’m going to attempt the impossible: I’m going to explain (at a high level) Quantum Physics using math while trying to keep it interesting. I’m basically going to use a dumbed down and somewhat modified example I’ve taken from Roger Penrose’s book called Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness.

I believe people willing to persevere through this post will find themselves surprised by the end by the rather starling philosophical implications of quantum physics. I also believe that, if you take it slowly, the math is understandable to any high school graduate. I am personally very bad at math and can only handle this example because the math is so easy. If you don’t assume you can’t understand it, you’ll find that you can.

Forget What You Think You Know

Unless you are a physicist, start by emptying your mind of what you think you know about quantum physics through popular books because there is a substantial gap between what people say about Quantum Physics and the real theory. It seems to me that Quantum Physics currently gets used as the new ‘magic’. It’s become common for the fad magical (or sometimes even religious) worldview of the moment to slap a ‘quantum’ label in there somewhere to add a scientific veneer. [1] The reason this happens is because quantum physics has a deserved reputation for being really ‘weird’. But keep in mind what ‘weird’ means. It only means “something I’m not familiar with.” Claiming something is ‘weird’ says nothing ontological about the object/idea in question and actually serves as a statement about the speaker’s state of ignorance of the subject. (A point I often bring up when we talk about Mormons or other religions being “weird.”) Continue reading