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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Physics + Humanities = ?

"In a passionate and personal 36th LaFollette Lecture, Professor of Physics Dennis Krause delivered the wonders of a “fantastic and wonderfully different” quantum world to the doorstep of his fellow professors in the humanities." summarizes Steve Charles, Editor.

2015 LaFollette Lecture: Professor Dennis Krause

Professor Dennis Krause says the truth about our universe—particularly at the atomic level of today’s most important scientific breakthroughs—really is stranger than fiction.
He knows this better than most.

A voracious reader and short story writer, Krause is also a theoretical physicist whose research looks at quantum mechanics, unstable particles, and the search for new dimensions.

Last Friday during a passionate, personal, and inspiring 36th Charles D. LaFollette Lecture in the Humanities, he delivered the wonders of that “fantastic and wonderfully different” quantum world to the doorstep of his fellow professors in theology, philosophy, literature, art, classics, music, and theater.

And for 50 minutes during a presentation that was as much about telling stories as it was about science, those colleagues joined Krause in the very work suggested by his lecture’s title—"Grappling with the Quantum: 
Trying to Understand the Fundamental Rules Governing Our World."

Pacing the Salter Hall stage with an excitement sparked when he was a Minnesota farm boy reading Isaac Asimov’s description of neutrinos, the first physicist honored with an invitation to present the College’s most prestigious lecture began with what the humanities and science have in common.

“While the painter, photographer, and poet are each trying to capture some aspect of the physical world on canvas, digital media, or paper, I’m trying to capture some element of the universe with mathematical equations,” Krause said. “These are all the result of human minds trying to express thoughts and feelings about our world.

“There is, however, a big difference between what I do and what these artists do. As a professional physicist, I am not free to do whatever I want. Richard Feynman referred to it as ‘imagination in a terrible strait-jacket.’”

For example, Krause said, “When I’m practicing my hobby of short story writing, I’m free to imagine a small town in northern Minnesota where the townspeople must drape the body of a freshly killed victim over an ancient oak tree to ward off an unspeakable horror. But as a physicist, I can’t tell any story I want.

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful and elegant the equations may be, if they fail to describe the world, they must be discarded. In physics, theories must work.”

That doesn’t make physics “cold and impersonal” or “antithetical to the humanities,” Krause insisted. “Nothing can be further from the truth. I do what I do not just because it (hopefully) provides insight about the world—I also do it because it is fun!”

He quoted Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg: “We learn how to do science not by making rules about how to do science, but from the experience of doing science, driven by desire for the pleasure we get when our methods succeed in explaining something… We develop an aesthetic sense that gives us clues to what theories will work, and that adds to our pleasure when they do work. Our understandings accumulate. It is all unplanned and unpredictable, but it leads to reliable knowledge, and gives us joy along the way.”
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Click here to read the text of "Grappling with the Quantum: Trying to Understand the Fundamental Rules Governing Our World," or here for a pdf of the talk complete with figures, contact 

Source: Wabash College

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