Evidence in the Natural Sciences

I recently spent a day at the Simons Foundation in midtown, attending a symposium on Evidence in the Natural Sciences. Of the scientific program talks, I got the most out of the one by Thomas Hales on the question of checking the proof of the Kepler conjecture. For the latest on the project to produce a formal, computer checkable version of the proof, see the Flyspeck Project page.

The program ended with a discussion/debate featuring Brian Greene, Peter Galison and Jim Baggott, with the contentious issue basically “has physics gone too far?” in a speculative direction, unable to get back to a point where connection can be made to experiment. Baggott gives a summary of what he had to say at Scientia Salon, which would be a good place to discuss these issues (so I’m leaving comments off on this posting). Both Greene and Galison were much more taking the position that things haven’t gone off the rails, that one needs to trust the leaders of the field and the physics community to do the best they can. This blog’s readers shouldn’t have much trouble guessing which side of this I’m more sympathetic to. I didn’t notice the event being recorded, perhaps it was.

The symposium was co-sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, with no theology or religion in sight. I think they’re mostly these days keeping the physics/math and theology apart, with this symposium and FQXI two good examples, and I’m happy to see that. My other main complaint about Templeton was always that they were pushing multiverse research since that fit into their agenda. These days I don’t see them doing so much of that, with multiverse mania being driven by much more dangerously influential sources. But maybe I’m less critical of them because they invited me to a very nice dinner after the talks…

Update: Videos of the talks are now available here.

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