Much Ado About Nothing

I suppose I’m posting too much about this, but the ongoing fight over nothing between prominent physicists and philosophers strikes me as perhaps marking some kind of end-point in the multiverse-mania-driven decline of part of theoretical physics from a difficult, serious subject to a trivial and kind of ludicrous undertaking. How can you get any sillier than arguing over nothing? Will this be the end of it, or is there somewhere lower to go that I can’t yet imagine? There’s also a Three Stooges sort of entertainment value to following this fighting. It’s kind of like a segment of Dumb (a multiverse explains everything!) vs. Dumber (bringing religion into it, “pale, small, silly, nerdy”).

If you haven’t been following the story so far, to start see links here, here, and here. Lots of gems there, one I just noticed is the moderated discussion at the Templeton-funded “Philosophy of Cosmology” blog, where the proprietor writes that:

Krauss is a crybaby.

and then goes on to complain that Krauss hasn’t taken him up on his request that he explain himself at the Templeton blog.

In this morning’s developments, we have prominent skeptic Michael Shermer, in Much Ado About Nothing, making the case that the Multiverse finishes off that “God” business, using “multiverse hypotheses predicted from mathematics and physics”. His authority here is the Hawking/Mlodinow popular book, but he’s also convinced that WMAP and LIGO are somehow going to provide evidence for multiverses, something that even the most far-out theorists in this field aren’t claiming. In addition:

Maybe gravity is such a relatively weak force (compared with electromagnetism and the nuclear forces) because some of it “leaks” out to other universes.

Nobody seems to have told Shermer that this is not an idea taken seriously by a significant number of theorists, or that LHC data has shot down the hopes of the one or two such theorists.

Also this morning, with The Consolation of Philosophy, Krauss tries to extract himself from the trouble he got himself into with philosophers with his recent comments about them and their profession. He sticks to his criticism that it’s physicists who have interesting things to say about fundamental issues of physics, not philosophers, but admits that at least they’re not as bad as theologians:

To be fair, I regret sometimes lumping all philosophers in with theologians because theology, aside from those parts that involve true historical or linguistic scholarship, is not [a] credible field of modern scholarship.

Will now go get some popcorn to await further episodes of this comedy…

Update: Two more links. Sean Carroll has a long posting about this, with bottom line that he thinks Krauss is right, but shouldn’t have said mean things about philosophers. David Albert responds to being called “moronic” by accusing Krauss (whose name he has trouble spelling) of being incompetent:

…the business of pontificating about why there is something rather than nothing without bothering to get crucial pieces of the physics right, or to think about them carefully, or to present them honestly, strikes me as something of a scandal.

Update: Brian Leiter, at the well-known philosophy blog Leiter Reports, joins the fight, of course on the philosopher’s side. In response to the Krauss attack on philosophers in general, he has this to say about physicists:

Of course, it was not always so with physicists, but the current generation (at least those who try to speak to the broader public) does seem remarkably inept in logical and rational thought, and unembarrassed to display that to the world. Which raises the question: why? My best guess is that the culture so celebrates physics, that physicists have come to believe the “PR” about them.

Update: The fist-fight between Krauss and the philosophers continues in various venues. Surprisingly, today Leiter’s blog has a philosopher (Justin Fisher) throwing punches on Krauss’s side:

…Albert is clearly just being snide for the sake of being snide.

So Albert published a review that was needlessly uncharitable and snide, berating a good work in popularizing science for not solving philosophical puzzles that it openly acknowledges it doesn’t solve. Albert was a jerk and then (as we all know) Krauss was a jerk back. It’s all very entertaining drama. But why have you picked sides?

My own view is that Albert’s review was an embarrassment to our profession, and a setback for all philosophers of science who want our work to be taken seriously by scientists. When a prominent philosopher publishes a careless snide review like this – and in the NYT, no less! – it should be no surprise that many scientists react as Krauss did, by suspecting that philosophers generally behave as Albert did in this review: shedding much noise and little light. And, you’re not helping when you, as a prominent philosophical opinion-shaper, uncritically take Albert’s side. So I urge you to consider at least staking a more moderate stance, if not actively admonishing Albert for publishing a pointlessly snide review that reflected poorly on all of us.

