Episode Nine – An Interview with the Physicist Juanma


8) Least favorite figures?
Now it’d be a perfect moment to say ‘Ernst Mach’, but he wasn’t even a scientist.

On the other hand, Descartes was so thoroughly wrong it’s funny to read him. It is so funny, I don’t really hold any real antipathy against him.

So, I’d say modern physicists get the worst of me. And particularly Stephen Hawkins’ figure has been remarkably damaging Fto the philosophy of science.

He even claimed that philosophy was dead and science had to take over. He could get eloquently scornful with opposing views, to the delight of his followers, many of which, not versed in science, would absorb and spread this Neo-positivist viewpoint beyond the realm of science.

So, I think he was particularly damaging.  And I think he was also quite overrated. If you look through his scientific feats, I think that the most important one was Hawking Radiation.

Yeah, I think he would be my least favorite figure.

Ashna: Yeah, Feynman agreed on that, and so do a lot of physicists.

Juanma: Yeah, it is a pity, right? Because Feynman was such a great guy. Maybe he had just absorbed too much of the philosophies of his time, he wasn’t that much to blame.

Ashna: Ernst Mach did not make my list, but only because he was not, as you point out, a scientist.  But, he certainly deserves to make one of the lists.

9) Which figures in physics and or math have been the most influential?
The most influential have been those who have made a philosophical difference. There have been great mathematicians who have pushed their fields forward enormously: Gauss, Riemann, Euler…

But their mathematical feats aren’t very influential: they are technical, foundational, deep and extremely useful, but I think being influential here is changing the way the whole subject is approached, for good or bad. In this, Newton and Cauchy, to mention some, have been really influential, have really made a difference.


Cauchy, one of the all time most influential mathematicians.

Cauchy, for example, found a way of dealing with limits without ever appealing to the invalid concept of ‘infinity’. By that time engineers would rationalize the theory of limit taking by canceling infinities out and things like that.

Cauchy found the way around this and thus laid the foundation not only for mathematical analysis, but also for the modern standard of mathematical rigor. S,o he really made a difference in the whole field of mathematics.

As for physics, and aside from Newton… Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr have been influential characters. Although promoters of unreason in science, each in his own way, the truth is that they paved the way for a change in the way scientists work.

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