Chapter 2 “Closer to Reality”| TokCast with Brett Hall

Key Takeaways

  • Instruments help us detect otherwise undetectable phenomena
    • Very little in nature is detectable by human senses
    • “The primary function of the telescope’s optics is to reduce the illusion that the stars are few, faint, twinkling and moving” David Deutsch
    • “Like conjuring tricks in reverse, such instruments fool our senses into seeing what is really there” David Deutsch 
  • Explanatory theories (explored in Chapter 1) tell us how to build and operate scientific instruments
  • “The fact that a computer or a robot can perform a task mindlessly does not imply that it is mindless when scientists do it” David Deutsch
    • Computers play chess mindlessly, but humans do so in a creative and enjoyable way
  • Even when doing tasks that a computer can do, humans can learn or think about new things
    • “A trial that fails is still fun. A repetitive experiment is not repetitive if one is thinking about the ideas that it is testing and the reality that it is investigating” David Deutsch

Intro

  • TokCast (TOK=Theory of Knowledge) is a podcast about the work of David Deutsch
  • David Deutsch (@DavidDeutschOxf) is a British physicist known for pioneering the field of quantum computation, he also made important contributions in the fields of philosophy, economics, politics, mathematics, and more
  • Host: Brett Hall
  • In this episode, Brett reads and discusses some passages from the second chapter of David Deutsch’s book The Beginning of Infinity, “Closer to Reality”

Scientific Instruments Bring Us Closer to Reality

  • David remembers his amazement looking at photographic negatives of the sky through a microscope to observe clusters of galaxies
    • While seemingly looking at smudges on a piece of paper, David was observing the Universe
    • “I was looking at the blurry object for only a few seconds, yet it might be laden with meaning for all I knew. It contains billions of planets. Each planet is a world. Each has its own unique history” David Deutsch
  • Scientific instruments may seem like they move us farther from reality
    • Astronomers look at computers instead of the sky
  • Actually, instruments help us detect otherwise undetectable phenomena
    • Very little in nature is detectable by human senses
  • Our knowledge and technology correct perceptual errors
    • “The primary function of the telescope’s optics is to reduce the illusion that the stars are few, faint, twinkling and moving” David Deutsch
    • “Like conjuring tricks in reverse, such instruments fool our senses into seeing what is really there” David Deutsch 
  • Explanatory theories (explored in Chapter 1) tell us how to build and operate scientific instruments
    • Every layer of physical separation caused by an instrument requires additional theories of explanation

Creativity in Scientific Research

  • Scientific research is sometimes described as “mindless toil”
    • “None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” Thomas Edison
    • Some people say the same about theoretical research
      • They refer to algebra or translating algorithms into computers as mindless, not-creative work
  • “The fact that a computer or a robot can perform a task mindlessly does not imply that it is mindless when scientists do it” David Deutsch
    • Computers play chess mindlessly, but humans do so in a creative and enjoyable way
  • Even when doing tasks that a computer can do, humans can learn or think about new things
    • “A trial that fails is still fun. A repetitive experiment is not repetitive if one is thinking about the ideas that it is testing and the reality that it is investigating” David Deutsch
    • If scientists were really performing the “perspiration tasks” mindlessly, they would have missed most of the fun
      • That enjoyment is often what powers scientific inspiration
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Notes By Giorgio Parlato

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