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60 Responses to Much Ado About Nothing

  1. Deane says:

    I also liked “if God were to have existed she would have sent Lawrence Krauss to earth to give atheism a bad name”

  2. Thingumbob says:

    “Will this be the end of it, or is there somewhere lower to go that I can’t yet imagine?”

    I think the next step in this Plutonic dialog about nothing must needs be whether there will be a big end of nothing or a little end of nothing.

  3. Don Murphy says:

    Peter Wrote:
    Will now go get some popcorn to await further episodes of this comedy…

    Don says:
    Let’s not give comedy a bad name as well.

  4. Bob Levine says:

    Krauss’ problems with the philosophers seem to be fairly straightforward. He’s written a popular science book taking some well-established ideas from QFT,about the vacuum state and the sources of vacuum fluctuations, which have some very speculative applications to quantum cosmology, and (in my view, somewhat disingenuously) titled the book so that it appears to have a bearing on the hoary (and possibly incoherent) metaphysical question of what motivates existence, as vs . nonexistence, thereby tapping into people’s curiosity about Ultimate Things. The philosophers have been pointing out that what he’s writing about has nothing to do with the latter point, which jeopardizes some of the marketing appeal of the book. So LK is pissed off, and responses with abusive nonsequiturs. He’s close to admitted as much in the interview, in the parts that Massimo Pigliucci discusses at

    Follow the (scent of) money, and you won’t go far wrong, sums it up, I think.

  5. JC says:

    I think much more rectifying work has to be done by people like Peter. It is difficult for laypeople to understand that the “nothingness” of quantum vacuum is not really nothing at all.

    I guess because of this, Krauss might continue to have some success in selling his crap and fooling the general populace.

  6. Peter Woit says:


    You really mistake my point of view on this. I’ve nothing against Krauss’s definition of nothing. The problem here isn’t the general populace getting fooled, since they almost all have enough common sense to see that there’s nothing interesting at stake in this argument.

    With the entertainment value a positive, the only negatives I see here are skeptics like Shermer discrediting their whole endeavor by swallowing whole nonsense they’ve read from Multiverse-maniacs, and physicists and philosophers turning their profession into a laughing-stock.

  7. Julian English says:

    I’m not sure if Krauss ever did good physics but I’m sure he doesn’t have time to do any of it now; he’s too busy promoting his book and being a public intellectual. Pop science is valuable but should be written by seasoned grad students unable to get tenure track jobs, not professors paid to do research.

  8. Peter Woit says:

    Julian English,

    I’m not sure that the problem of tenured researchers not having time for research since they have taken up public debate is any larger than that of tenured researchers not having time for research since they have, say, taken up yoga, a new love affair, or decided to renovate their basement. The problem is what they do in this public debate, which may be valuable, neutral or damaging.

  9. Bernhard says:

    Now let´s hope some theologians get in the circus and take offense so this gets even more laughable.

  10. CWJ says:

    I wonder if Krauss could even name a modern theologian, such as Borg or Moltmann.

  11. Nex says:

    I agree its time to end multiverse-mania, we should instead focus on a more general and beautiful entity – hyperverse – a grand collection which besides all the mundane members of the multiverse (ie universes with different physical laws, or realizing different branches of wavefunction, or causally separated, etc) also contains all the really exotic universes like those to which no laws of physics can be applied at all (every hypothetical law one might propose in such an exotic universe has infinitely many exceptions violating it) and those in which mathematics is completely useless as a description of reality (whether those two classes are separate is the fist important question that needs to be answered).

