Eugene Wigner on Complexity and Regularity

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On 17 November 1902, Eugene Paul Wigner (1902–1995) was born in Budapest, Hungary. As noted in some sources, Dr. Wigner’s secondary education was at the Lutheran Gymnasium of Budapest, where he first met John von Neumann (1903–1957).

The 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics was co-awarded to Prof. Wigner, along with Johannes Jensen (1907–1973) and Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1906–1972), “for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles.”

Quote from The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences (1960):

“It is … a miracle that in spite of the baffling complexity of the world, certain regularities in the events could be discovered … [I]t is not at all natural that ‘laws of nature’ exist, much less that man is able to discover them … The present writer had occasion … to call attention to the succession of layers of ‘laws of nature,’ each layer containing more general and more encompassing laws than the previous one and its discovery constituting a deeper penetration into the structure of the universe than the layers recognized before. However, the point which is most significant in the present context is that all these laws of nature contain, in even their remotest consequences, only a small part of our knowledge of the inanimate world. All the laws of nature are conditional statements …”

Referenced:
—Larsson, Ulf. “Cultures of Creativity: the Centennial Exhibition of the Nobel Prize.” V.2. (Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Pub./USA, 2001), 167. http://goo.gl/FC6o2j.
—Schechter, Bruce. “My Brain is Open: The Mathematical Journeys of Paul Erdos.” (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1998), 25. http://goo.gl/YPD6Pa.
—Wigner, Eugene P. “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.” New York University. 11 May 1959. Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics 13.1 (1960): 1-14. Image: http://2016.wigner.mta.hu/en/wigner

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Werner Heisenberg, From the known to the unknown

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“The existing scientific concepts cover always only a very limited part of reality, and the other part that has not yet been understood is infinite. Whenever we proceed from the known into the unknown we may hope to understand, but we may have to learn at the same time a new meaning of the word ‘understanding’.”

Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976)
German theoretical physicist and one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics

 

Stanley L. Jaki – Science as a Pathway to God

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Stanley L. Jaki was born in 1924 in Györ, Hungary. He entered the Benedictine Order in 1942. After completing his undergraduate training in philosophy, theology and RoadofScience200mathematics in 1947, he went to the Pontifical Institute of San Anselmo, Rome, where he received a doctorate in theology in December 1950. In 1948 he was ordained a priest. Dr. Jaki held the STD in systematic theology, Istituto Pontificio di S. Anselmo (Rome, 1950), a PhD in physics from Fordham University (1957), and several honorary doctorates. Dr. Jaki gave the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 1974-75 and 1975-76. The lectures were published as The Road of Science and the Ways of God. In 1987, he was awarded  the Templeton Prize for furthering understanding of science and religion. Jaki authored more than two dozen books on the relation between modern science and orthodox Christianity.

From 1951, Dr. Jaki taught systematic theology at the School of Theology of St Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania. During this time, he attended in the same college courses in American history, literature, mathematics and sciences to secure American recognition of his undergraduate training done in Hungary. He received his BS from St Vincent College in 1954. The same year, he began doctoral research in physics in the Graduate School of Fordham University, New York, under the mentorship of the late Dr. Victor F. Hess, the discoverer of cosmic rays and a Nobel-laureate. Dr. Jaki’s thesis was published in the June 1958 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research under the title, “A Study of the Distribution of Radon, Thoron, and Their Decay Products Above and Below the Ground.” Between 1958 and 1960 he did research in the history and philosophy of physics at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. From 1960 to 1962 he was Visiting Fellow in the Program for the History and Philosophy of Science at Princeton University. From 1962 to 1965 he wrote the important work, The Relevance of Physics (University of Chicago Press, 1966). From 1975 to his death, he was Distinguished University Professor at Seton Hall University, in South Orange, New Jersey. He held doctorates in theology and in physics and was a leading contributor to the philosophy of science and the history of science, particularly to their relationship to Christianity.

He was among the first to claim that Gödel’s incompleteness theorem is relevant for theories of everything (TOE) in theoretical physics. Gödel’s theorem states that any theory that includes certain basic facts of number theory and is computably enumerable will be either incomplete or inconsistent. Since any ‘theory of everything’ must be consistent, it also must be incomplete.

