Episode 51: Anthony Aguirre on Cosmology, Zen, Entropy, and Information

June 17, 2019 |

Cosmologists have a standard set of puzzles they think about: the nature of dark matter and dark energy, whether there was a period of inflation, the evolution of structure, and so on. But there are also even deeper questions, having to do with why there is a universe at all, and why the early universe had low entropy, that most working cosmologists don’t address. Today’s guest, Anthony Aguirre, is an exception. We talk about these deep issues, and how tackling them might lead to a very different way of thinking about our universe. At the end there’s an entertaining detour into AI and existential risk.

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Anthony Aguirre received his Ph.D. in Astronomy from Harvard University. He is currently associate professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where his research involves cosmology, inflation, and fundamental questions in physics. His new book, Cosmological Koans, is an exploration of the principles of contemporary cosmology illustrated with short stories in the style of Zen Buddhism. He is the co-founder of the Foundational Questions Institute, the Future of Life Institute, and the prediction platform Metaculus.

10 thoughts on “Episode 51: Anthony Aguirre on Cosmology, Zen, Entropy, and Information”

  1. AA, tried to disprove the cosmological constant observations and SC concluded there was no vacuum energy, albeit circa 1990’s, but i am still shocked and appalled. Nevertheless, how far do fields extend into the distance universe and how fast? Inquiring minds want to know.

  2. Toward the end, Aguirre said: “Climate change is going to be a catastrophe at some level, almost certainly.”
    It’s interesting how scientists in one area usually don’t understand science in another. Almost no climate scientist is predicting anything close to climate catastrophe.

    Aguirre then adds that the chance of nuclear war “is a percent or so per year – which is terrifying.”
    But who came up with that yearly probability? It’s just something people sometimes say about nuclear war with no obvious reasoning behind it.

  3. Entropy is increasing and the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. Seems as if dark energy gives rise to entropy or vice versa.

  4. Perception is relative, that’s the gist of theories of relativity; when one’s mind is closed out in pessimism, the perception of an end looms closer than does one that brims with optimism?
    Perhaps the change in climate is being brought about by mother nature on Earth, and we are but in the hiatus between two ice ages?

  5. At around 00:57:00 Professor Aguirre talks about the universe containing a lot more information than a statistical model of it (number of planets around a star, etc.). Is there really anything paradoxical about this and does it really give us any insight as to the reasons for early low entropy?

  6. Yes! First of all, thank you, now I can properly pronounce Aguirre 🙂 Second, yes!, finally someone who likewise disagrees with Bostrom’s simulation argument. I also appreciate, as a machine learning specialist, Aguirre drawing a line between AI as we know it today and AGI in the future. I’m 64% done with Cosmological Koans, which I picked up in part due to Sean’s endorsement appearing somewhere on the cover, and I’m having a fun time with it. Great work sirs!

  7. I’m simply here to say what an excellent podcast this episode was. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Excellent audio quality on this one too. I’m really happy to see how well this podcast has evolved. Thank You Sean!

  8. Fátima Pereira

    Excelente podcast, Sean Carroll
    Genial! Diversificado, bem conduzido (como sempre), bem explicado! Ótimo episódio!
    Obrigada, Sean Carroll

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Sean Carroll hosts conversations with the world's most interesting thinkers. Science, society, philosophy, culture, arts, and ideas.

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