  12. Sean the Mystic says:

    Don’t you think New Atheist ideologues like Shermer and Krauss have become as hubristic as many theologians? The idea that the latest fashionable theories of cosmology and physics have *just now* rendered age-old questions about the cosmos null and void seems rather presumptuous, does it not? Where is humility and skepticism? Aren’t these so-called skeptics trying a little too hard to find “just so” stories from the most speculative areas of modern science to discredit their theistic foes? I’m really struck by the ideologically-charged nature of science these days, and wonder how intellectual integrity will be maintained if science is reduced to a bludgeon in a war of worldviews.

  13. Dan Winslow says:

    Nex – Not to mention the hyperverse universe in which multiverses (multiversi?) are impossible….

  14. paddy says:

    Peter: Unfortunately, many*–even here–disappoint in not seeing the humor. This is funny in and of itself.

    *exception for Don Murphy to whom I might paraphrasically whisper: “Apparently physics has become easy while comedy yet remains hard.”

  15. Friend says:

    It might be that this argument about nothing is being fuled by equivocation of terms. What is nothing? Even according to GR the Big Bang started from a singularity, a single point. Yet, what dynamics can occur in a single point? None! For all practical purposes a singularity is equal to nothing. And we’re all talking about the same thing.

  16. Avattoir says:

    Julian English: “I’m not sure if Krauss ever did good physics …”

    Do you write that after or before having reviewing the first 101 publications on this list?

    I’m not judging; I have no idea whether “Krauss ever did good physics”. But he sure seems to have had lots & lots of peer-reviewed articles published in credible journals that are associated with good physics standards. I suspect our host tried to express a view in his response, but it’s not exactly direct.

    I think our host was a bit unfair on Schermer. Yes, that bit about gravity leakage is cringe-worthy; but it only pops up in the context of his attempt at a sketchy sketch on various ideas in the area, & in any event doesn’t, as our host more than merely implies, purport to squash theology with the multiverse stick. Instead, Schermer consistently uses phrases like “may have been” & “may be just” in referring to the multiverse; nor does he stray from that standard on any of the other ideas; nor even does any part of his sketchy sketch detract from his point:

    “… why turn to the supernatural when our understanding of the natural is still in its incipient stages? We would be wise to heed this skeptical principle: before you say something is out of this world, first make sure that it is not in this world.”

    Also, it seems to me Krauss is learning that semantics is a tricky game to play with semanticists.

  17. Peter Woit says:


    Krauss is a perfectly respectable theorist. I don’t think his research has led to any dramatic progress in recent years, but then again this is true for virtually everyone in this business. My dismay about him and Schermer is based on my belief that they’re both smart, well-informed, and not easily bamboozled people who should know better than to get involved with multiverse-mania. They’re careful to add lots of “maybe” caveats, but they should realize that people tend to not hear those, and that in any case, better to steer clear of dubious speculation than to engage in it while trying to protect oneself with weasel-word clauses.

  18. Neto says:

    To me it’s very clear, you just have to look who is in Krauss side. Some people just don’t care about religion, some feel they have to show religion is wrong at all costs, and will eventually give up good skepticism just to please their egos. Krauss, Dawkings and Shermer are really insterested in debunk religion, and debunk now. But they need some possible explanations to our reality that we don’t have at this time. So they will accept a lot more easily some dubious possibilities because, you know, they are just like every other animal and they need to satisfy their egos. We do that all the time. Maybe we’re more moderated in this subject because we don’t really care about religion, and we can keep our skepticism while we wait for some new evidences.

  19. Anonyrat says:

    People grinding their ideological axes with highly speculative theories that superficially resemble physics – and some respectable physicists are aiding them, (inadvertently?) – either weep or break out the popcorn.

  20. Lee Smolin says:

    Dear Peter,

    Krauss’s hostility to philosophy is hardly new, it is the perspective within which our generation of physicists was educated. It is the defining polemic of a tradition of pragmatically oriented theoretical physicists whose dominance began with the generation of Feynman and Dyson. They took over leadership of science from the previous generation, who were heavily influenced by, and respectful of the tradition of philosophy, led by Einstein, Poincare, Bohr etc. The transition was marked by Dyson who noted that he was part of a generation of young conservatives who took over from a generation of old revolutionaries, who were seen as having exhausted themselves on fruitless philosophical quests such as the interpretation of quantum theory.

