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Three Cheers for "Shut Up and Calculate" in Fundamental Physics

Monday, September 25, 2017 at 7:30pm to 8:45pm

Rockfeller Hall, Schwartz Auditorium central campus

The famous Cornell physicist David Mermin once said that the standard approach to understanding Quantum Mechanics was to "Shut Up And Calculate!", a quote also often (mis)attributed to Richard Feynman.  Over the years, "Shut Up And Calculate" has become something of a pejorative
characterization of an approach to physics, said by some to be intellectually lazy and philosophically unsophisticated, the method of philistines merely "solving equations" rather than "Asking Profound
Questions". In  this talk I will explain why this is utter nonsense, giving a full-throated three cheers for "Shut Up And Calculate" in fundamental physics. I will describe, through both historical and contemporary examples, how the very experience of grappling with the most conceptual issues in physics forces the "Shut Up and Calculate" approach on us. Far from being the product of an unwillingness to think about big questions, "Shut up and Calculate" is born of the deepest thinking about, and the greatest
respect for, such questions, coupled with a desire to find concrete paths to attacking them, rather than gaping at them in perpetual awe. I will also argue that the "Shut Up And Calculate" philosophy is certain to grow in influence over time,  as we draw ever closer to uncovering laws of physics governing the most fundamental elements of reality.

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Event Type



Professor-at-Large Program, Physics




Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Penny DIetrich

Contact Phone



Nima Arkani-Hamed

Speaker Affiliation

Institute for Advanced Research

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