He died on 7 April 2009 in Madrid, Spain following a heart attack. He was in Spain visiting friends, on his way back to the United States after delivering lectures in Rome on Faith and Science at the Pontificio Ateneo Regina Apostolorum.

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Sources: Griffolds Lectures,  Wikipedia

Further recommended reading:

John J. Mulloy, Fr. Stanley L. Jaki on Science as a Pathway to God

John Beaumont, Does science disprove God? A great philosopher-priest showed that it couldn’t 

Stacy A Trasancos, Fr. Stanley Jaki’s Definition of Science 

 

Neoprene and a Catholic priest

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Rev. Julius Nieuwland, C.S.C.

On 02 November 1931, DuPont announced the first synthetic rubber, neoprene. The inventor was Rev. Julius Nieuwland, C.S.C.. At the time of his invention, Nieuwland was a professor at the University of Notre Dame and a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

Nieuwland was born of Flemish parents in Hansbeke, Belgium and immigrated as a youngster with his family to South Bend, Indiana. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1899, studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1903, and received his Ph.D. from Catholic University in 1904. He taught botany for a number of years at Notre Dame, and in 1918 became a professor of organic chemistry. At that time, he was working with acetylene. In the course of this work, he discovered a reaction between acetylene and arsenic trichloride that eventuallyled to the development of the poison gas lewisite.

Nieuwland’s work with acetylene also led him into a collaboration with scientists at Du Pont. Together, they found that upon treating monovinylacetylene with hydrogen chloride to produce chloroprene and polymerizing the result, a very durable synthetic rubber, neoprene, was produced. Du Pont placed this rubber on the market in 1932 under the brand name Duprene.

Neoprene has been considered superior to rubber in terms of its resistance to sunlight, abrasion, and temperature extremes. These properties gained it popularity in many industries. Neoprene is favored for electrical cable insulation; telephone house-to-house wiring; many moulded, extruded, and sheet products; rug backings; and roofing – and wetsuits.

Einstein, the 5th Solvay Conference and God

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randomnessFrom the 24th to 29th October 1927, the fifth Solvay Conference took place in Brussels. Perhaps the most famous science conference in history. Seventeen of the 29 attendees were or became Nobel Prize winners. It is also famously remembered for it was at this conference that Einstein, who liked to invent catchy phrases, uttered his, “God does not play dice” . Bohr replied, “Einstein, stop telling God what to do“.

source: Pat’s Blog: On this day in Math – October 24

Enrico Fermi and an Umbrian Farmer

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2014-03-02-enrico-fermiEnrico Fermi (29 Sep 1901 in Rome, Italy – 28 Nov 1954 in Chicago, USA) is considered one of the greatest Italian physicists of his time. He had a remarkable capacity to join theoretical goals with ingenious experimentation. Fermi focused his studies on particle physics and quantum mechanics, receiving, in 1938, the Nobel Prize in Physics for his studies of neutron collision. He moved to the United States due to racial laws in Italy (his wife was Jewish) and turned his attention to the possibility of obtaining chain reactions that could start the production of neutrons for use as fission particles. The study of controlled chain reactions led him finally to the atomic bomb project, which he completed in collaboration with Oppenheimer. He faced his death serenely, suffering from an incurable illness that was diagnosed too late.

Little documentation exists regarding Fermi’s religious convictions, although the account of a profound moment in his life has been left to us [1]: Continue reading

Wittgenstein on God and the meaning of life

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On 08 July 1916, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s entry in his Notebooks 1914-1916 reads, “To believe in a God means to understand the question about the meaning of life. To believe in a God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter. To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning.”

An einen Gott glauben heißt, die Frage nach dem Sinn des Lebens verstehen. An einen Gott glauben, heißt sehen, dass es mit den Tatsachen der Welt noch nicht getan ist. An einen Gott glauben, heißt sehen, dass das Leben einen Sinn hat. – Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tagebucheintrag 8. Juli 1916