    The triumph of that generation was quantum field theory and it is certainly ironic that the exhaustion of their pragmatic style is marked by the over-extension of quantum field theory to address questions it can’t possibly answer such as the origin of the universe. Only someone whose understanding of the world comes entirely from within the pragmatic tradition could imagine that the description of a phase transition from one quantum field theoretic vacuum to another-both existing in a background spacetime-addresses the metaphysical-and probably unsolvable-question of why something exists rather than nothing.

    And sadly, among the things you throw out when you discard philosophy is the work of Popper and others who established the demarcation between science and metaphysical nonsense.

    I believe that the pendulum is swinging back because many of us have learned that an engagement with philosophy does greatly aid a serious assault on the key questions physics faces such as quantum gravity, the foundations of quantum theory and questions as to the choice of laws and cosmological initial conditions. Krauss wouldn’t know it because he hangs out in the wrong circles, but there is a healthy dialogue between physicists and philosophers about these issues, which has greatly stimulated both sides. This engagement has been fruitful to a large extent because of a new generation of philosophers, such as David Albert, who are very well educated in physics. And as we see from Albert’s review, they can certainly hold up their side of a debate because they understand contemporary physics far better than Krauss understands contemporary philosophy.

    It is also disturbing to see that this fake issue is taken as somehow proxy for the conflict between science and religion. For one thing, it is hardly the case that Albert or other contemporary philosophers of physics defend the claims of religion or the medieval arguments about the why something rather than nothing query. Quite the opposite, they tend to employ the same piercing logic Albert used to puncture Krauss’s arguments to destroy the claims of theologians and metaphysicians. Among the several ironies of this story is that the people Krauss is attacking are able to more powerful arguments against the claims of religion because they have a sophisticated education in the history of science and philosophy. To see how effectively a philosophically sophisticated physicist with a good classical education can make a case against religion that goes far deeper than Krauss’s into the historical roots of the conflict with science, you might look at Carlo Rovelli’s The First Scientist: Anaximander and his Legacy.

  21. Visitor says:

    Well I am not a scientist or mathematician, but I was struck by Krauss’ claim that “science is meant to make people uncomfortable” because I have never heard this particular claim before. Being, it seems, very naive, *I* would have thought that, very loosely speaking, “science is meant” to make falsifiable statements describing observable facts. His statement is not an uncommon one, though, among attention seekers who think it excuses any kind of public or intellectual dishonesty. To me, it looks very much as though Krauss is saying that being a scientist gives him a license to lie. (Which is out-and-out Schneiderism but that’s another subject.)

    The antics of the current crop of loudmouth atheists brings to mind some of the more depressing and bleak sections of Ortega y Gasset’s “The Revolt Of The Masses” because, in spite of their academic credentials, these people seem to be profoundly ignorant, and such people – very highly educated in certain narrow areas and completely lacking any knowledge of other areas – occupied a significant amount of Ortega’s reflections.

  22. Roger says:

    Part of the confusion here is to equate nothing = aether = quantum vacuum state. Krauss’s title says “Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing”, but there are always complicated quantum states present. He cannot say what happens when there is truly nothing.

  23. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thanks for writing. I agree that Krauss’s broad-brush dismissal of philosophy is unfortunate. When Feynman, Gell-Mann and others were making great strides in understanding particle theory, one could understand their hard-nosed lack of interest in philosophy. These days I don’t think theorists can afford to be so arrogant, since their track record of the last few decades is rather poor. Perhaps they need some help from another quarter.

    I don’t however think Albert’s review was an impressive example of the power of philosophy. That there’s other “nothings” than the vacuum state is rather obvious and didn’t require a long bombastic argument. The “nerdy” business seemed to me just unprofessional and embarrassing. It came off as, well, something Feynman or Gell-Mann might pull.

