Steven Weinberg

Steven WeinbergIn existographies, Steven Weinberg (1933-) (FA:156) (SPE:4) (CR:63) is an American elementary particle physicist noted for his 1967 model of the unification of electromagnetism and the weak nuclear forces, for his oft-cited 1977 The First Three Minutes: a Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, wherein he argues that according to the second law the universe is pointless, for his 1992 Dreams of a Final Theory, wherein a number of noted atheism positions are stated, and for his 2001 discussions of quantum gravity. [1]

Accidents
Weinberg, like many physical scientists, when he ventures out of the “physical sciences” into the “biological sciences”, as he calls them, he begins to use the term "accident", as a sort of "gap" term the way theists employ the term "god" (see: god of the gaps).

(see: Dreams pgs. 32-33)

Mayr | Antireductionism
See main: Anti-reductionism
In 1974, Weinberg, in his “Unified Theories of Elementary Particle Interactions”, stated that particle physicists hope to find a few simple general laws that would explain why nature is the way it is and that at present the closest we can come to a unified view of nature is a description of elementary particles. [10]

In 1985, German-born American evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr reacted to this assertion by Weinberg, namely the premise that biology or nature in general may soon be reduced to particle physics, by penning “How Biology Differs from the Physical Sciences”, wherein he referred to Weinberg as an uncompromising reductionist and called his view a “horrible example of the way physicists think.” [11]

Weinberg responded with the article “Newtonianism” published in Nature. [12]

Mayr responded with “The Limits of Reductionism”. [13]

Dostoyevsky | Reductionism
See main: Reductionism
In 1864, Russian psychological novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in his Notes From the Underground, has his character the underground man imagine a scientist telling him: [9]

Nature doesn’t consult you; it doesn’t give a damn for you wishes or whether its laws please you or do not please you. You must accept it as it is.”

To which the underground man replies:

Good god, what do I care about the laws of nature and arithmetic if for one reason or another, I don’t like these laws.”

Weinberg comments on this: [4]

“At its nuttiest extreme are those with holistics in their heads, those whose reaction to reductionism takes the form of a belief in psychic energies, life forces that cannot be described in terms of the ordinary laws of inanimate nature.”

Weinberg elaborates:

“The reductionist worldview is chilling and impersonal. It has to be accepted as it is, not because we like it, but because that is the way the world works.”

Weinberg, here, in his mention of "chilling" (see: chilling effect), obviously has not heard of Goethe and his human chemical theory of elective affinities, both in the form of interpersonal elective affinities and social elective affinities, which forms the basis or rather mechanistic understanding of human chemical thermodynamics.

Pointless Universe Theory
Weinberg model
Weinberg’s The First Three Minutes (1977) and Dreams of a Final Theory (1992), interjects, at "points", on how he believes the universe, which he says began from a "point", is “pointless”, and that the more we comprehend about the universe, the more this conclusion seems to hold.
Pointless | Purposeless universe?
See main: Pointlessness
Weinberg is frequently cited and or quoted as an atheist who argues, via the second law, for the purposeless universe hypothesis. [2] Specifically, in 1977, Weinberg, in his The First Three Minutes, dismissed the infinite oscillating model of the universe with recourse to heat death theory, discussed in upgraded particle physics language, at the end of which he famously or infamously, depending on one’s point of view, concluded that the universe seems pointless: [3]

“Some cosmologists are philosophically attracted to the oscillating model of the, especially because, like the steady-state model, it nicely avoids the problem of Genesis. It does, however, face one severe theoretical difficulty. In each cycle the ratio of photons to nuclear particles (or, more precisely, the entropy per nuclear particle) is slightly increased by a kind of friction (known as ‘bulk viscosity’) as the universe expands and contracts. As far as we know, the universe would then start each new cycle with a new, slightly larger ratio of photons to nuclear particles. Right now this ratio is large, but not infinite, so it is hard to see how the universe could have previously experienced an infinite number of cycles.

