At the risk of going overboard with no one standing by to throw a life preserver…

Leonard Susskind doubts that physicists can ever understand reality*.  Why?  He points to 2 “recent” discoveries in modern science**.


[This time if you dare the DOOR for more, buckle up first.]




If I oversimplify, go to the source (cited below) or beyond it.

First, when the encounter of Quantum Mechanics (quarks***, etc.) moved our knowledge of matter beyond classical atomic theory (mainly, electrons circling nuclei made of protons and neutrons, etc.) to the presence of even smaller particles, 2 huge problems arose, ones that the human mind–at least so far–can’t wrap itself around.

(1) “Entanglement” ****

In short, if we understand the behavior of systems of tiny bits of matter, we cannot understand the behavior of the bits looked at individually. So it’s “systems” or “bits”*****, look at one or the other, but they don’t mesh together in an understandable way. Or to say it differently, we can fairly well describe how systems of matter behave (reactions, equations, etc.), but go into the system and you find a “tangled ball” of bits that don’t “play fair,” or behave according to a whole different set of rules. There’s no unified, logical way to put everything together that we can see what’s happening.

(2) The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

This also means that if, by experiment, one describes an object (or “bit” as above) in terms of “where it is,” you can’t also describe “how it is moving.” You can “have success” in doing one or the other–but not both together.

What’s the “take home” from all this? According to Scientific American’s latest offering in print about Leonard Susskind, who they consider a “pioneer in string theory, black hole physics, and the multiverse,” physicists cannot (we always have to add the word “yet”) scientifically explain the universe and, given the limits of human brainpower, probably never will.



* It’s interesting to discover that Susskind hates the word “reality” in discussions like this. He prefers using “reproducible” instead of “real.”

** The source for most of the details here is Peter Byrne, “Bad Boy of Physics: profile (based on an interview with Susskind), Scientific American (Summer 2013). Misconceptions, summaries, and possible overstatements fall at my own feet.

*** The word “quark” (different ones described as “up,” “down,” charmed” etc.) comes from–and how could I not add this!–the line “Three quarks for Muster Mark” in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939).

**** “Entanglement Theory” is what much of this falls under.

***** “Bit” is my creation in my summary (to minimize confusion?)  Susskind uses “object.”

Don’t forget that the “3-word title” means that this is part of an ongoing special package on philosophy…connecting some dots with science and religion. We just may add some “packaging” details later