Three brief (non-political) items today.

  • On entertaining new ideas;
  • Reality and quantum mechanics;
  • Nature as the great recycler.

Here’s the first post in a new column that sounds interesting.

Washington Post, Daniel Pink, 29 Jan 2024: Opinion | American imagination needs an adrenaline shot. Here’s how I’ll deliver it.

Pink is a writer of seven books, mostly on pop psychology and business topics, so far as I can tell. I have one of his books, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing from 2018, but haven’t read it.

Here’s a novel response to our uneasy moment: Let’s spend less time opining about who’s right and who’s wrong and more time imagining what’s possible.

Over the next year, in a column for Post Opinions we’re calling “Why Not?,” I will try to do just that. In each installment, I’ll offer a single idea — bold, surprising, maybe a bit jarring — for improving our country, our organizations or our lives.

For example, why not pay public school teachers a minimum salary of $100,000? Why not relocate the U.S. House and Senate to a different city every few years? In our companies, why not create a new job category for people over 65 as mentors to young employees to ease the transition to retirement and prepare the next generation of workers? In our families, why not give presents on our birthdays rather than receive them?

This first column is just an introduction, but the idea of it appeals to my sense of curiosity and playfulness. On the one hand, considering novel ideas is an antidote to the barrage of conservatives whose certitude about all matters cosmic and moral has become tiresome when they’re not frightening or actually threatening. On the other, “imagining what’s possible” is one of the roles that science fiction has always performed. So wonder how far Pink’s speculations will extend.


Here’s a piece by Adam Frank, whose newest book I just reviewed.

Big Think, Adam Frank, 25 Jan 2024: What reality does quantum theory describe? QBism has a radical answer

In reading about philosophy one quickly encounters ideas of “idealism” (as opposed to materialism), that we don’t perceive actual things, that actual things exist in some of ideal space where Plato placed all of his ideas. Seemingly debunked, yet in the last decade or so the physicists have been putting forth ideas like the one here that sound remarkably similar.

Key Takeaways
• QBism, or Quantum Bayesianism, offers a radical interpretation of quantum mechanics, emphasizing the role of the observer and measurements, contrary to classical physics’ objective worldview. • It posits that quantum mechanics is not about an external world devoid of human interaction, but rather about agents (observers) and their actions in making measurements and predictions. • Shifting from a detached scientific perspective to one that integrates human involvement, QBism presents a profound change in how we understand our place in the Universe.

This too is first installment in a series. I’m curious; doesn’t it seem intuitive that, say, if humanity wiped itself out and no humans were left to perceive the Earth, that the Earth would still be here? I’ll just quote some of the opening.

What is science for? What does it do? One answer to this question is that science describes reality: Its foremost job is to provide an account of the world we see around us, and it accomplishes this task via theories that provide a coherent and objective story about the world.

But what, exactly, is that story? The orthodox view is science provides a narrative of the Universe without us. It’s a story of what I often call the “God’s eye view,” or, as the philosopher Thomas Nagel calls it, “The View from Nowhere.” According to this account, science gives us the story of an external, independent, and objective reality (an EIOR). It’s a beautiful and enticing idea. Unfortunately, there’s a big problem with this story about science that lies in science’s own most powerful tool: quantum mechanics.

I’ll discuss more after another installment or two appears.


Another Big Think piece by another writer of books

Big Think, Marcelo Gleiser, 24 Jan 2024: Ancient philosophers understood a key truth of modern cosmology, subtitled “Millennia ago, philosophers like Anaximander grasped that nature is the ultimate recycler.”

Key Takeaways
• Ancient ideas about the Universe describe matter as constantly ebbing and flowing through different shapes and structures, from the very small to the very large. • As science taught us more about matter, its interactions, and how stars are born and evolve, we see a curious connection between those old intuitions and the way things are. • The lesson is that nature is the ultimate recycler, as the fundamental constituents of matter constantly reassemble into different shapes and structures, living and nonliving.

I’m short of time today so again I’m posting this item without fully absorbing it. But is the idea of nature as a recycler so surprising? You have only to observe the rhythms and patterns of the natural world — including us.

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