However all these problems may be resolved, and whichever cosmological model proves correct, there is not much of comfort in any of this. It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, what human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning. As I write this I happen to be in an airplane at 30,000 feet, flying over Wyoming en route home from San Francisco to Boston. Below, the earth looks very soft and comfortable—fluffy clouds here and there, snow turning pink as the sun sets, roads stretching straight across the country from one town to another. It is very hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelming hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar earlier condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”

This last “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless” statement quickly became Weinberg’s trademark philosophical statement, particularly among atheism and or science and religion publications. The statement is reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s 1937 second law based “meaninglessness” atheism philosophy. [5]

In 1992, Weinberg, in his “What About God?” chapter of his Dreams of a Final Theory, continued to discuss the repercussions of this pointlessness quote as follows: [4]

“In my 1977 book, The First Three Minutes, I was rash enough to remark that ‘the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless’. I did not mean that science teaches us that the universe is pointless, but rather that the universe itself has no point. I hastened to add that there were ways that we ourselves could invent a point for our lives, including trying to understand the universe. But the damage was done: that phrase has dogged me ever since.

Here again Weinberg seems to assert that, according to modern science, “there is no point to life”, but that we can be secular scientists and “invent” points, e.g. trying to understand things. He continues:

“Recently Alan Lightman and Roberta Brawer published interviews with twenty-seven cosmologists and physicists, most of whom had been asked at the end of their interview what they thought of that remark. With various qualifications, ten of the interviewees agreed with men and thirteen did not, but of those thirteen three disagreed because they did not see why anyone would expect the universe to have a point.”

Weinberg, in his book, goes on to cite the following responses:

“Why should it have a point? What point? It’s just a physical system, what point is there? I’ve always been puzzled by that statement.”
— Margaret Geller, Harvard astronomer

“I’m willing to believe that we are flotsam and jetsam.”
— Jim Peebles, Princeton astrophysicist

Weinberg goes on to state that Princeton astrophysicist Edwin Turner agreed with him, that his University of Texas colleague, astronomer Gerard de Vaucouleurs thought the remark was “nostalgic”, and that he sees himself unique among physicists for carrying about these types of science replacing religions intersections. By 2000, Weinberg's pointless universe statement, according to The New York Times (“Physicist Ponders God, Truth and a Final Theory”, James Glanz), had become a "much-quoted aphorism". (Ѻ)

In 2001, Weinberg again re-stoked the fires of debate with the following statement about how he believes that “there is nothing in the universe that suggests any purpose for humanity” statement: [6]

“Though aware that there is nothing in the universe that suggests any purpose for humanity, one way that we can find a purpose is to study the universe by the methods of science, without consoling ourselves with fairy tales about its future, or about our own.”

This again prompted further debate and objection, which Weinberg discusses further in his 2010 book Lake Views. [7]

Discussion
Weinberg is indeed unique, among hard scientists, in his willingness to openly discuss godless universe models, as he sees things; a subject that for the most part is a taboo discussion in American academia. Weinberg comments the following about this: [4]

“Among today’s scientists I am probably somewhat atypical in carrying about such things. One the rare occasions when conversations over lunch or tea touch on matters of religion, the strongest reaction expressed by most of my fellow physicists is a mild surprise and amusement that anyone still takes all that seriously. Many physicists maintain a nominal affiliation with the faith of their parents, as a form of ethnic identification and for use at weddings and funerals, but few of these physicist seem to pay any attention to their nominal religion’s theology.”

The general issue here, is that while many physicists will indeed maintain a "nominal affiliation with faith", for the sake of congeniality, cultural fitting, or whatever, when probed deeper about the fine points about cultural or parental "faiths" in respect to one's belief system and to the belief systems of physics and chemistry, heated eruption often bubbles to the fore, the what is entropy debate? (1902), Rossini debate (2007), and Moriarty-Thims debate (2009) are but a few examples.

