Reductionism, physics, mathematics and the mind


Friday, May 22, 2020 - 14:00



This will be the third in a loose series of Scientific Revolution-themed Zoom talks for Corona season.
Speaker: Yasha Neiman.
Title: "Reductionism, physics, mathematics and the mind".

If we had to generalize the ten thousand findings of science, the overarching theme is surely reductionism: the statement that every complex and interesting thing is "merely" an emergent pattern of some underlying, simpler, layer. That the reef, the waves, the wind, the trees, the kids in Churasan and Kanasan and Umusan, are "merely" collections of photons, quarks and electrons following the laws of quantum electrodynamics.

I'd like to try and talk about this. On the menu:

  1. The unexpected new form of reductionism in particle physics: effective field theories and renormalization.
  2. How a misapplication of this led to an enormous embarrassment of failed predictions for the LHC collider.
  3. How a physicist's view of mathematics is reductionist, and what that's good for.
  4. How democracy is about embracing the reductionist nature of countries.
  5. An impressive success of reductionism in the first person: it is possible to see our sense of self and free well "reduce" to a lower layer of description.
  6. The equally impressive *failure* of first-person reductionism at "reducing" consciousness to a lower layer. I will attempt to not lose my nerve in the face of this, we'll see how it goes.


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