    If “philosophy of cosmology” would help keep straight the difference between science and metaphysical nonsense, that would be great. I haven’t seen much of this though, and being funded by an organization devoted to blurring that line isn’t really confidence inspiring.

  24. Anna says:

    Has science ever gained any insights from the musings of philosophy? The whole’nothing’ debate is reminiscent of the ‘how many angels on the head of a pin’ discussions. If it is not measurable, who cares? Personally, I think that if the LHC confirms the Higgs and finds no hints of new physics, we will be left in a very uncomfortable place – two mutually inconsistant theories (QFT and GR), a swathe of apparently arbitrary parameters, some unknown symmetry breaking potential (the Higgs) … at least a null result or new physics would mean we need to rethink our models.

  25. Bugsy says:

    The easiest (and laziest) approach to something you haven’t really studied is to belittle it. I see this tendency in myself concerning mathematicians- an analyst may privately
    think set theory or category theory is a waste of time, a probabilist may feel that way about algebraic geometry and vice versa. Observing these tendencies in myself, the only thing I know is that when I really look into a new area, I am invariably surprised to find
    something really interesting there. Don’t know much about philosophy, for instance, but
    I found Carlo-Rota’s musings in his book “Indisrete Thoughts” very readable and interesting. Philosophy should not be mistaken for physics, however, nor vice-versa.
    For one thing, the general erudition and ability to use the language to express thoughts is expected to be higher in the humanities.

    Where we get into trouble is when people in any area are motivated by personal greed, whether for money, power or fame, to over-hype low-quality work, and when intellectually lazy and arrogant people criticize what they do not want to try to understand.

    On a lighter note, following Nex, I suggest the multiverse be expanded to something called the merriverse, which would bring the poets and real comedians (not unintentional ones) into the fray…

  26. theoreticalminimum says:

    Have you read the latest news about l’affaire Bogdanov? Probably something you’d like to write about in a post?

  27. Lee Smolin says:

    Dear Peter,

    I am normally a big fan of Krauss’s writing defending science and I should say I haven’t read the book. But if he said what Albert indicated he said then this time he over-reached.

    The reason to prefer science to religion is not that science offers the better story to explain enigmas like why the world exists or consciousness. To the contrary,  science offers nothing to compete with the certainties of religious dogmas on such questions. The reason is that science has a far  higher standard for belief and this standard results in knowledge that is limited in scope and always provisional. But it is the best knowledge we can have, if by knowledge we mean provisional understanding that can be established and defended by rational argument from public evidence. Therefor it is a mistake to compete with religion on explaining how or why the universe began because it is a fight we can only contest by giving up the methodologies and standards to which we owe our entire success.

    Anna asks for examples of contributions from philosophy to progress in physics. Here are a few that come quickly to mind:

    -Leibniz’s thinking on the need for space and time to be relational, a consequence of his principle of sufficient reason, inspired Mach to invent Mach’s principle, which in turn inspired Einstein in his invention of general relativity.

    -’t Hoofts work on foundational problems in quantum theory led to his postulation of the holographic principle which led to AdS/CFT.

    -Turing and Godel’s work on foundations of mathematics and logic directly inspired von Neumann and his colleagues in his invention of the standard architecture of computers. (as detailed in George Dyson’s recent book.)

    -David Deutch’s thoughts on foundational problems in mathematics led him to invent quantum computation. The field of quantum information remains a lively point of interchange among physicists, computer scientists, and philosophers.

    -Julian Barbour’s extensions of Leibniz’s and Mach’s critiques led him to a deeper understanding of the role of active diffeomorphisms as the gauge symmetry of general relativity. This was a formative influence on the invention of background independent models of quantum gravity including loop quantum gravity. This also led him and younger colleagues to a reformulation of general relativity called shape dynamics, which in turn appears to explain the AdS/CFT correspondence as a property of general relativity.

