Monday August 07, 2017

Is That All There Is? Exploring the meaning & future of science

Giant, active galaxy NGC 1275. Photographed using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys in July and August 2006

Giant, active galaxy NGC 1275. Photographed using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys in July and August 2006 (NASA/Getty Images)

Listen to Full Episode 53:58

Science helps us understand ourselves and our own place in the cosmos. But how far does the math take us?  And what do science and the humanities tell us when we look at the same questions from different points of view? From the Stratford Festival, a discussion between physicist Neil Turok, science writer Margaret Wertheim and philosopher Mark Kingwell. (And don't worry: they all agree - the world really does exist and so do you.) **This episode originally aired November 25, 2016.

 

The astronomer Carl Sagan liked to say that science isn't so much a body of knowledge, but more a way of thinking, a way of "interrogating the universe" as he put it. And maybe that's our most pronounced human quality -- we ask questions, we want to know what's out there, what's in there, and also -- what's the meaning of things?

All that human curiosity has delivered great gifts, and our lives have improved beyond measure. We live longer and better, and we know more about ourselves, our world and the cosmos. But the deeper we go, the more puzzles we find. The physical laws at the level of little things, subatomic particles, and the laws at the level of really big things, the universe itself -- these laws are confusing and contradictory. They don't seem to fit with the laws of regular experience.


"We've seen these incredible advances in our basic knowledge of the universe, at the same time the discipline itself is in a crisis. So what's the crisis? Essentially nothing new has been predicted in fundamental physics for three decades"  -- Neil Turok


The deeper our understanding of the physical world goes, the deeper the big questions about the meaning of things goes too. Science, it seems, needs new ways of thinking. 


Guests in this episode:

  • Margaret Wertheim, science writer and author of Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything (Walker Books, 2013); Pearly Gates Of Cyberspace, (W.W Norton, 2000); Pythagoras' Trousers (W.W.Norton,1997)

  • Neil Turok, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario
     
  • Mark Kingwell, professor of philosophy in the University of Toronto


** This episode was produced by Philip Coulter. It was recorded at the Stratford Festival by Melissa Renaud. Thanks also to Keira Loughran, Dian Marie Bridge,  David Campbell, Ann Swerdfager and Antoni Cimolino.