2007 : WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?

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Physicist, University of Oxford; Author, The Beginning of Infinity; Recipient, Edge Computation Science Prize
Quantum physicist, Oxford University; Author, The Fabric of Reality

About Whether Solutions in General Are Possible

They always are. Why is that important? Firstly, because it is true. There is no anthropocentric spite built into the laws of physics, mandating that human improvement may proceed this far and no further. Nor is the dark, neo-religious fantasy true that Nature abhors human hubris, and always exacts a hidden price that outweighs any apparent success, so that 'progress' always has to be in scare quotes. And secondly, because how we explain failure, both prospectively and retrospectively, is itself a major determinant of success. If we are optimistic that failure to improve ourselves always means failure to find the solution, then success is never due to divine grace (nowadays known as 'natural resources') but always to human effort and creativity, and failure is opportunity.