Science Seminars

Knowing vs. Understanding in Science: Why is it Important to Know and Understand the Difference?

Speaker: Juan Roederer (LASP)
Date: Thursday, Feb 10, 2022
Time: 4:00 PM
Location: Zoom

Seminar Abstract:

This all seems so very trivial: We know the main signatures of Jupiter’s hemispheric magnetic anomaly—but we don’t understand it because we haven’t found the physical cause. We can say that we know Maxwell’s equations if we can write them down and use them to solve practical problems—but we only understand them if we can describe and discuss all the physical cause-and-effect relationships involved. Knowing answers questions of What, understanding answers questions of Why. Geologists know Planet Earth, geophysicists understand Planet Earth.
But this really is not trivial at all. I have chosen four areas to show why. They are: (1) The good old Newton law f=ma, which had kept Ernst Mach busy for years trying to formulate a correct physical understanding by turning to the concept of physical interaction between bodies. (2) Our bread-and-butter Maxwell equations, in whose understanding lurk many surprises, some of which are still coming into light today (Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is an old example). And, based on the concepts of emergent complexity and pragmatic Information, I will discuss (3) the understanding of quantum physics and computing and related paradoxes, and (4) neuroscience and the understanding of human self-consciousness and related “false truths”.