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The Edge question is an annual event. Publisher John Brockman poses an interesting question to a large number of scientists, thinkers, academics and writers. He publishes their answers on the Edge website and usually, later,  as a book*

The 2012 question is:

What Is Your Favorite Deep, Elegant, Or Beautiful Explanation?

Andrei Linde, Stanford University

There are answers from 190 people – many you will know, some you won’t, but all are thoughtful and stimulating. I am starting to read through them and found the first really intriguing. It’s from Andrei Linde, Professor of Physics at Stanford University and originator of the Chaotic Inflation Cosmological theory, and has the title Why Is Our World Comprehensible?

Here’s an extract:

“The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.” This is one of the most famous quotes from Albert Einstein. “The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.” Similarly, Eugene Wigner said that the unreasonable efficiency of mathematics is “a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.” Thus we have a problem that may seem too metaphysical to be addressed in a meaningful way: Why do we live in a comprehensible universe with certain rules, which can be efficiently used for predicting our future?

One could always respond that God created the universe and made it simple enough so that we can comprehend it. This would match the words about a miracle and an undeserved gift. But shall we give up so easily? Let us consider several other questions of a similar type. Why is our universe so large? Why parallel lines do not intersect? Why different parts of the universe look so similar? For a long time such questions looked too metaphysical to be considered seriously. Now we know that inflationary cosmology provides a possible answer to all of these questions. Let us see whether it might help us again.

I like his point, his response to a “god did it!”answer provided by the theologically-inclined.

Should we give up so easily?

Linde explains how modern cosmological theory leads to the possibility of regions of the universe where “different laws of the low energy physics operate” – the “multiverse” concept.

“In some of these universes, quantum fluctuations are so large that any computations are impossible. Mathematics there is inefficient because predictions cannot be memorized and used. Lifetime of some of these universes is too short. Some other universes are long living but laws of physics there do not allow existence of anybody who could live sufficiently long to learn physics and mathematics.”

And:

“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.”

And he concludes that while some people may dismiss his ideas as “wild speculation:”

 It seems very intriguing, however, that in the context of the new cosmological paradigm, which was developed during the last 30 years, we might be able, for the first time, to approach one of the most complicated and mysterious problems which bothered some of the best scientists of the 20th century.


*Previous questions/books include:

 2011 : WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY’S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT?
 2010 : HOW IS THE INTERNET CHANGING THE WAY YOU THINK?
  2009 : WHAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING?
  2008 : WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT? WHY?
   2007 : WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?
  2006 : WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?
  2005 : WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE EVEN THOUGH YOU CANNOT PROVE IT?

And so on – back to 1998.

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