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Surprising Science

Finding Science’s Contradictions in a Glass of Water

When one studies the philosophical foundations of physics for a living, even the most trivial of everyday objects poses profound questions. For the Columbia University professor David Albert, who spent about ten minutes of his Big Think interview discussing the contradictions of western scientific knowledge inherent in identifying a glass of water, grappling with the long glossed-over complexities of the natural world gives way to some fascinating, if weighty, observations.

For instance, one of the most basic facts of life, motion, when analyzed at its fundamental level, becomes a “strange” and “unsettling” phenomenon, breaking down cognitive categories and exhausting the capacities of human logic. The passing of time? Don’t get him started: the illusion that time moves and is distinct from space is turned out to be one of the wackiest misconceptions that common sense has produced.

Albert is fully aware that his method of taking scientific findings to their logical extremes –and turning common assumptions on their heads—may disturb some and can often cast a grim portrait of humanity—like “billiard balls” bouncing blindly and randomly through an ever enlargening universe—but, he believes, the only thing that should really frighten us are the increasingly common “New Age” attempts to disguise and beautify such scientific observations.


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