There are so many things that I don’t understand
There’s a world within me that I cannot explain
—philosopher-musicians Daft Punk
I admit: I can be a bit curmudgeonly sometimes about people making elaborate claims based on errors. That grumpfyness gets amplified when it’s someone who should know better: a famous physicist saying that climate change can’t be all that bad (contrary to the work of nearly the entire climate science community), or a neuroscientist claiming that the answer to consciousness may lie in some very unlikely areas of physics.
Intellectual cross-fertilization between disciplines can be very fruitful, but it has to be done through understanding — and preferably with collaboration, not as a lone wolf. If you charge into someone else’s area of expertise with limited knowledge, you’re almost certainly going to get it wrong, and end up looking like a jerk in the process. I think it’s important to get this right, so I wrote a bit of a rant for Slate on the topic.
Yet the mysterious aspects of quantum physics and consciousness have inspired many people to speculate freely. The worst offenders will even say that because we don’t fully understand either field, they must be related problems. It sounds good at first: We don’t know exactly how some things in quantum physics work, we don’t know exactly how to go from the brain to consciousness, so maybe consciousness is quantum.
The problem with this idea? It’s almost certainly wrong. [Read more…]
Thanks to my editor, Laura Helmuth, for letting me rant away, and to Zach Weinersmith for letting us use one of his Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comics.