Faith, Fashion and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe
October 17, 20, 22, 2003. Louis Clark Vanuxem Lectures
Roger Penrose, Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics, University of Oxford, and Francis and Helen Pentz Visiting Professor of Physics and Mathematics, Penn State University:
It is often stressed that science provides a way of obtaining knowledge that is fundamentally different from what is possible in the arts or religion, science being driven objectively through experiment and observation, and by precise reasoning, generally of a mathematical nature. Yet, subjective and social elements do play significant roles in the way that science develops. In these lectures, I try to assess the importance of such elements in present-day approaches to a fundamental picture of the universe. Mathematical arguments will play a significant role in these lectures, but they will be basically of a general character not requiring prior expertise.
Friday, October 17, 2003 8:00 pm, at McCosh 50, Lecture 1: FASHION
This lecture will concentrate on string theory and related ideas such as supersymmetry and the use of higher-dimensional spacetime. I try to assess the extent to which these ideas are based, in the absence of observational support, on plausible physical and mathematical desiderata and to what extent they are basically fashion driven.
Monday, October 20, 2003 8:00 pm, at Richardson Auditorium, Lecture 2: FAITH
Undoubtedly, quantum theory provides a profoundly accurate account of small-scale physical behaviour, and this has led to a faith that quantum theory gives us a true picture of the universe, to be trusted at all scales. Yet the theory contains paradoxical interpretive elements that suggest that this faith may not be justified, and that revolutionary changes may well be required, before an ontologically satisfactory scheme can be provided.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003 4:30 pm, at McCosh 10, Lecture 3: FANTASY
Cosmological observation, the second law of thermodynamics, and rigorous mathematical argument tell us that the beginning of the universe must have been extraordinarily peculiar, and subject to laws that we do not see in present-day behaviour. Perhaps some elements of fantasy are therefore called for in any theoretical model with a chance? Indeed, such elements are certainly present in ideas, such as inflationary cosmology and the ekpyrotic model, that have been put forward to address these issues. But do they really address them?