Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Stardust and Sensibilities

An extract from "The Elegant Universe" by Brian Greene set me to thinking earlier. (I'm reading it for the third time, and still finding lots to think about - does anyone have any BG books they'd be interested in selling?)

Steven Weinberg says: "At the other end of the spectrum are the opponents of reductionism who are appalled by what they feel to be the bleakness of modern science. To whatever extent they and their world can be reduced to a matter of particles or fields and their interactions, they feel diminished by that knowledge..."

Greene comments: "Many find it fatuous and downright repugnant to claim that the wonders of life and the universe are mere reflections of microscopic particles engaged in a pointless dance fully choreographed by the laws of physics. Is it really the case that the feelings of joy, sorrow, or boredom are nothing but the chemical reactions in the brain - reactions between the molecules and atoms that, even more microscopically, are reactions between [particles] which are really just vibrating strings?"

I don't understand why people find it so shocking, or cold and callous. Am I missing something? Why does there have to be this romanticised undercurrent? Is it not possible that, even in the reductionists view, the universe is an incredible and amazing place - not just despite the fact we're just energy, but BECAUSE of it?

Please, I ask you, can you enlighten me - I appear to be unable to grasp the concept of whatever it is that people feel is missing when something is viewed in scientific detail.

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