Festival delle Scienze 2015: The Unknown

festival delle scienze2015

“In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar – ajar only.”
“Per fare progressi, si deve tenere socchiusa la porta verso l’ignoto – socchiusa solamente.”
Richard Feynman

Co-directors Vittorio Bo & Jacopo Romoli: ” … this tenth edition of the Rome Science Festival aims to be a celebration of doubt, uncertainty and the unknown and the particular way to penetrate it known as the scientific method. The Festival programme is centred around questions involving physics, biology, psychology and linguistics: What is the relationship between uncertainty and indetermination? Between uncertainty and chance? What is hidden in black holes or in what we call dark matter or in the concept of infinity? How do we relate cognitively to uncertainty and the unknown and what language do we use to speak about them? How can we calculate uncertainty precisely? How do we use secrecy in politics?” The full program of the festival is here (Italian & English).

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Going beyond Darwinian explanations

Jeremy England: “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant.”

Ard Louis: “If England’s approach stands up to more testing, it could further liberate biologists from seeking a Darwinian explanation for every adaptation and allow them to think more generally in terms of dissipation-driven organization. They might find, for example, that the reason that an organism shows characteristic X rather than Y may not be because X is more fit than Y, but because physical constraints make it easier for X to evolve than for Y to evolve.”

Source: Quanta Magazine, January 22, 2014.

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But things out there need to act on the brain, no?


Uta Frith

Uta Frith: “What is the role of language? When we consider social interactions this almost always involves language. Is language actually the primary driver of our social interactions, or is it the other way round?”

Kristian Tylen: ” … My preference is to think that language both evolves from and is shaped by our interactions with the surrounding physical and social environment.  And so it is out there rather than inside us. This is demonstrated by the way that language structures are motivated. Take the way we talk about pitch  In English and Danish: We talk about low and high pitch mapping onto low and high spatial notation. Other languages for instance use thick and thin or big and small. These relations all map onto universal experience. Low tones come from big creatures and high tones from small creatures. And it turns out that it is very difficult to learn the opposite relations.”

Uta Frith: “But things out there need to act on the brain, no?  I don’t disagree with you that the world outside the mind is a starting point, but the experience of the outside shaped the inside, over millenia.  As a consequence, I guess there are some pre-shaped circuits in the brain, which might become obsolete, if  the environment changed radically.  So this is why I would put the outside in second place, and the inside first.”

Source: Putting Language into the Social BrainSocial Minds: A Piece of the Frithmind.

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Formulating science in terms of possible and impossible tasks


Source: Edge


Edge conversation with Chiara Marletto

“When you think about physics, you usually describe things in terms of initial conditions and laws of motion; so what you say is, for example, where a comet goes given that it started in a certain place and time. In constructor theory, what you say is what transformations are possible, what are impossible, and why. The idea is that you can formulate the whole of fundamental physics this way; so, not only do you say where the comet goes, you say where it can go. This incorporates a lot more than what it is possible to incorporate now in fundamental physics.”

Where can the comet go, given what? What is the range of possibilities that we consider live options? We are not considering all LOGICAL possibilities! This is where work on natural language semantics becomes important: we rack our brains about how humans project possibilities from the facts they encounter and how language helps us keep track, categorize, and compare those possibilities. 

Connections: Modality for the 21st Century.

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