Roger Penrose

Discover has an interview with Roger Penrose, and the Lumonator takes strong exception to what Penrose has to say - unsurprisingly, since Penrose himself calls his opinions "sacriligious" in physics. Lumo's religious zeal is aroused mainly by Penrose daring to doubt the conventional interpretations of quantum mechanics, though he subscribes to a few other outrages as well.

Lubos doesn't ascribe his outrage to religion, but he can't (or won't) articulate it either, more or less mumbling "stupid, stupid, stupid." Penrose's qualms put him in the same boat with such other stupid physicists as Einstein, Planck, Schroedinger, J S Bell, and 't hooft. Even Feynman allowed that "quantum mechanics is not only stranger than you imagine, its stranger than you can imagine."

Feynman was no doubter though, or at least he didn't express any public doubt. He seems to have believed that the strangeness was just part of the deal you had to accept to do physics, and something like that attitude is predominant among theoretical physicists. In that line were such physicists as Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli, and, more recently, Gell-Mann, Zurek, and others.

Physicists, I think, need to be ruthless intellectual opportunists. If doubting something looks like it could lead to interesting progress, go ahead. If not, believe and go forward. For 100+ years, the quantum mechanical believers have been the ones to be rewarded, and the doubters mostly get left behind. Of course the next 100 years might be different, but it looks like a long shot bet.


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