RE: In defense of physics (was: Encouraging a Positive Transcension)

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sun Feb 15 2004 - 10:18:20 MST


> As one of the chief early offenders in the "Well, past physics got
> revised, so why not current physics?" debate, I'd like to say
> that today's
> physics got a *lot* more impressive once I knew a little more about it.
> The limits imposed by our models, and sometimes our hypotheses, of
> physics, arise from exactly those features of the model that seem to
> shout: "Here is something truly fundamental about reality!" Back in the
> days when we were tossing theories out the window every half-decade, the
> theories we got rid of didn't have that "Here is something absolutely
> fundamental!" look about them. That, in particular, I didn't understand
> when I made the historical comparison. History doesn't always repeat
> itself. Today's physics might be here to stay; or, when it settles down,
> all the fundamental limits might still be there. At any rate I
> am willing
> to bet that no one can distinguish two electrons - EVER.

Eliezer, it is clearly the case that 150 years ago when people thought
Newtonian physics was here to stay, they DID feel Newtonian physics had that
"Here is something absolutely fundamental!" look about it. From the modern
perspective it doesn't look that way anymore, but very clearly, that's what
nearly every scientist thought at that time...

As for distinguishing two electrons -- that is really beside the point. In
future physics theories, "electron" might not even be considered a
fundamental or profoundly interesting concept to think about.

Each scientific research programme has its own vocabulary and own tools, its
own notions of what is possible and impossible. Personally I'm pretty
confident that when we hook up an AGI to quantum-domain sensors and
actuators and let it play, it's going to develop new theories and new ideas
and it's going to laugh a rich digital laugh at our awkward attempts to
understand that domain with concepts like "electron" and "field."

Of course, I could be wrong and you could be right -- I don't know any
convincing rational way to decide this argument. Time will tell, blablabla.

However, I do think you need to reconsider whether a set of theories that is
MUTUALLY LOGICALLY INCONSISTENT (i.e. the Standard Model is logically
irreconcilable with general relativity, except in some very special cases)
really has a "Here is something absolutely fundamental!" look about it. To
me, this logical inconsistency is a clue that something significant is
missing from the modern-physics picture...

-- Ben G

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