What makes extraordinary science extraordinary?

My article for this month appears on Sean Carroll’s blog, Preposterous UniverseSean is a theoretical physicist who practices cosmology at Caltech. He interfaces with philosophy, which tinges the question I confront: What distinguishes extraordinary science from good science? The topic seemed an opportunity to take Sean up on an invitation to guest-post on Preposterous Universe. Head there for my article. Thanks to Sean for hosting!

Big Dipper

This entry was posted in Real science, Reflections by Nicole Yunger Halpern. Bookmark the permalink.

About Nicole Yunger Halpern

I’m a theoretical physicist at the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science in Maryland. My research group re-envisions 19th-century thermodynamics for the 21st century, using the mathematical toolkit of quantum information theory. We then apply quantum thermodynamics as a lens through which to view the rest of science. I call this research “quantum steampunk,” after the steampunk genre of art and literature that juxtaposes Victorian settings (à la thermodynamics) with futuristic technologies (à la quantum information). For more information, check out my upcoming book Quantum Steampunk: The Physics of Yesterday’s Tomorrow. I earned my PhD at Caltech under John Preskill’s auspices; one of my life goals is to be the subject of one of his famous (if not Pullitzer-worthy) poems. Follow me on Twitter @nicoleyh11.

4 thoughts on “What makes extraordinary science extraordinary?

  1. HI Yunger , i really like this blog and collective. I think that an extraordinary scientis needs to ba at least veryyy well versed in philosophy. Science is natural philosophy, and just to mention a few, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and Schrodinger where good philosophers too (just take a look at “Nature and the Greeks” or “Mind and Matter” from Erwin).
    Modern science is full of closed minded thecnical people that mocks at philosophy and they really dont have a clue…
    Carlo Rovelli has an interesting talk about this (youtube)

    • Numerous physicists, including e.g. Weinberg, have been very good philosophers, too. Some things have changed in the society, e.g. the self-described philosophers became much more hostile to science than self-described philosophers were some 100 years ago.

      That’s one of the obvious and important reasons why it’s mostly right to mock philosophers these days. The meaning of “philosophy” has transformed sufficiently so that they approximate the people trying to restore the unscientific way of thinking from the Middle Ages.

      The 21st century intelligent world works differently. Indeed, relatively to some medieval perspective, most scientists must look “technical” and “closed-minded” but the possibility to focus on the technical questions – because the more general or philosophical ones have been settled and became obvious – and to be closed-minded, because “closed mind” often comes from “settled research” – are the testimonies of the progress that has taken place, is still taken place, and unscientific Luddites like you (and partly Rovelli) are denying it.

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