Sean M. Carroll, Physicist: “Understanding 5% of the Universe sounds like a lot to me.” | Sciences

“Contains complex formulas!” It doesn’t seem like the best selling point for a book that aspires to conquer the masses. But theoretical physicist Sean M. Carrollwhich also dominates Art best seller A scientist in the usa with Basic ideas of the universe: space, time and motion (Ukulele, translated by Jordi Jimenez Samanis). In it, he reviews the history of fundamental physics in nine concepts (conservation, change, dynamics, space, time, space-time, geometry, gravity, needle…

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“Contains complex formulas!” It doesn’t seem like the best selling point for a book that aspires to conquer the masses. But theoretical physicist Sean M. Carrollwhich also dominates Art best seller A scientist in the usa with Basic ideas of the universe: space, time and motion (Ukulele, translated by Jordi Jimenez Samanis). In it, he reviews the history of fundamental physics in nine concepts (conservation, change, dynamics, space, time, space-time, geometry, gravity, black holes), successfully encouraging the conversations he posted on YouTube during the pandemic. . It’s the first in a trilogy of books that he promises will only get “much more sophisticated” down to the abstract discussions about the present and future of the discipline that drives the episodes of his popular book. PodcastAnd mindscape.

“Equations are like poems,” he says in an interview in May in his office at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Across the tree-lined street from the campus is the institute from which the telescope is controlled. James Webb. Carroll (Philadelphia, 56), comfortable at the intersection of science and culture, premiered his natural philosophical theme here this year, designed for him. “Like a good poem,” he adds, “an equation forces you to think and interpret.” It is short and condensed, and there is nothing left of it. It is impossible to paraphrase it in the same way that it is impossible to retell an argument wasteland [de T. S. Eliot]. Popularizing physics uses comparisons, metaphors, and anecdotes. I wanted to go further, and show readers what’s behind the curtain. Although it is not a textbook; It is not necessary to know how to solve it, it is enough to understand it.

ask. What is natural philosophy?

Answer. It is knowledge that reminds us that philosophy and science were once the same. What we now call science was a subset of philosophy. Around 1800, they separated… Today, knowledge is much broader than in Aristotle’s time, and it is impossible to be an expert on everything…

s. A leading theoretical physicist who also theorizes, like Aristotle, about dramatic art… Is it no longer possible to be multitalented?

R was found. There is extraordinary access to knowledge in many different fields, but I find it very difficult to be a leading researcher in more than one. Edward Witten, one of today’s leading theoretical physicists, also the best in mathematical physics, comes to mind. But it does not stand out in more distant disciplines, such as biology or history. Now everything is more fragmented, in part because of how universities are organized. I support more pollution. There is practical knowledge, like that in the introduction, in which you don’t need philosophy. For example, if you want to locate the farthest galaxy. If you are interested in why the great explosion, It will be useful to you. There is a joke that when philosophy begins to answer some questions, it becomes something else: psychology, physics, biology … Nowadays, no one calls me that, although some of my questions are philosophical in nature … What is mechanics quantum? Where did the universe come from? …

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s. …or: why is there something rather than nothing?

R was found. The short answer to this question is that I think it’s an unanswered question. It certainly belongs more to the field of philosophy than to physics. When you ask why there is something rather than nothing, you are assuming that there is a reason, a basic fact, why the universe exists. Well, I guess there is no such fundamental truth. I think the universe simply exists.

s. In the book, he explains that in an expanding universe, energy is not conserved.

R was found. It depends on what you mean by energy. It’s very common in physics to have ideas that make perfect sense if you live in Isaac Newton’s time. But then came general relativity and quantum mechanics, through which the concept of energy changes its meaning. If you take the energy of this table, the energy of this chair, the building and every planet and add up all the photons in the universe and take time into account, the answer is that energy is not conserved. Because space-time is changing. It’s like if you put a cup of coffee on top of this table, its energy will be conserved, but if you throw it in the ocean, it won’t. It is as if the waves are space-time pushing the cup.

s. Do you share the idea that philosophy is somewhat stagnant?

R was found. no. It seems to me that scientists do philosophy an injustice when they demand concrete results. We’re so obsessed with getting the right answers that it’s worth it when we get them even for the wrong reasons. Philosophers are very patient and insightful. They need to make sure that all of their words mean something. It certainly helps shed light on the foundations of science.

s. The book begins by formulating a wish: to live in a world where after work people discuss dark matter in a bar. What must change for that to happen?

