frank wilczek

What if Fish Tried to do Physics

Nobel Prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek appeared recently at an event at Arizona State University as part of the "Origins Project" where he discussed different ways of looking at the vacuum (the fancy technical term for empty space with "nothing" in it.)

The introduction to the talk is remarkable because it highlights the importance of being able to approach problems from new, creative, and often highly counterintuitive perspectives.

One of the first examples is particularly striking. Imagine you were a fish trying to do physics. (As Leonard Susskind suggests... fyshicists... groan...) Getting to the fundamental laws would be difficult because the only reality you knew of was of one where the world was filled with water. The constant interference in your experiments caused by changing pressure, drag, convection currants would be a constant hindrance. In order to make progress you would have to imagine how things would work in the absence of water; something which would seem heretical to everyone who had only ever seen a world with water everywhere.

It turns out many of our major advances have involved one of these implausible shifts in perspective. It feels to me like a very magical way of looking at the world (backed up by reams of calculation and experimental evidence!) 

There is also a second part to the conversation with a discussion with the O.P.'s director, Lawrence Krauss: 

They may be a bit long, but they're a wonderfully enlightening alternative to trying to go out in cold, snowy, windy weather.