TITLE: Science Seeks Regularity AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: April 15, 2017 10:39 AM DESC: ----- BODY: A week or so ago I tweeted that Carver Mead was blowing my mind: an electron a mile long! I read about that idea in this Spectator interview that covers both Mead's personal life and his professional work in engineering. Well worth a read. Mead is not satisfied with the current state of physics and biology, or at least with the incomplete theories that we seem to have accepted in lieu of a more coherent conceptual understanding of how the world works. Ultimately, he sides with Einstein in his belief that there is a more coherent explanation:
I think Einstein was being a scientist in the truest sense in his response to the Copenhagen interpretation. He said that none of us would be scientists if deep down we didn't believe there is a set of regularities in the operation of physical law. That is a matter of faith. It is not something anybody has proven, but none of us would be scientists if we didn't have that faith.
Like Einstein, Mead believes that unpredictability at the lowest levels of a system does not imply intrinsic uncertainty. We need a different view that brings regularities to the forefront of our theories. I also like this line from near the end of the interview:
People don't even know where to put the decimal point.
Mead says this as part of his assurance that artificial intelligence is nowhere near the level of what even the fruit fly can do, let alone the human brain. A lot has happened in AI during fifteen years since this interview; a computer program even beats our best players in Go now. Still, there is so much that we don't understand and cannot replicate. I wonder if Mead's "decimal point" aphorism also might apply, metaphorically, to his view of the areas of science in which we have settled for, or are currently stuck with, unsatisifying theories. Our mathematical models cover a lot of ground, decimal point-wise, but there is still a simpler, more coherent picture to see. Maybe, though, that is the engineer in Mead showing through. -----