What is Real? (Lee Smolin) | AI Podcast Clips | Summary and Q&A

March 13, 2020
Lex Fridman
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What is Real? (Lee Smolin) | AI Podcast Clips


This conversation explores the concept of realism and anti-realism in understanding the existence of a real world beyond human perception, questioning the role of our cognitive abilities and the tools of math and physics in grasping the true nature of reality.

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Key Insights

  • 🌟 Perception and the real world: The content discusses the question of how we determine what is real, with a focus on the belief in a world independent of our perception.
  • 🔬 The role of science: Science is presented as a means to understand and explore the real world, but it is also acknowledged that there might be a reality beyond the scope of science.
  • 🧠 Constructed reality: The idea that our brains actively construct our perception of the world is explored, suggesting that what we experience is processed through our cognitive constructs.
  • 🔧 Tools of math and physics: The debate arises regarding whether our understanding of the real world can be achieved through intuitive means or if it solely relies on the tools of math and physics.
  • 🤔 Judgments and stories: Humans have a tendency to quickly judge and create stories to explain their surroundings, even if they may be wrong, stemming from a need to survive and satisfy curiosity.
  • 😌 Being right and progress: Being right is perceived as coming closer to an exact description of the real world, while progress in science is characterized by ideas that can be practically applied and improve our quality of life.
  • 🔍 The scientific method and its limitations: The content explores the concept that there might not be a definitive scientific method and discusses the importance of experimental validation, community ethics, and rigorous training in science.
  • 🌐 Realism vs anti-realism: Realism is defined as the belief in an external world independent of human perception, while anti-realism acknowledges the role of perception in shaping our understanding of the world. Different camps of anti-realism are mentioned, including the idea that science is a means to describe our interactions rather than provide an objective description of nature.


what is real let's start with an easy question put another way how do we know what is real and what is merely a creation of our human perception and imagination we don't know you don't know this is science I presume was talking about science and we believe or I believe that there is a world that is independent of my existence in my experience about... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How does the scientific community ensure the accuracy of scientific discoveries and theories?

The scientific community operates under ethical precepts that encourage honesty, transparency, and rigorous testing. Scientists undergo training to ensure they can form convincing arguments and defend their theories against scrutiny from their peers.

Q: Can science ever reach a point where we can fully understand and describe the true nature of reality?

While it may be a goal, it is uncertain if science will ever arrive at a definitive understanding of the real world. Our cognitive abilities and limitations as human beings may pose obstacles in grasping fundamental aspects of reality.

Q: How do anti-realists view the role of science and explanation in understanding the world?

Anti-realists, like Niels Bohr, see science as an extension of our conversations and interactions with nature. They argue that terms and concepts used in science are tools to help us construct stories and explanations, but they may not reflect an objective reality beyond our perception.

Q: What is the difference between realism and anti-realism?

Realism asserts the existence of an external world independent of our perception, while anti-realism argues that our experiences and perception construct our reality. Realists believe in the possibility of an objective description of the real world, whereas anti-realists prioritize the usefulness of concepts and their implications rather than their objective reality.

Q: How does the scientific progress of previous centuries compare to the current state of physics and fundamental understanding?

The scientific revolutions of the early 20th century, including the discoveries of relativity and quantum mechanics, led to tremendous technological advancements. However, progress in fundamental physics since the 1970s has been slower and has not yet yielded any practical applications.

Q: Is there a limit to our cognitive abilities to understand reality, even with the tools of math and physics?

The answer to this question is unknown. While some believe that there might be a limit to our understanding, others argue for the universality of certain languages, such as mathematics, which could potentially lead to a deeper understanding of reality. However, whether or not a limit exists is a topic for future exploration and knowledge.

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