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The Robin Ince and Brian Cox Sort of Chat Show Episode 5

The Robin Ince and Brian Cox Sort of Chat Show concludes this month.

Robin – You were saying there about the fact that, you know, when you’re doing TV shows, sometimes you have to…there are certain things that will be required to be left out because you have to…you’re giving people a sense of an idea, they might have to do a lot more of the exploring.

Brian – Well, of course you…it’s descriptive and also you do the whole thing and then they can be edited and they can be changed and there’s time pressure and things like that …

R – Well that’s the thing that I wanted to ask, was when Richard Feynman was preparing his introductory lectures to physics, I can’t even remember what the subject was, there was one subject someone said can you do an hour on that?  And he went away for a week and he thought hard and he just couldn’t do it and he came back and said, what I’ve realised is, if I can’t do it it means we still don’t actually understand it well enough, if you can’t concisely put something into an hour…What to you is still, you know, one of the ideas that if someone said to you we want you to do a show on that, you’re going to have 50 minutes, you’re going to go, do you know what, we don’t yet have the depth of understanding?

B – It’s…quantum mechanics is difficult, not in…technically it’s a well defined theory that works but putting it into words is difficult because you can…I mean, you can see the level of misconception and wilful deceit that’s brought into the description of quantum theory in popular culture.  You know, it’s a…I think we say in our book it’s an orifice through which all sorts of shit can enter because it has this kind of…it has this interconnectedness about it, you need that to describe how a silicon chip works, how a transistor works, so it has inherently in it, it has this interconnectedness but it’s well defined and it behaves in a well defined way. 

So, actually, what we found with this little – well this rather large  – paper we’ve now published is, actually, when you start trying to unpick the interconnectedness and write the theory and do the calculations in such a way that you can see this happens, this happens, this happens then it does actually get extremely and terrifically complicated.  So trying to explain that other than saying there is…it is this non local theory, there are connections around, without making that sound like Deepak Chopra.

R – Yeah, that’s the thing where quite often it is…there will be an explanation for all manner of things, a lot of things, kind of the new age world, or in fact consciousness where we were talking about before, well quantum mechanics explains consciousness and people go, well how does it explain it and they go, well this, something we don’t know, then quantum mechanics.

B – Well, exactly and it’s nonsense, but that shouldn’t be a reason to tiptoe around descriptions of the theory.  So you shouldn’t triangulate, I don’t think you should say…because there are a lot of kind of little popular culture landmines around I’m not going to go into that field.  But you’ve got to just try and say, this is a well defined physical theory, the best theory of the way the universe works and we want to explain it and it will always be, you know, you will always use terminology that’s not quite right because if you use the correct terminology you’re giving an undergraduate or postgraduate lecture course, and you’re not doing that.  So it’s always a problem but I think we lose to the maniacs if we say we’re not going to talk about quantum mechanics because this other guy wrote a book about it and it’s a load of dribble.

R – Isn’t that the reason to write more books about it which aren’t?

B – Well, it is, and try to explain …

R –  Where you have got someone, I mean that Deepak Chopra the most famous one I suppose, is that beautiful description of, if you have cancer then all you need to do is make a quantum leap from a cancerous to a non-cancerous state.

Brian’s phone goes off.

R – Exactly, exactly, I couldn’t agree more with your cackling phone.

B – It’s from a lawyer!

R – Which one of the Deepak Chopras, we don’t know which one! Says Deepak Chopra’s died, he leapt in the wrong direction!  So, all in all, when we get down to it, in the end, if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist? Where are we on that?

B – Well if it can’t be measured in principle, it has no influence.

R – Right. 

B – Let’s put it that way.  So I can imagine things that exist but can’t be measured like, I don’t know, other disconnected regions of space time, but even then, you know, I think that gravitation might give you a chance of seeing them.

R – Well, in fact, as we’re recording this little bit near Xmas, I will ask you this which is, sometimes when people talk about themultiverse theory, and they’ll say, does that mean there must be a universe then where there is a God, where all possibilities are?  And that’s one of those things where people will immediately go, therefore, the oddest and strangest of things …

B – Well it seems to me to be a logical fallacy, that, doesn’t it, because presumably what they mean by God is something that exists outside of nature, presumably.  If it exists outside of nature then multiverse theory is at least a description of nature, an expansive description of natures where there are lots of regions of space time with different laws of physics or whatever, or different brains of space-time etc. etc. but they’re still part of nature, so it would seem to me to be just one of those kinds of word games in a way.  If you define God outside nature then what has a multiverse got to do with it?  The multiverse is a natural physical concept, not proven by any means but it could be, so I don’t see how that works. 

R – See, I don’t mind the idea perhaps of some of those Greek gods, do you know, the squabbley ones that turn into geese and stuff, but if you could have … 

B  – Do you remember that Star Trek episode where they did that?

R – Oh, I haven’t seen that.

B – It was the old Star Trek, where they met Greek gods.

R – Oh yeah…

B – And William Shatner punched one.

R – Bet he did, yeah. 

B – Apollo, boof!

R – Kissed a girl, punched a god, quite a common episode of Star Trek. No, because I think those ones you can have a bit of fun with, but it’s that idea that an omnipotent God, then there’s no way he’s going to go, well I’ll just take on this universe, they’d immediately want to go into other universes.

B – If it’s omnipotent but not omniscient.

R – Yeah.

B – Isn’t it kind of a recipe for disaster?

R – Oh, I imagine so, yeah.

B – They can cause all sorts of trouble without knowing what’s going to happen.

R – Oh, it’s too much loop hole with that stuff.

B – You’ve got to be both really haven’t you?

R – Yeah.


B – Or omniscient and not… 

R – If you’re omnipotent then you are going to be…that kind of takes into account, doesn’t it?

B – No, because that’s all powerful, but omniscient is all seeing, right? So if you’re not all seeing… 

R – But wouldn’t power be part of the…

B  – …but you’re all powerful, then wouldn’t you be liable to get into a bit of a mess?

R – Yeah. 

B – Because you could do anything you wanted but you wouldn’t know what the consequences would be.

R – Yeah, I’m sticking with Zeus.