Jana Levin is a professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University. Her scientific research concerns the Early Universe, Chaos, and Black Holes. She is also director of sciences at Pioneer Works, a center for arts and sciences in Brooklyn, where she has contributed to an understanding of black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of space and time. Her previous books include How the Universe Got Its Spots and a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which won the PEN/Bingham Prize. Most recently, she was named a Guggenheim fellow.

Human Perception Vs. Physics

In Levin’s Big Think video “Human Perception Versus Physics: Which Is More Accurate? Which is More Truthful?,” Levin explores the connection and divergence between perception and mathematics.

She starts with perception.

“Every human being models the world to understand it and that’s cognitively how we’re successful,” says Levin. “We conceptualize right away. We theorize right away.”

“I mean I am in no position to talk about interpersonal relationships, but I think that this is a problem between people that we have a theory of the world and things mean the certain things in that context and we forget that somebody else has a different theory of the world and the exact same experience means something very different,” continues Levin.

Then she moves on to talk about physics and measurement, concluding at some point, true measures don’t exist and we have to¬†rely on observation and perception.

“As a theoretical physicist I rely very much on calculating to understand a result, but sometimes exact results are unattainable,” says Levin. “And so in some sense in reality we never have the precision we have in the mathematics on the page.”

“And that’s an interesting ambiguity to think about,” continues Levin. “Do precise numbers exist in reality? Is there anything whose value is one? There isn’t because the best we can do is say it’s close to one at some precision that we’ve been able to observe.”


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