    -The best work on the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory is by philosophers of physics in Oxford, Simon Saunders, Hillary Greaves and David Wallace. I must say I am not convinced, for reasons best argued by David Albert, but they made a far better case for the cogency of the interpretation than had been given by physicists.

  28. Emanuel Derman says:

    I was present at a cosmology seminar at Columbia in the late Sixties in Pupin when Ed Tryon, in the audience, an assistant prof there, asked the speaker whether the universe might be a vacuum fluctuation. IT sounded like a joke at the time. He eventually published his idea as a paper: He once years later asked me to corroborate that I heard him ask that question, and I did.
    Science/physics is about studying details and deducing generalities: “To see the world in a grain of sand.” I’m not a practicing anything, but I’m always struck by how narrowly Krauss and some of the new atheists interpret “the world.”

  29. Jeff M says:

    Nice to see that Lee Smolin still thinks like a Hampshire student 🙂 Also nice to know that all those times Herb Bernstein told me “you’ll never be as good as Lee if you don’t get your act together” he knew what he was saying. Of course I decided I liked the math better anyway…
    . I certainly agree that physics has no business discussing origins, since it just cheapens everything. My own intuition is that fundamentally the issue is “Godelian,” in that I think there are things you can’t say about a system unless you go outside that system, which in this case of course we can’t do. From my experience there are very few philosophers who discuss origins for pretty much exactly this reason. You would think obviously intelligent people might realize how stupid they look when they’re arguing about the existence of god or the concept of “nothing.”

    Then again, you can get some great jokes out of it. My favorite will always be from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when Adams mentions Oolong Kaluphid’s latest blockbuster, “Well That About Wraps it up for God.” 🙂

  30. Peter Shor says:

    Peter: I believe Feynman was actually quite interested in philosophy. His work on the physics of computation owes something to philosophy in its nature, and he thought very hard about getting around Bell’s proof of non-locality by using negative probabilities (an effort which ultimately was unsuccessful; I heard a talk he gave about it while I was at Caltech around 1980—see his article in *Quantum Implications: Essays in Honour of David Bohm*). There is a famous quote where he advises students not to pursue the philosophy of quantum mechanics—I think this was (and is) excellent advice, but I also think that it should not be taken to reflect his own opinion of the subject.

  31. Anonyrat says:

    I don’t think Feynman would have any better opinion of some modern what-passes–for-physics than he had of some what-passes-for-philosophy.

  32. Peter Woit says:


    Thanks I hadn’t seen that. Maybe I’ll write about it here if I can learn more about what has been going on. Seems very odd that someone was taken to court for publicizing what I would have assumed was a public document (Igor Bogdanoff’s thesis).

    Given the recent trend towards nothingness/pre-big-bang/God studies in theoretical physics, perhaps the Bogdanovs should be recognized as true visionaries. They were pioneers in this field more than a decade ago. Their “zero-point” origin of the universe is true nothingness beyond Krauss’s feeble attempt at nothingness, and might even satisfy Albert as really being nothing.

  33. pah says:

    It’s weird… I am a theoretical particle physicist, and I never hear about studies on nothingness, pre-Big-Bang, multiverse etc, except through blogs such as this one. Guess I’m too busy working on LHC physics. Readers of this blog must have a pretty skewed idea of what people are working on in the field.

  34. Peter Woit says:


    You must also not watch TV (probably a good idea), not frequent bookstores (increasingly easy as they all go out of business), and avoid a segment of the hep-th arXiv. It’s a valid point though that the high public profile of multiverse-mania does not at all correspond to the fact that most physicists think it is best ignored and act accordingly.

  35. Giotis says:

    “I am a theoretical particle physicist, and I never hear about studies on nothingness, pre-Big-Bang, multiverse etc, except through blogs such as this one. Guess I’m too busy working on LHC physics.”

    Good for you but not all people have to roll in the mud of the Standard model and of LHC physics. There are other issues of high theoretical importance which need to be explored. The fact that you are ignorant about these topics doesn’t give you the right to belittle the people who are working on these fields.

