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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 244

Johnjoe McFadden on simplicity in science, based on his book Life is Simple: How Occam’s Razor Set Science Free and Shapes the Universe

Life Is Simple: How Occam’s Razor Set Science Free and Shapes the Universe (book cover)

Centuries ago, the principle of Occam’s razor changed our world by showing simpler answers to be preferable and more often true. In Life Is Simple, scientist Johnjoe McFadden traces centuries of discoveries, taking us from a geocentric cosmos to quantum mechanics and DNA, arguing that simplicity has revealed profound answers to the greatest mysteries. This is no coincidence. From the laws that keep a ball in motion to those that govern evolution, simplicity, he claims, has shaped the universe itself. And in McFadden’s view, life could only have emerged by embracing maximal simplicity, making the fundamental law of the universe a cosmic form of natural selection that favors survival of the simplest. Recasting both the history of science and our universe’s origins, McFadden transforms our understanding of ourselves and our world.

Johnjoe McFadden is Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey, where he studies the genetics of microbes that cause infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis. He is the author of Quantum Evolution and the co-author of Life on the Edge, which was shortlisted for the Royal Society Book Prize. He lives in London with his wife and son.

Shermer and McFadden discuss:

  • How did our medieval ancestors view life, the universe, and everything?
  • From what was science set free?
  • the relationship between science and religion then and now,
  • William of Occam and what his razor cut,
  • Doesn’t religion offer the ultimate simple answer to everything? “God did it.”
  • How did pre-modern theologians think about the nature of reality?
  • Ptolemaic vs. Tychonic vs. Copernican world systems in terms of simplicity,
  • simplicity in math, physics, biology, medicine, and the social sciences
  • Einstein’s razor: how does relativity theory simplify the universe?
  • quantum physics and simplicity,
  • Bayes’s probability razor,
  • Postmodernism and the search for Truth,
  • Are there truths independent of language? Cognition?
  • Is science more Bayesian than Popperian?
  • the anthropic cosmological principle,
  • McFadden’s explanation for solving the hard problem of consciousness,
  • McFadden’s explanation for solving the hard problem of free will and determinism.

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on January 25, 2022.

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