2007 : WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?

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Physicist, University of Vienna; Scientific Director, Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information; President, Austrian Academy of Sciences; Author, Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation
University of Vienna and Scientific Director, Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information, Austrian Academy of Sciences

The Future Of Science

I am optimistic about the future of science. After all, science as Mankind’s systematic endeavour of understanding Nature is only a few hundred years old. To believe that we have discovered the essentials of understanding Nature in such a short time is a sign of either arrogance or lack of fantasy. So far science is guided by the, in my eyes fallacious, Cartesian cut between res cogitans and res extensa. It is wrong to believe that the world out there exists independent of our observation. But it is equally wrong to believe that it exists only because of our observation.  We have to and we will find a completely new way of looking at the world which will fully transcend our present materialistic paradigm. After all, we have learned in quantum physics that all concepts of material existence evaporate. In the end we are left with probability fields, probabilities of the results of observations. I am convinced that in science we have just started to scratch the surface. Our understanding of the world will be radically different from the understanding we have today.

I am optimistic about the future of religion. We will learn to shed the unessential dogmas, rules, definitions, prejudices which have been collected by the religions over centuries and millennia. We will learn that they have been created out of feelings of insecurity, out of an innate need of mankind to define and understand even the undefinable and ununderstandable. I am convinced that in all major religions we will discover the essentials of what it means to be human in this world. We will succeed in convincing church leaders and religious leaders to be more audacious and to open up to other views of the world and to rely less on what they perceive to be their own access to truth.

The present battle between science and religion will some day be seen as a battle between two positions where neither one is justified even from their own perspective. Science will never be able to prove that God does not exist and religion will learn that its essence is far deeper than ephemeral questions like whether we were created by evolution or not. I believe that some day we will arrive at a coherent view of the world which will transcend both what today we call science and what today we call religion.

I am optimistic about the future of technology. Here too we have hardly scratched the surface. With quantum information technology, mankind for the first time is entering a field of technology which, by all we know today, has not been used by Nature in evolution. I am convinced that most of the technology of the future will be of that kind. New ideas will be created and new technologies will be invented which only could come into existence because we invented them. There is no other road to making them happen.

I believe in the future of mankind. As long as there are children, as long as there are people who look up to the night sky in sheer wonder, as long as there is music, and poetry, and the Mona Lisa, and old monasteries, and young artists, and fledgling scientists and all the other expressions of mankind’s creativity, I will remain optimistic.