SAN FRANCISCO – You need to question the assumptions of today's science to "finish the revolution" in physics and keep technology moving forward, Carver Mead told an audience of well over a thousand semiconductor engineers here. Accepted constants such as the speed of light need to be re-examined, said the 78-year-old veteran of semiconductor design technology, speaking in quietly passionate tones without foils or notes.

"It's a mind opening experience to think about physical law this way," said Mead in a keynote at the 60th annual International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC). "I am spending the entire rest of my life doing that, and when we are done with this revolution we will have a way of thinking about the universe vastly more intuitive and inspiring than what we have today," he said.

Mead called for breakthroughs in the understanding of "the nature of how matter works and pass that on to our children in intuitive, accessible ways, not buried in a pile of obscure mathematics." Scientists and engineers need to challenge orthodox thinking, he said, giving examples of little known critics of physicists such as Newton and Werner Heisenberg.

"We have been living with misconceptions and gobbledygook, of thought processes not allowed to go forward," Mead said. "People couldn’t imagine the world being as interesting as it is, partly because some big egos got in the way," he added. "Our view of science, that got us this far, is keeping us from going
further," Mead said. "There’s a bigger conceptual picture we need to
integrate into our thinking," he added.

Mead co-authored a seminal text on VLSI design.

The professor emeritus of Caltech noted his own work and that of Intel's Gordon Moore in 1967 predicting advances of more than an order of magnitude in semiconductor physics. "Most people thought we were crazy… [but] after a few years it became the industry road map," he said.

Mead's keynote followed a talk describing heroic efforts to create extreme ultraviolet lithography systems that aim to continue progress in chip technology.

Mead is absolutely right that to keep progress going for the next 20-30 years we will need a different approach to engineering based on more sophisticated physics. The math for quantum physics is challenging but the "intuitive" concepts are even more challenging.

"How many times has earlier science been later proven wrong?"
And exactly how does that happen?
Somebody models the results of a theory. Then he or she makes observations. Then he or she compares the observations to the model.
You can't do the modeling without the math. Intuition is no substitute.

You make it sound like intuition is somehow precedes actual knowledge and trumps tedious calculations. This is just incorrect: the great scientits who were famous for their intuition, like Newton, Einstein or Feynmann, were all brilliant technicians, and did the calculations so much they gave them intuition that transcended the conventional understanding.
In other words, their great intuitions were BUILT ON their technical prowess, not working against it. I am reminded of Salvatore Dali who is of course famous for surrealism but who was capable of super-realistic, photographic illustration.
It makes sense to me on a personal level that intuition and detailed grunge work are complementary and both need as well as enable each other. I intuitively know trigonometry because I did a lot of homework on it; now I have an intuitive understanding of sin()---and can leverage it to understand Bessel functions. My children perhaps will intuitively understand the behavior of J0().
This meme that intuition and gut feeling simply trumps reflection and rigor is very dangerous---unfortunately it insinuated itself into important areas such as politics and economy, and we'll suffer the ill effects of that for a long time. When Carver Mead asks us to question those who "know it's so" he requires a rigorous argument, not just another "I know it's otherwise".

You can't go wrong by understanding as much math as possible. However, beware of becoming a mathematician.
There was a student-targeted publication I used to see when I was a kid, and its key motto emblazoned throughout each issue was "Chance favors the prepared mind". I would add that intuition, visualizations, even meditative activity can be spectacularly productive IF you have some good grounding in the physical and mathematical fundamentals.
It's not sufficient or necessary to acquire these latter via an advanced degree, but it makes it a whole lot easier, especially if you find some good teachers. The danger is getting blinkered and over-specialized, and also protective of your negative ego, which will devastate speculation and possible insight.
A while ago someone posted in a chatroom a nice problem, an apparent geometrical contradiction. When I told him what the solution was he said NO that's what everyone says. But my grad student math friend explained that it's about tessellations blah blah. I said your grad student friend panicked when he couldn't see the answer from elementary plane geometry, and proceeded to baffle you with BS. He should be ashamed.

The ability to understand that scientifically is a logical contradiction. Science is only able to deal with "repeatable phenomena". It therefore is only able to work with statistical averages of behavior. Trying to understand individuals or groups that cannot be directly influenced is beyond science's scope.

Whether Meade is right, I think depends on what he means. If he means that we need to find ways of communicating the concepts in an intuitive way, I agree with him. If he means that intuition is an important PART of FINDING the truth, I also agree with him. If he means that our current INTERPRETATION of the data and math needs to be challenged, I agree with that, too. If he means that rigor, analysis, and experimental validation are unneccessary, he is a fool.

The fundamental problem with Quantum Physics is that is is an empirical science. We know that Schroedinger's equation works, but we have no concept of why. In that sense, the phrase "Quantum Theory" is a misnomer. There is no theory, only an equation that works. When there is an understanding of quantum behavior that Shroedinger's Equation can be derived from, we will have a theory. Until that theory is created, there are no intuitive concepts.

January 2016 Cartoon Caption ContestBob's punishment for missing his deadline was to be tied to his chair tantalizingly close to a disconnected cable, with one hand superglued to his desk and another to his chin, while the pages from his wall calendar were slowly torn away.122 comments

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