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#70- Beauty and Terror A Conversation with Lawrence Krauss

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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10 April 2017 06:27
 

In this episode if The Waking Up Podcast, Sam Harris speaks with physicist Lawrence Krauss about the utility of public debates, the progress of science, confusion about the role of consciousness in quantum mechanics, the present danger of nuclear war, the Trump Administration, the relative threats of Christian theocracy and Islamism, and realistic fears about terrorism.

Beauty and Terror A Conversation with Lawrence Krauss

This thread is for listeners’ comments.

 
LadyJane
 
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LadyJane
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10 April 2017 07:00
 

Mr. Harris had a nice Deepak Chopra burn and Mr. Krauss had a great retort to the impressiveness of possessing a PhD.

“You can have a PhD and think the Earth if flat.”  Heh heh.

It was because of Lawrence Krauss that I found my way to this forum in the first place (sorry for your luck) and I’ll be looking forward to reading The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far.  I highly recommend his books.  He has an incredibly simple and sincere writing style.  That’s the beauty of having a wide array of interests, I guess.  And the tendency to approach every topic with the humility required to appreciate the importance of scientific education and critical thinking.  As opposed to the penchant for parroting the sound bites after skimming the first paragraph of every Wikipedia page.  The scientific method is the most effective way to work around the limits of human perception and truly understand the universe.  The only way to properly sift through the nonsense and identify fact from fiction.  And, as both gentlemen discussed, new information doesn’t necessarily have to replace what came before because the process of experimentation allows the truth to stand the test of time.  A little generosity would open up the channels of communication and allow for the sort of clarity that gets convoluted far too often in the vanishing space of this congested information superhighway.

 
 
Ramz1112
 
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Ramz1112
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10 April 2017 08:15
 

I’m way too stupid for this podcast. My mind is being blown like 23% of the time while being totally lost 128% of the time. Definitely do not listen to this while doing other things.

 
NL.
 
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10 April 2017 08:46
 

Just listened to the first hour - wow, Lawrence Krauss is a sweetheart. I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve heard him speak but for someone in such a controversial field who is probably getting hammered with criticism all the time he’s maintained a very kind but no nonsense worldview. Kudos to him for that.


I was a bit surprised at the types of quotes he threw out, followed, at the end of the first hour, by a discussion of how Deepak can think what he thinks. I feel like maybe being immersed in the world of physics - where presumably the meaning of such statements are better understood scientifically - he might not have an intuitive feel for how incendiary quotes like this might be on the imagination of the typical person:


“The process of science showed us that the universe we see is an illusion… at a fundamental scale it’s a complete illusion”


“Measurement determines reality”


“Classical mechanics arises in some sense as an illusion… to try and impose this illusion on the fundamental world… is to always produce descriptions that seem crazy in some sense and are limited in some sense”


“Things that should not be possible are happening at the same time”


He also said something about us having a myopic view because we can only see three dimensions and not the fourth - I was like “What, when did we add a fourth dimension? I thought that was the stuff of Twilight Zone episodes?”


I think I understand what he is saying in a practical sense here. Most features of the universe are a complete illusion - color, the appearance that we are solid, the appearance that we sit ‘on’ things and don’t hover just above them, even that the Earth is round not flat - much of the time our common sense leads us astray in terms of deeper truths. And he followed the quote about measurement determining reality with how there is a sort of equal truth that Einstein’s theory of relativity is also a theory of absolutes (I’m not sure if this is what he had in mind, but I picture this as looking at a mathematical grid. It is true to say that the grid is comprised entirely of relationships; and also true to say that even though they are relational, they are not some Dali-esque free-for-all where anything is anything. If you look at the whole grid, yeah, it’s there, it’s a ‘thing’ of sorts, it’s a grid - even while it simultaneously composed entirely of relationships, one point or line to the next and so on.)


