2013 : WHAT *SHOULD* WE BE WORRIED 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
Losing Completeness

What I worry most about is that we are increasingly losing the formal and informal bridges between different intellectual, mental, and humanistic approaches to seeing the world.

Consider Europe in the first third of the 20th century. Vienna at that time was a hotspot for art, science, literature, music, psychology, and many other disciplines. Johannes Brahms, for example, gave music lessons to the Wittgenstein family, and the Vienna Circle of logical positivism, created by mathematicians and philosophers, gave all of us a new way to look at some of the most fundamental questions.

Another example is Erwin Schrödinger, the founder of wave mechanics. He writes in his autobiographical notes of how he nearly became professor of physics in Czernowitz in the Bukowina, today’s Ukraine. There he would have had to teach physics to engineers, and that, he writes, would have given him a lot of spare time to devote to philosophy.

In today’s world, all these activities—scientific, artistic, whatever—have been compartmentalized to an unprecedented degree. There are fewer and fewer people able to bridge the many gaps. Fields of expertise and activity become narrower and narrower; new gaps open all the time. Part of the cause is certainly the growth of the Internet, which typically provides immediate answers to small questions; the narrower the question, the better the answer. Deep analysis is an endeavor that by its very essence is entirely different from browsing the Web.

I worry that this trend—this narrowing—will continue. And I worry that in the end we will lose significant parts of our cultural heritage and therefore our very identity as humans.