The debate, in core issue, referring to Geller's comment "why should it have a point? What point? It’s just a physical system, what point is there?" statement, is that physical systems, according to thermodynamics, have equilibrium points, which depend on the type of system, which for society, as a physical system, equates to temporal points of free energy minimization — the seed logic of which first began to become apparent when in October 1873, German physicist August Horstmann famously announced the condition for chemical equilibrium to be that of maximum entropy; the translation logic of which, in terms of free energy, the isothermal isobaric system equivalent of Horstmann’s maximal entropy logic, becoming integrated into so called “points” of earth-bound human existence and experience by the so-called human free energy theorists, beginning with Sigmund Freud (“A Project for Scientific Psychology”, 1895), Lawrence Henderson (Harvard Pareto circle, 1926), John Neumann (1934), and so on. These earth-bound equilibrium "points" are in turn coupled to the spins, movements, and other hypothetical "points" of the universe (e.g. big bang) and this is where the meaning and understanding of movement logic comes in. The problem is that none of this type of physical humanities logic is currently being taught in American, or about the world (give or take), which is why twenty-seven cosmologists and physicists are at odds which each other about whether or not the universe is pointless.

This state of affairs leaves the uninformed, citing Weinberg, to conclude that “there isn’t any rhyme or reason to the course of human history or to the universe. It’s just one damn thing after another. Real purpose has been ruled out by physics” (Alexander Rosenberg, 2011) or that we are but but “flotsam and jetsam” (Jim Peebles, c.1991), and so on. [8]

Religion | Atheism
Weinberg is Brainz.org top 50 brilliant atheist (#24) (Ѻ); an “avowed atheist” (Lee Strobel, 2004); Weinberg, supposedly, declared open atheism in his 2008 article “Without God”. [16]

Quotes | Science, Religion and Atheism
The following are noted atheism, religion, and science related quotes by Weinberg: (Ѻ)

“One of the great historical contributions of science is to weaken the hold of religion. I think that’s a good thing.”
— Steven Weinberg (date)

“Premature as the question may be, it is hardly possible not to wonder whether we will find any answer to our deepest questions, any signs of the workings of an interested god, in a final theory. I think that we will not.”
— Steven Weinberg (1992), Dreams of a Final Theory (c. pg. 244)

“I am all in favor of a dialogue between science and religion, but not a constructive dialogue. One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for an intelligent person to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplishment.”
— Steven Weinberg (1999), “A Designer in the Universe?” [14]

“It's a consequence of the experience of science. As you learn more and more about the universe, you find you can understand more and more without any reference to supernatural intervention, so you lose interest in that possibility. Most scientists I know don't care enough about religion even to call themselves atheists. And that, I think, is one of the great things about science—that it has made it possible for people not to be religious.”
— Steven Weinberg (c.2001)

“Thales’ ocean had no room for Poseidon. In Hellenistic times, Epicurus adopted the atomist theory of Democritus as an antidote to belief in the Olympian gods. Scientists aren’t often driven in their work by motives of this sort. Of course, none of this bears on the question of whether the reductionist perspective is correct. And since, in fact, it is correct, we had all better learn to live with it.”
— Steven Weinberg (2001), Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries [15]

Quotes | General
The following are general quotes by Weinberg:

“For myself, the pleasure of the work had always provided justification enough for doing it. Sitting at my desk or at some café table, I manipulate mathematical expressions and feel like Faust playing with his pentagrams before Mephistopheles arrives.”
— Steven Weinberg (1992), Dreams of a Final Theory (pg. 5)

Electromagnetism and gravitation happen to be the only fundamental forces that are evident in everyday life, but there are other kinds of forces in nature, including the weak and strong nuclear forces.”
— Steven Weinberg (1992), Dreams of a Final Theory (pg. 18)

“The reductionist attitude provides a useful filter that saves scientists in all fields from wasting their time on ideas that are not worth pursuing.”
— Steven Weinberg (1992), Dreams of a Final Theory (pg. 64)