  36. Peter Woit says:


    I find it wonderful that sometimes I can’t tell whether you’re serious or parodying a point of view…

  37. Mitchell Porter says:

    Nothing should be left to chance in this discussion. We can take nothing for granted.

  38. rshaw says:

    This entire discussion is wholly vacuous.

  39. pah says:

    Giotis, I meant no disrespect to anyone. There are indeed issues of high theoretical importance. However, I believe the only way to address them is by raking through the mud.

  40. Sebastian Thaler says:

    Lubos Motl has just chimed in as well on his blog.

  41. Marcus says:

    The logician R. Smullyan has considered the question “Which is better: eternal happiness or a ham sandwich?” and has argued as follows.
    Well, nothing is better than eternal happiness.
    And a ham sandwich is better than nothing.
    Therefore a ham sandwich is better than eternal happiness.

  42. Peter Woit says:


    In the Krauss/Albert case the insults flying everywhere are better than Lubos can muster (best he can do is describe Krauss as a “jerk”). He does however give an accurate account of a recent preprint by Lenny Susskind, the father of string theory:

    “It’s a philosophical ideology with a few equations remotely resembling elementary science that is being promoted by folks who found out that they feel very happy if they’re sloppy and if they have a big mouth. Some of them are on crack.”

  43. Thomas says:

    For those who can understand french (can’t find an english version, sorry), here is the link to Carlo Rovelli’s talk.

  44. The Lone Haranguer says:

    *Krauss (whose name he has trouble spelling) *

    Maybe he’s confusing him with someone else:

  45. Marcus says:

    Thomas, in Lee’s 8PM post on 27 April he mentioned this new book:
    “… you might look at Carlo Rovelli’s The First Scientist: Anaximander and his Legacy.”
    And then you kindly posted a link which according to the title is to a talk by Rovelli on Anaximander and the roots of the scientific tradition (in French).

    However this link may contain an error. When I try it I get a lecture by a French astrophysicist named Kunth about some distant galaxies which he has observed.
    Is the link to a two-part lecture, with the second half by Rovelli? I tried, but was unable, to fast-forward.

    Rovelli gave a talk last week at Princeton about Anaximander and the scientific tradition–seminar in the Philosophy department organized by Halvorson, but AFAIK there is no recording online.

  46. Peter Woit says:


    The link works correctly for me, giving Rovelli’s talk. Check to see that you’re correctly following the link.

  47. Pingback: Multiversum « Yasers hörna

  48. Allan Rosenberg says:

    Before we get too comfortable with the idea of there being something rather than nothing, don’t we need to define nothing more precisely? For example, can we say that nothing could have had an actual existence in its own right, or would nothing have been defined only relationally, as the absence of everything other than nothing? Had there been nothing, would there have been just a single nothing, or might we have had an entire multinullity in which–perhaps–every thing that could have existed would have had an independent nonexistence? As much as I wish I could come out on Krauss’s side in this, I think philosphers are much better equipped to explore these kinds of empty questions than are scientists.

  49. paddy says:

    Allan R.: Yup, philosophers are much better equipped to deal with questions which are meaningless in science/physics.

  50. Thomas says:

    Marcus, Indeed Kunth rambled on for ages before Rovelli – I should have mentioned that.

    I thought that was a deep and fascinating talk about a lesser known paradigm shift, the earth/sky vs up/down paradigm shift.

    But particularly enjoyable is the argument Rovelli makes, that this paradigm shift was also some kind of a meta-paradigm shift: the birth of the “constructive criticism” that is essential to science. Brilliant.

    I would like to put two questions, then, to this sophisticated readership (sorry if this brings us somewhat out of the Krauss thing):

    1. is there a learnable method to accelerate the findings of paradigm shifts? (not just more budget)
    2. is there a meta-paradigm shift that will be to science what science was to previous modes of thoughts? (found by a new Anaximander, in a move that would superseed science itself?)

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