by Felipe Nogueira
|Interview with Krauss|
Lawrence Krauss is a renowned theoretical physicist and was one of the first to suggest that most of the energy of the universe resides in empty space, an idea which today is called "dark energy". He has participated in several discussions and debates to popularize science and has lectured around the world about his last book A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. As the title suggests, the book explains that our universe may have come from nothing.
This is the second part of the interview that I did with theoretical physicist him. I am honored for doing it and I want to thank him for his time and attention.
Links: First part | Video on Youtube | Versão em português.
I am fascinated by the idea of quantum computing...
Krauss: Quantum computers are fascinating idea, but the point is quantum computers would allow you to do certain algorithms that classically you cannot do, such as factor large numbers into their prime numbers. Every number has a unique expression in terms of a product of primes. The primes that very large numbers are product of cannot easily be determined. That algorithm is possible in quantum computers. Why we should care? Well, it turns out, people use large numbers and their prime factors as keys for the secure of credit cards and bank accounts. So, if you can factor them easily, then we have to find other ways to secure it. That’s the bad news. The good news, however, is quantum computers can also provide quantum encryption and in a sense allow you to see if someone has been eavesdropping in a message. So, there is plus and minus for using quantum computers. But it´s not clear that we can practically do it.
The reason we can't do it is because something called quantum decoherence?
In general, that’s right. The quantum world is generally invisible for good reasons because the interactions of particles with the environment destroy quantum correlations and it is precisely the quantum correlations you want to exploit to do quantum computing or quantum teleportation or to do anything like that.
And about science and morality: you say that without science our morals are useless.
I do. Everyone who claims the morality is based on religion, actually base morality on reason. As I often say to people, if you did not believe in God you probably would not kill your neighborhood. Although, some people say they would. The point is that science tell us the consequences of our actions. And if we don't know the consequences of our actions, we can't even determine what is right and wrong. And then we use reason, empirical evidence for the consequences of our actions and reason based on it to determine what’s appropriate. Most people operate that way and that’s the laws of the most nations are based on, not on some religious doctrine, but on reason and empirical evidence. As Steven Pinker put it, you can ask: how does God know what is right or wrong? There are two possibilities. One is that he invented them arbitrary, in which case what’s the point of worrying about that? Or two: he bases what is right or wrong on what is reasonable, but if he does, we can just get rid of the middle man and go directly to reason ourselves.
Do you think there is an objective moral?
I think there are universal morals in a sense that people are biologically hardwired to think certain things are wrong, like for example a priori most people find that incest repulsive. But there are biological reasons for that. But I don’t think there are objective morals. I think morality is determined contextually within a context of a framework of a time and certain circumstances. And as I say, in certain circumstances, incest isn’t wrong in my opinion. Let me make it clear: in certain circumstances, it is not obvious that it is wrong or immoral.
The laws of quantum mechanics are deterministic, but what about the distribution of probabilities?
The underlying equations are secondary differential equations, which are deterministic: you give a initial set of conditions and you can derive unambiguous. The wave function evolves deterministically, so the underlying physics evolves deterministically. It's absolute true that effectively from the point of view of observation or experiment things are probabilistic, but the underlying laws are deterministic.
What do you think about free will?
I think free will is an illusion., it is an effective illusion. We live in a world that for all intents and purposes behaves like a world in which we have free will. Essentially it is undistinguishable from a world with free will. The question whether it exists or not is one of those irrelevant question.
You make it clear that saying that God is explanation for something is a cop-out.
People mean many different things by God, because God it's not well defined. Everyone invents their own Gods. When people use the term god it is a very personal term and it means many different things. As I said, its ill-defined, not least because it is a illusion.
Some people make the case that science and religion are compatible because some scientists believe in God.
That is ridiculous. There are scientists who can hold mutually contradictory beliefs. And those scientists became atheists when they go into the laboratory and they stop being atheist when they go out of the laboratory. So, if you can ignore everything you believe in one circumstance, it is absolutely compatible. And a vague belief in some order in the universe and purpose it is not incompatible with science; there is no evidence of it, but it is not incompatible. But the tenets of the world major religions are incompatible with science. So, some vague deism is compatible with science, but certainlly not belief in world major religions.
What about the idea that science deals with how questions and religion deals with why questions?
Religion doesn’t deal with anything. But what we mean by why? If you ask why, you presume purpose. So religion presumes purpose and presumes to answering it. But the presumption of purpose is a presumption,. Therefore, unless you establish there is evidence of purpose, you are inventing things and that’s why religion invents things.
Some religious people claim the fine-tuning of the universe count as a point for them.
They don't understand what they are talking about. The old claim that bees were fine tuned to see the colors of flowers means they were designed. But, no. If they couldn't see the colors of flowers, they wouldn't get nectar and they wouldn't be able to reproduce. Our characteristics seem to be such that they are fine-tuned to the universe in which we live. To put in the other way around, suggests the universe is fine-tuned for us. But that can be an accident. We evolve in this universe; if we would evolve in another universe, our characteristics might be different. Secondly, the universe isn’t fine-tuned for life: the universe is quite inhospitable for life and the universe is trying to kill us all the time. Thirdly, there are constants that could be much more natural that would make life even better. All of those arguments are based on a lacking understanding of fine-tuning.
What about The Unbelievers?
We are in the final stages of negotiations of distribution. It will get world wide distribution in 2014. It will be in some theaters in United States in 2013. And may get theatrical distributions in each country. It will certainly get distribution on Amazon, Netflix, and video on demand, and DVD. Whether it gets theatrical distribution, will depend on negotiations with each country, which I'm not a part of it.
I would like to thank again Professor Krauss for his time and attention.