Joe Rogan Interviews Brian Cox

Professor Brian Cox is an English physicist and Professor of Particle Physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester in the UK.

On this podcast, when discussing the behavior of a light particle, the popularizer of particle physics Brian Cox summarizes a 1950s lecture where Robert Oppenheimer elaborates on why thinking in the way nature forces us to think can be extremely valuable in life.

Paraphrasing Oppenheimer, Cox goes on to say that “sometimes we observe an electron as a point-like object and sometimes it behaves like a wavy thing. And that nature forces us to hold both ideas in our head at the same time in order to get the complete picture of an electron. Therefore, the lesson to learn from quantum mechanics is that if we want to learn how to think, it is valuable to be forced to hold different ideas in our head at the same time. And that this really teaches us not to be absolutists.” To illustrate this point Oppenheimer uses the example that you can either be a communist, which in his definition would be that you think the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, so society is all that matters. Or you can be a libertarian, right on the far conservative end, where you think the individual is the only thing that matters, and that’s it.

Cox continues, “but actually of course to have a functioning society, you need a mixture of the two. And you can weight it one way or the other, but you need to hold both ideas in your head at the same time”.
Cox finishes by saying that Oppenheimer said that this was one of the most valuable things about science because it forces you into modes of thought that are valuable, and that absolute positions are always just a blinkered subset of what’s actually happening.

Cox concludes, “you can’t understand the world by being an extremist, you have to hold all these views in your head.”

If only humanity as a whole can learn from this valuable lesson.

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