80 | Jenann Ismael on Connecting Physics to the World of Experience

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Physics is simple; people are complicated. But even people are ultimately physical systems, made of particles and forces that follow the rules of the Core Theory. How do we bridge the gap from one kind of description to another, explaining how someone we know and care about can also be “just” a set of quantum fields obeying impersonal laws? This is a hard question that comes up in a variety of forms — What is the “self”? Do we have free will, the ability to make choices? What are the moral and ethical ramifications of these considerations? Jenann Ismael is a philosopher at the leading edge of connecting human life to the fundamental laws of nature, for example in her recent book How Physics Makes Us Free. We talk about free will, consciousness, values, and other topics about which I’m sure everyone will simply agree.

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Jenann Ismael received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. She is currently Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. Her work includes both the foundations of physics (spacetime, quantum mechanics, symmetry) and the philosophy of mind and cognition. She has been awarded fellowships from Stanford University, the Australian Research Council, the Scots Philosophical Association, and the Center for Advanced Study in Social and Behavioral Sciences, as well as an Essay Prize from the British Society for the Philosophy of Science.

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