Monday, May 24, 2010

Mario Livio on the enigma of knowledge

Excerpt from a longer, fascinating interview here:
Ms. Tippett: … and you end up with all these puzzles or mysteries that feel to me that they're verging on the philosophical and the theological as well, right, by implication. So you can say that our minds give rise to mathematics but then mathematics are found to explain the physical world.
Mr. Livio: That's right.
Ms. Tippett: Which is a very mysterious thing to think about.
Mr. Livio: Yeah. You're absolutely right. And, you know, my colleague Roger Penrose, I don't know if you've ever interviewed him …
Ms. Tippett: I haven't, but I know his work. Yeah.
Mr. Livio: Yeah. So he's a very famous mathematical physicist. So he once said that there are at least three worlds and three mysteries.
Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.
Mr. Livio: So the three worlds are, one is the physical world. You know, this is the world where we exist. There are chairs, tables, there are stars, there are galaxies, and so on. Then there is a second world, which is the world of our consciousness, if you like. You know, a mental world, a world where this is where we love, where we hate, you know, and so on. All our thoughts are there and so on. And then there is the third world, which is this world of mathematical forms. This is the world where all of mathematics is there. You know, the theorem of Pythagoras and so on and so forth, all the imaginary numbers and all that. So these are the three worlds. And now come these three mysteries. One mystery is that somehow, out of the physical world, our world of consciousness has emerged. That's one mystery.
Ms. Tippett: Right. Right.
Mr. Livio: A second mystery is that somehow our world of consciousness or mental world gained access to this world of mathematical form. You know, that we were able to invent and discover all these mathematics. And third, and maybe most amazing mystery, is that we find that this world of mathematics provides the explanations for the physical world.
Ms. Tippett: Right. Right. So it's that circle again.
Mr. Livio: Right. So there are these three worlds and three mysteries which, you know, of course at the end of the day they are all part of one universe, right? But it's an interesting way of posing the question.

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