Lee Smolin: Quantum Gravity and Einstein's Unfinished Revolution | Lex Fridman Podcast #79 | Summary and Q&A

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March 7, 2020
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Lex Fridman Podcast
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Lee Smolin: Quantum Gravity and Einstein's Unfinished Revolution | Lex Fridman Podcast #79

TL;DR

Lee Smolin, theoretical physicist, discusses the unfinished revolution in physics and the challenges faced in understanding the fundamental nature of the universe, including the role of causality and nonlocality.

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Questions & Answers

Q: How does Lee Smolin define realism in the context of physics?

Smolin defines realism as the belief in an external world independent of human perception and experience. It is the belief that there is a real world that exists regardless of our knowledge or understanding of it.

Q: What is the relationship between time and events in Lee Smolin's view?

Smolin believes that time is fundamental and that events in the universe continually create other events. Time is the process of events unfolding and evolving from one moment to the next.

Q: What is the concept of locality in physics and why is it important?

Locality refers to the idea that things that are close to each other can have an impact on each other, while things that are far apart have little to no effect. It is important because it allows us to predict and understand cause and effect relationships in the physical world.

Q: What is the unfinished revolution in physics according to Lee Smolin?

The unfinished revolution in physics refers to the challenges in reconciling general relativity and quantum mechanics, as well as understanding the fundamental nature of the universe. It involves exploring concepts such as causality, nonlocality, and the nature of time and space.

Q: How does Lee Smolin define realism in the context of physics?

Smolin defines realism as the belief in an external world independent of human perception and experience. It is the belief that there is a real world that exists regardless of our knowledge or understanding of it.

More Insights

  • There is ongoing debate and exploration in physics regarding the nature of reality, the role of consciousness, and the fundamental laws of the universe.

  • The scientific method is a crucial tool in understanding the world, but it is not a fixed set of rules and can be subject to change and adaptation.

  • Theories in physics, such as string theory and loop quantum gravity, offer potential explanations for the fundamental nature of reality, but there is still much to be explored and understood.

  • The quest for a theory of everything requires a combination of theoretical exploration and experimental validation.

  • Collaboration and open-mindedness are key to making progress in the field of physics, as different perspectives and approaches can lead to new insights and breakthroughs.

Summary

This conversation is with Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist and co-inventor of loop quantum gravity. They discuss the nature of reality, the role of our human perception and imagination, and the unfinished revolution in understanding the fundamental nature of the universe. They touch on topics like realism, anti-realism, the tools of mathematics and physics, the scientific method, the role of consciousness, the limitations of our cognitive abilities, and the challenges of connecting general relativity and quantum mechanics. They also explore the concepts of space-time, causality, locality, and the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is realism and how does it relate to the nature of the universe?

Realism is the belief in an external world that exists independently of our perception and knowledge. It suggests that there is a real, objective description of every process at the fundamental level of the universe.

Q: Is everything that exists merely a creation of our mind?

While some people argue that our perception is fundamentally what creates reality, many scientists, including Lee Smolin, believe that behind our processed experience is a real world that exists independently of us.

Q: How do we get a sense of the real world? Is it through the tools of physics or some intuitive understanding?

We use physics, specifically mathematics and experimentation, to get a sense of the real world. Our understanding of reality is constantly evolving as we uncover more knowledge and refine our theories.

Q: Is there a limit to our cognitive abilities in understanding reality?

It's difficult to say. Lee Smolin believes that our cognitive abilities may have a limit, but there's also a universality to certain languages, such as mathematics, that could enable us to understand and describe the fundamental nature of reality.

Q: What is Einstein's unfinished revolution?

Einstein's unfinished revolution refers to the two revolutions he was instrumental in creating: relativity theory and quantum theory. These theories are still not completely reconciled, and there's a need to find a way to connect them to have a comprehensive understanding of the universe.

Q: Is causality fundamental and why is breaking away from locality crucial to solving the unfinished revolution?

According to Lee Smolin, causality is fundamental, and breaking away from locality is crucial because it opens up new possibilities for understanding the relationship between space, time, and quantum mechanics.

Q: What is space-time and is it fundamental or emergent?

Space-time is a four-dimensional intellectual construction that we use to describe the events in the universe. Lee Smolin believes that time is fundamental, while space is emergent and not ultimately real.

Q: What is the significance of locality in physics?

Locality refers to the concept that things close together have an effect on each other, while things far apart do not. Locality is a construct that helps us make sense of our world, but it is not fundamental and has been challenged by experiments.

Q: How do we finish the unfinished revolution in understanding the universe?

Lee Smolin believes it requires collaboration and openness to different ideas. Scientists need to come together, discuss, and integrate their perspectives and theories to make progress in understanding the fundamental nature of the universe.

Q: What are Lee Smolin's thoughts on the many-worlds interpretation?

Lee Smolin is not a proponent of the many-worlds interpretation. He personally does not find it appealing or helpful in addressing the questions he wants to answer. However, he acknowledges that it is a valid perspective within the scientific community.

Takeaways

The conversation with Lee Smolin explores the nature of reality, the role of human perception, and the unfinished revolution in understanding the fundamental nature of the universe. They delve into topics like realism, anti-realism, the scientific method, the limitations of our cognitive abilities, and the challenges of connecting general relativity and quantum mechanics. The concepts of space-time, causality, locality, and the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics are also discussed. The conversation emphasizes the importance of collaboration and open-mindedness to make progress in understanding the universe.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Lee Smolin discusses the importance of exploring the fundamental nature of the universe in order to create artificial intelligence systems

  • He explains the concept of realism, which believes in an objective, independent reality, and how it relates to our understanding of the world

  • Smolin explores the role of time, space, and causality in the quest for a theory of everything and the challenges of connecting general relativity and quantum mechanics

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