“The authors of physics textbooks are usually compelled to redo the work of the magicians so that they seem like sages; otherwise no reader would understand the physics. Planck was a magician in inventing his 1900 theory of heat radiation, and Einstein was playing the part of a magician when he proposed the idea of the photon in 1905. It is usually not difficult to understand the papers of the sage-physicists, but papers of magician-physicists are often incomprehensible. In this sense, Heisenberg’s 1925 paper was pure magic.”
— Steven Weinberg (1992), Dreams of a Final Theory (pg. 68)

Further reading
1. (a) Weinberg, Steven. (1977). The First Three Minutes: a Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. Basic Books.
(b) Weinberg, Steven. (1992). Dreams of a Final Theory: the Scientist’s Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature. Random House.
(c) Weinberg, Steven. (2001). “Physics and History”, in: The One Culture? A Conversation about Science (editors: Jay Labinger and Harry Collins (§:9:116-28). University of Chicago Press.
2. Thims, Libb. (2011). Purpose? (in a Godless universe). Online as 105-page unfinished manuscript (14 Apr 2013). IoHT publications.
3. Weinberg, Steven. (1977). The First Three Minutes: a Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (pointless, pg. 154). Basic Books.
4. Weinberg, Steven. (1992). Dreams of a Final Theory: the Scientist’s Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature (Dostoyevsky, pgs. 52-53; pointless, pgs. 255-56). Random House.
5. Huxley, Aldous. (1937). Ends and Means: an Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals (meaninglessness, 4+ pgs; quote, pg. 270). Harper Collins.
6. Weinberg, Steven. (2001). “The Future of Science, and the Universe”, New York review of Books, Nov 15 in an article in the New York Review of Books; quoted in Dennis Overbye, "The Universe Might Last Forever, Astronomers Say, but Life Might Not" (January 1, 2002), The New York Times.
7. Weinberg, Steven. (2010). Lake Views (pg. 45). Harvard University Press.
8. Rosenberg, Alex. (2011). The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (rhyme, pg. vii + #). W.W. Norton & Co.
9. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. (1864). The Underground Man (translator: Mirra Ginsburg) (pg. 13). Bantam Books, 1974.
10. Weinberg, Steven. (1974). “Unified Theories of Elementary-Particle Interactions” (abs), Scientific America, 231(1):50-59.
11. Mayr, Ernst. (1985). “How Biology Differs from the Physical Sciences”, in: Evolution at the Crossroads (editors: David Depew and Bruce Weber) (pg. 44). MIT.
12. Weinberg, Steven. (1987). “Newtonianism, Reductionism and the Art of Congressional Testimony” (abs), Nature, 330(#):433-37.
13. Mayr, Ernst. (1988). “The Limits of Reductionism” (abs), Nature, 331:475.
14. (a) Weinberg, Steven. (1999). “A Designer in the Universe?”, The New York Review of Books, Oct 21; adapted from a talk given at the Conference on Cosmic Design of the American Association for the Advancement for Science, Washington DC, Apr.
(b) Strobel, Lee. (2004). The Case for a Creator: a Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence that Points Toward God (pg. 83). Zondervan, 2009.
15. (a) Weinberg, Steven. (2001). Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries (pgs. 119-20). Harvard University Press.
(b) Hecht, Jennifer M. (2003). Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas (pgs. 481). HarperOne.
16. Weinberg, Steven. (2008). “Without God” (Ѻ), The New York Review of Books, Sep 25.

Further reading
● Weinberg, Steven. (1972). Gravitation and Cosmology: Principles and Applications of the General Theory of Relativity. Wiley.
● Weinberg, Steven. (1983). The Discovery of Subatomic Particles. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

External links
Steven Weinberg – Wikipedia.
Steven Weinberg (faculty) – University of Texas at Austin.
Weinberg, Steven (1933-) – WorldCat Identities.

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