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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?

THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER asks 120 scientists :"What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?"

Carlo Rovelli, Italian physicist, answers:
    I am convinced, but cannot prove, that time does not exist. I mean that I am convinced that there is a consistent way of thinking about nature, that makes no use of the notions of space and time at the fundamental level. And that this way of thinking will turn out to be the useful and convincing one.
    I think that the notions of space and time will turn out to be useful only within some approximation. They are similar to a notion like 'the surface of the water' which looses meaning when we describe the dynamics of the individual atoms forming water and air: if we look at very small scale, there isn't really any actual surface down there. I am convinced space and time are like the surface of the water: convenient macroscopic approximations, flimsy but illusory and insufficient screens that our mind uses to organize reality.

I've thought this for a long time, so I'm glad to see an actual physicist wondering the same thing.

A lot of the other answers are pretty fascinating, too.

Sam Harris:
    The difference between believing and disbelieving a statement—Your spouse is cheating on you; you've just won ten million dollars—is one of the most potent regulators of human behavior and emotion. The instant we accept a given representation of the world as true, it becomes the basis for further thought and action; rejected as false, it remains a string of words.

    What I believe, though cannot yet prove, is that belief is a content-independent process. Which is to say that beliefs about God—to the degree that they are really believed—are the same as beliefs about numbers, penguins, tofu, or anything else. This is not to say that all of our representations of the world are acquired through language, or that all linguistic representations are on the same logical footing. ... What I do believe, however, is that the neural processes that govern the final acceptance of a statement as "true" rely on more fundamental, reward-related circuitry in our frontal lobes—probably the same regions that judge the pleasantness of tastes and odors. Truth may be beauty, and beauty truth, in more than a metaphorical sense. And false statements may, quite literally, disgust us.

I believe I'll read some more:

Jeffery Epstein:
    The great breakthrough will involve a new understanding of time...that moving through time is not free, and that consciousness itself will be seen to only be a time sensor, adding to the other sensors of light and space.

Something a little closer to my wallet:
Charles Simonyi:
    I believe that we are writing software the wrong way. There are sound evolutionary reasons for why we are doing what we are doing—that we can call the "programming the problem in a computer language" paradigm, but the incredible success of Moore's law blinded us to being stuck in what is probably an evolutionary backwater.

Freeman Dyson:
    Numbers that are exact powers of two are 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 and so on. Numbers that are exact powers of five are 5, 25, 125, 625 and so on. Given any number such as 131072 (which happens to be a power of two), the reverse of it is 270131, with the same digits taken in the opposite order. Now my statement is: it never happens that the reverse of a power of two is a power of five.

And, one of my favorites:

Chris W. Anderson:
    The Intelligent Design movement has opened my eyes. I realize that although I believe that evolution explains why the living world is the way it is, I can't actually prove it. At least not to the satisfaction of the ID folk, who seem to require that every example of extraordinary complexity and clever plumbing in nature be fully traced back (not just traceable back) along an evolutionary tree to prove that it wasn't directed by an invisible hand. If the scientific community won't do that, then the arguments goes that they must accept a large red "theory" stamp placed on the evolution textbooks and that alternative theories, such as "guided" evolution and creationism, be taught alongside.

    So, by this standard, virtually everything I believe in must now fall under the shadow of unproveability. Most importantly, this includes the belief that democracy, capitalism and other market-driven systems (including evolution!) are better than their alternatives. Indeed, I suppose I should now refer to them as the "theory of democracy" and the "theory of capitalism", to join the theory of evolution, and accept the teaching of living Marxism and fascism as alternatives in high schools.

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