Anyways, I think that’s all really cool stuff to think about, but I can see how any one of those idea could be taken to mean all sorts of things to people with little context for such statements, where it basically all sounds a bit like magic, ha ha. Kind of like in Harry Potter where you always kinda go - “Wait, but they’re doing magic… why don’t they, you know, just wave a wand and do whatever they want, I mean they’re wizards, right?” - but it was like “No no no no, they can’t just do anything with magic, it has to be this type with this training and for this you need this potion or even to apply for a special device from…” To those ‘familiar’ there were many rules and conditionalities, to those unfamiliar it’s like “If you can do magic, just wave a wand or whatever.”


Didn’t quite get his take that if consciousness impacts the universe you would need to know what a person was thinking when they wrote a paper. To my mind you would need to know the conditions of the person reading the paper - i.e., if they don’t speak the language the paper is written in, there is not some ‘inherent truth’ in the paper that magically flows into their brain, consciousness and certain states of mind are indeed needed conditions to cause that information to flow from a paper to a brain. But maybe I misunderstood what they were referencing, I’m not familiar with Deepak’s worldview.


Like that he said not only is it ok to make mistakes, but that as par for the course, you should expect the vast majority of theories to be wrong. While I don’t think we should encourage outright lying or lack of critical thinking, I think there are problems with the idea in our culture that people’s personal pride is tied up in being “right”. Good faith experimentation will result in a lot of dead ends and good faith mistakes. Also loved this quote: “Science is not a set of facts it’s a process for discovering facts”.

 
 
Twissel
 
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Twissel
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10 April 2017 13:05
 
NL. - 10 April 2017 08:46 AM

Didn’t quite get his take that if consciousness impacts the universe you would need to know what a person was thinking when they wrote a paper. To my mind you would need to know the conditions of the person reading the paper - i.e., if they don’t speak the language the paper is written in, there is not some ‘inherent truth’ in the paper that magically flows into their brain, consciousness and certain states of mind are indeed needed conditions to cause that information to flow from a paper to a brain. But maybe I misunderstood what they were referencing, I’m not familiar with Deepak’s worldview.


Like that he said not only is it ok to make mistakes, but that as par for the course, you should expect the vast majority of theories to be wrong. While I don’t think we should encourage outright lying or lack of critical thinking, I think there are problems with the idea in our culture that people’s personal pride is tied up in being “right”. Good faith experimentation will result in a lot of dead ends and good faith mistakes. Also loved this quote: “Science is not a set of facts it’s a process for discovering facts”.

The essence of peer review is to present your research in a way that allows for reproducibility by the reader. So if the state of mind of the experimenter matters, you would need to read about it in order to run the experiment under the same conditions.

 

 
 
NL.
 
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NL.
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10 April 2017 13:36
 
Twissel - 10 April 2017 01:05 PM
NL. - 10 April 2017 08:46 AM

Didn’t quite get his take that if consciousness impacts the universe you would need to know what a person was thinking when they wrote a paper. To my mind you would need to know the conditions of the person reading the paper - i.e., if they don’t speak the language the paper is written in, there is not some ‘inherent truth’ in the paper that magically flows into their brain, consciousness and certain states of mind are indeed needed conditions to cause that information to flow from a paper to a brain. But maybe I misunderstood what they were referencing, I’m not familiar with Deepak’s worldview.


Like that he said not only is it ok to make mistakes, but that as par for the course, you should expect the vast majority of theories to be wrong. While I don’t think we should encourage outright lying or lack of critical thinking, I think there are problems with the idea in our culture that people’s personal pride is tied up in being “right”. Good faith experimentation will result in a lot of dead ends and good faith mistakes. Also loved this quote: “Science is not a set of facts it’s a process for discovering facts”.

The essence of peer review is to present your research in a way that allows for reproducibility by the reader. So if the state of mind of the experimenter matters, you would need to read about it in order to run the experiment under the same conditions.


I’m not familiar enough with Chopra to know if this is what he proposes or not (that experiments would be unreproducible unless experimenters replicated mental states) - but either way, it’s a question that kind of chases its own tail. If an experimenter doesn’t speak the same language and therefore cannot read the directions for an experiment, or is in a fit of rage and starts throwing flasks across the room, or throws up on the testing table, or doesn’t know how to take data, ultimately those are all attributable to not subjectively mimicking the original experimenter to a sufficient degree.