R was found. a lot. I hope what I say in these books helps: give people more detail. Physics is usually revealed by resorting to ambiguity. Or a brief study of a set of facts for memorization. But the scientific process is very different: it is about formulating hypotheses, often erroneous, and collecting data, which is rarely definitive… Science is the simultaneous sum of the willingness to change your beliefs based on new evidence and the certainty that some of these beliefs are difficult to change. People are usually willing to believe one of two ideas. Almost never both.

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Sean M. Carroll, during the interview with EL PAÍS, May 24 in Baltimore.Lenin Noli (Linin Noli / El Pais)

s. His book can also be read as a treatise on the history of physics, with its turning points and valleys. Where is the discipline now?

R was found. When it comes to fundamental physics, we are not at a tipping point. Some people complain that we don’t have ideas as revolutionary as those of a century ago, and that seems unfair to me: it was a very special time. We explored relativity, quantum mechanics, particle physics and model the great explosion. You can’t expect this to happen every 50 years. But at the same time there are bits of high-level physics, complex systems, thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, fluctuations, biophysics… there’s still fruit at hand, because we’re at a very basic level. This is the subject of my third book.

s. How is it possible, after a century, that we still can’t explain more than 5% of the universe?

R was found. True, the particles that we detected in the experiments make up only 5%. 25% dark matter. 70% dark energy. We haven’t discovered it in the lab, but we know it exists and we know some of its properties. We actually know a lot about them, even though we’re not quite done knowing what they are. Understanding 5% of the universe seems like a lot to me.

s. Everyone remembers what he was doing on September 11th or when Michael Jackson died. In your profession, the question should be: What were you doing when the Higgs boson was discovered?

R was found. [Risas]. I was at CERN’s press conference I even wrote a book. It was very exciting. But to be fair, and without wanting to detract from it, we expected to find something else, a lot of other things. We were waiting for a revolution, the dawn of a new golden age. It doesn’t.

s. Do you like the Oscars? Once everywhere?

R was found. I loved. The idea of ​​a multiverse in physics arose from string theory and the ten dimensions it proposes and how they might interact with each other. They will be different universes, with different laws of physics.

s. The big question of humanism is: Where does this theory leave identity? The film’s protagonist not only discovers the existence of the multiverse; He also lives in his worst version…

R was found. The moral of the movie is that it’s not quite like that, after all. But yeah, the thought of having twins out there making slightly different decisions than you do raises some deep questions. It is convenient to differentiate between the multiverse. There is cosmology, which means that there are regions of the universe very far away in space-time where the conditions are very different, and the laws of physics as well. This concept is derived from string theory, the world is not made of particles, but of loops of strings, or what we call cosmic inflation. [la demasiado rápida y temprana expansión del universo]. Both belong to speculative physics and are far from proven, but they are very popular. Then there are the many realms of quantum mechanics. This is actually likely to be true. It is a very deep issue, and we, as physicists and philosophers, are still grappling with it.

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s. Was the recent announcement that the United States was close to nuclear fusion hypertrophy?

R was found. I always get frustrated with those press releases, because there is clearly a vested interest in communicating a major discovery. In fact, they did not achieve a reaction that generated more energy than the reaction took. What they do is bookkeeping quickly, so they don’t include some of the energy they invest. The merger could be a breakthrough. But it doesn’t seem to me that it will take two years, but decades.

s. Are you concerned about the advancement of artificial intelligence?

R was found. I’m not worried about that. I don’t think there is a reasonable chance of millions of people being killed or the human race going extinct. What is more likely is that it paves the way for human rights abuses, attacks on privacy, and misinformation in political campaigns.

s. Do you allow your students to use ChatGPT?

R was found. I haven’t had a chance yet. he Programming It was launched right after my last semester of classes. It seems to me that there is no other. It is as if the math teacher does not allow his students to use the calculator at home to multiply five-digit numbers. I used ChatGPT: I know she doesn’t write very good articles, she lies all the time, invents things and misinterprets others, but she knows a lot and can be very helpful and even inspiring. The trick is to take it as a tool.

s. Let’s finish with other obsessions: free will…

R was found. I’m for free will. As with energy, it depends on what you mean by free will. The most positive way to think of other human beings is as agents who make decisions for reasons. Sometimes they will do it for irrational reasons. This is true, even if we admit that the fundamental laws of physics are absolutely deterministic, which they are not, due to quantum mechanics. But even if they are, it is very complicated to predict exactly what a human being will do. For me this is free will.

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Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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