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The Laws of Physics Are Completely Understood

Physicist Sean Carroll, speaking at James Randi’s “The Amazing Meeting”, tells how anomalous phenomenon simply can’t happen because the laws of physics are completely understood:

There are actually three points I try to hit here. The first is that the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood. There is an enormous amount that we don’t know about how the world works, but we actually do know the basic rules underlying atoms and their interactions — enough to rule out telekinesis, life after death, and so on. The second point is that those laws are dysteleological — they describe a universe without intrinsic meaning or purpose, just one that moves from moment to moment.

The third point — the important one, and the most subtle — is that the absence of meaning “out there in the universe” does not mean that people can’t live meaningful lives. Far from it. It simply means that whatever meaning our lives might have must be created by us, not given to us by the natural or supernatural world. There is one world that exists, but many ways to talk about; many stories we can imagine telling about that world and our place within it, without succumbing to the temptation to ignore the laws of nature. That’s the hard part of living life in a natural world, and we need to summon the courage to face up to the challenge.

There’s a lot of elements to like about the talk, and Sean Carroll is no doubt a smarter man than me, but the pre-emptive debunking of apparent anomalies in science (such as parapsychology and the evidence for the survival of consciousness) – in effect, saying that we need not even test these anomalies because the laws of physics are already understood and preclude them – left me thinking of another well-known scientist’s thoughts on the apparent completeness of science. Considering the alternative scientific viewpoints from the likes of physicist Henry Stapp, on theoretical explorations of the possibility of an afterlife, and Dean Radin’s recent work on conscious influence in the famous double-slit experiment, the famous (though possibly apocryphal) fin de siècle quote of Lord Kelvin immediately came to mind when contemplating Carroll’s pronouncements:

There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.

Within a few years, science was turned on its head by relativity, and followed by quantum mechanics. One can only wonder if current-day anomalies, such as those explored by parapsychologiests, might one-day lead to some similar revolution, this time involving consciousness or information as primary elements of the cosmos.

  1. Greg sayeth

    Within a few years, science was turned on its head by relativity, and followed by quantum mechanics. One can only wonder if current-day anomalies, such as those explored by parapsychologiests, might one-day lead to some similar revolution, this time involving consciousness or information as primary elements of the cosmos.

    IMO, Consciousness is information that is aware of itself 😉

    In total agreement with you here, amigo.

    Except with re. to Carroll. Anyone who’s arrogant enough to say such things in public, doesn’t deserve to be called ‘smart.’

  2. Oy…
    Funny thing is, there are so many unsolved anomalies and mysteries *already* on the table (dark matter, dark energy, the morphogenesis of organisms, how does quantum entanglement work?, etc.), that it’s hard to imagine anyone making such a claim–yet again.

    Another funny thing: every time in history we see an expert proclaim something ludicrous along these lines, it seems to be immediately followed by a major breakthrough that upends the previous worldview, making these figures seem a bit like fools. So perhaps we have something to look forward to!

  3. Hmmm
    Wasn’t there just a study this week about looking for the solution to quantum physics outside of time and space? That doesn’t sound too settled to me.
    Although I think the folks that squared off against Galileo believed that all the rules of the universe were just as firmly understood as Carroll says they are now.

  4. Well…….

    Physicist Sean Carroll Reminds me of President Obama.

    Both are adamant that they know everything, when they really know nothing. They’ve spent so much time in the academic/theoretical world, that they haven’t a clue about the real world.

      1. Umm….

        Hardly. At least O’Reilly actually produces something of value. He owns a business, which he created, employs people and helps the country in one fashion or another. O’Reilly understands economics and sound business strategy.

        Obama? Not so much.

          1. Trump:
            Donald Trump has done more for this nation than the Resident in the White House.

            We actually know where and when he was born, and there are copies of his college transcripts available.

            We know virtually nothing about “Teh Won” and I anxiously look forward to seeing his marxist ass kicked out to the curb and a conservative put into the White House.

            As it stands, it’s probably going to take a generation to repair the damage that the Resident and his sycophants and enablers have done to these United States.

            I’ll say this much: Obama supporters are all the evidence anyone needs that these United States need a National Voter ID card, and civics & IQ tests in order to get one.

          2. The sins of the fathers…
            Sight correction, Gwedd: the economy tanked under the previous president, not this one—you know, the one who practiced reverse socialism, i.e., redistribution of wealth upward. And it will probably take a lot more than a generation to repair that damage, rest assured.


  5. The Laws of Physics Are Completely Understood!
    I think that science (or at least empirical science) is turned on its head with fools such as this.

    In the past we used to look at the universe, make observations and then build theories based upon those observations. If those models do not match future observations they are refined or binned. Now observation must fit the models!

    That is just silly. It reminds me of the Victorian anecdote that bumblebees break all the laws of aerodynamics and so cannot fly!

    cheers Paolo

  6. from the Not-Making-Up-Fruits-Dept.
    i like him; he’s delightfully noncynical, nonpessimistic & generous & I’ve been enjoying reading him over at his Cosmic Variance blog; i love reading the bizarre things that are now counted as real, like the Multiple Worlds Interpretation of QM and ‘electrons’ etc being just perturbations in ephemeral fields :3

    Here’s a link to a post of his aboot the Laws of Physics being Completely Understood, to perhaps knock some of the cynicism & pessimism loose here…but, of course, not like a PZ Myers, where you HAVE to or you’re an idiot ;3

    and he’s asking for feedback on that talk that Greg gave a link to above :3

    1. Physics and Derrieres
      Oh, I’m sure he’s gonna retort with some lame justification that he meant the laws of Physics for ONLY trivial & everyday events.

      But… maybe he thinks Consciousness is not part of everyday life 😛

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