 
 
Ola
 
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10 April 2017 13:39
 
Ramz1112 - 10 April 2017 08:15 AM

I’m way too stupid for this podcast. My mind is being blown like 23% of the time while being totally lost 128% of the time. Definitely do not listen to this while doing other things.

Haha! cheese
Was it their attempt to clarify the double split experiment? They actually made it a bit fuzzier for me. smile

 
Valyath
 
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10 April 2017 15:15
 

I’m an atheist and I’ll say this.  I don’t know everything about Mike Pense, but Mr. Krauss’ statement that he is an “evil man” because his religion makes him do evil things needs some a major perspective adjustment.  Just wanted everyone to understand that if Mike Pense is evil because he doesn’t agree with gay marriage or abortion, then that effectively makes billions of people on earth equivalently evil.  More interestingly, it makes hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people something way, way, way, way worse than “evil”.  Perhaps we need a new word. 

Sam tried to adjust him, but he doubled down.  SMH.

 
diding
 
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diding
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10 April 2017 16:06
 
Valyath - 10 April 2017 03:15 PM

I’m an atheist and I’ll say this.  I don’t know everything about Mike Pense, but Mr. Krauss’ statement that he is an “evil man” because his religion makes him do evil things needs some a major perspective adjustment.  Just wanted everyone to understand that if Mike Pense is evil because he doesn’t agree with gay marriage or abortion, then that effectively makes billions of people on earth equivalently evil.  More interestingly, it makes hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people something way, way, way, way worse than “evil”.  Perhaps we need a new word. 

Sam tried to adjust him, but he doubled down.  SMH.[/quote

[ Edited: 10 April 2017 16:18 by diding]
 
NormLane
 
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NormLane
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10 April 2017 17:18
 

How many Sam Harris / Lawerence Kraus fans don’t know about the double slit experiment? That got a little tedious.

 
OnePCWhiz
 
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10 April 2017 17:58
 
Ramz1112 - 10 April 2017 08:15 AM

I’m way too stupid for this podcast. My mind is being blown like 23% of the time while being totally lost 128% of the time. Definitely do not listen to this while doing other things.

Agreed!  And I wasn’t too happy with listening to Krauss go on and on and Sam just occasionally giving a grunt in affirmation.

 
NL.
 
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10 April 2017 18:09
 
NormLane - 10 April 2017 05:18 PM

How many Sam Harris / Lawerence Kraus fans don’t know about the double slit experiment? That got a little tedious.


It is fascinating though - although I agree it was hard for me to infer anything new about it without them going into what, in the most precise terms, ‘measurement’ really is in those experiments (but judging by reactions, that may have bored the crap out of people anyhow, ha ha!). But if nothing else it was fun to hear Krauss light up like a kid in a candy store when talking about it. It restores a little bit of my faith in humanity every time I see people who are really, genuinely passionate about good causes and pursuits, and I think science is a very good pursuit, so I liked that.


The measurement thing does interest me though. In a way it reminds me of the Monty Hall Problem. That there should be a distinct, mathematical difference between ‘choose’ and ‘not choose’ just seems really… well weird, right? On the one hand you can see the math right there in front of you and yet still, even with that, it’s as if some agent-like emergence takes place, where ‘choice’ changes the equation somehow (if you had two doors next to one that had randomly blown open in the wind, for example, your odds would again be 50/50). That “can drive you crazy” feeling of simultaneously feeling like you clearly saw what just happened and understand it; and yet you can’t quite grok what just happened. My guess is that ‘measurement’ is somewhat similar, somehow.

 
 
NormLane
 
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10 April 2017 20:55
 

It certainly can bend your brain. I like the many worlds interpretation of QM, which makes much of the weirdness go away. Assuming you don’t think Many Worlds is weird, but with that, it’s hard to figure out just what probability means. The whole notion of branching reality at every throw of the dice is easier to swallow from the block universe perspective, where there isn’t any branching, it’s all there already and the flow of time is just another illusion.

 
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10 April 2017 21:13
 
LadyJane - 10 April 2017 07:00 AM

Mr. Harris had a nice Deepak Chopra burn and Mr. Krauss had a great retort to the impressiveness of possessing a PhD.
.

Sam was easier on Chopra than Dawkins was. I heard him tell Chopra that he was just spouting word salad. Seemed like a pretty accurate assessment to me.

 
murraybiscuit
 
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murraybiscuit
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10 April 2017 23:44
 

The part at the end was really the most pithy for me. Ultimately I think Harris and Krauss are approaching the same problem, but from different angles. I liked Krauss framing it as the threat of ignorance and fear. I’m probably more sympathetic to his point of view. I get the feeling that America is currently tired, punch drunk and a bit like a wounded dog. It lashes out, seems to act spitefully and is easily provoked. In a way more weary and vulnerable than before.

I get the sense that America is having a “failure of imagination”. In times past, the world could rely on Americans to collectively get over their differences to achieve greatness. They could imagine their way past insurmountable obstacles (see Ann Applebaum’s discussion of Soft Power). This was partly naive self-belief in dreaming up a solution, and partly a dogged self-reliance in being able to achieve it. For me, this is what has made America historically great. I felt this is what Krauss was getting at: in losing our sense of inquiry, wonder and fearlessness, we cede ground to dogma, bigotry and those with a lack of imagination. We forsake “potentialism” for fatalism. This is where the threat of defunding the arts and sciences cuts deep. These disciplines provide the cultural reservoir for introspection, self-criticism and the means to self-correction.

This isn’t really to apportion blame on anybody’s doorstep - we deal with matters at hand. To some extent, the way forward is obscured by fog of war. I kind of feel that Krauss is saying that we need to take a step back and get our bearings. While it’s important to draw boundaries, we can’t let the rules of the game be dictated by the ignorant or those who would stand to gain from devolving into tit-for-tat. Responding to every loud threat is just going to make us tired and confused. The thing that has to be of primary focus is dreaming rather than being consumed by our nightmares. It’s not an either or, but a matter of where you want to spend the majority of your time and effort. I think Krauss was really just saying “let’s focus on constructive things - when we find ourselves responding out of fear or emotion, we’ve lost ground”.

How the current state of affairs came to be is a hard question. I suspect that due to various economic and demographic shifts, America (and much of the rest of the world) is in a much larger shift brought about by the advent of the information age, erosion of nation states and cultural disintegration brought about by globalization. Lashing out against this is understandable, but is ultimately swimming against a tide.

The traditional cultural memes people usually fall back on to deal with these challenges were simply not “designed” to deal with social upheaval of this kind of pace or magnitude. This was really nicely outlined by Sam’s discussion with Yuval. Our individual and collective “stories” just can’t deal with this kind of uncertainty at a global level. So we see people trying to shoehorn tribalism, nationalism or religion onto the current state of affairs, but in a horribly fragmented way. It’s not unsurprising that some people have lost the will or ability to imagine and have reverted to tit-for-tat / winner takes all, replete with retro veneer (the reverse cargo cult analogy comes to mind). So we see the need to formulate new stories. To paraphrase Yuval - even if the stories aren’t real, we achieve more when we dream together. I kind of feel Krauss was in part exhorting us toward an inchoate hopeful future.

I liked this podcast, and I think the world is a better place with these two guys around. I really like Sam’s approach to advertising, sponsorship and rewarding paying listeners - it feels honest. This is going to sound sycophantic, but the level of guests that he’s had on the show, the frequency of production, range of subjects discussed, and the episodes planned is reward enough for me to pay for the content. It has value in itself. I consume it, I’d like to consume more, I’m happy to pay. I’m looking forward to the live shows and I think the idea of getting future material from public interaction and feedback is a good strategy.

[ Edited: 10 April 2017 23:59 by murraybiscuit]
 
GreenInferno
 
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11 April 2017 02:07
 

I liked this podcast but there wasn’t much drilling down into (any?) areas of disagreement.

 
 
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