George F. R. Ellis

cosmologist from South Africa

George Francis Rayner Ellis, FRS, Hon. FRSSAf, (born 11 August 1939), is the Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Complex Systems in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He co-authored The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time with University of Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking, published in 1973, and is considered one of the world's leading theorists in cosmology.

George F. R. Ellis, 2012


    • Now what you have to do there is then say, well, what is the nature of the moral reality? And you then have to realise that the simplistic views of morality are not correct. Real morality is not a set of ten laws on a tablet which you can write down, because those are a terrible approximation to the real thing, and from my viewpoint, the deep nature of reality, which is discovered by the spiritual members of all the great traditions in the world, is that the deep nature of morality is to do with self-sacrifice and giving up on behalf of other people. It’s counter-intuitive. It’s not a logical argument, and people are looking for logical laws that they can apply. But the deep nature of morality, from my position, is that it is the counter-intuitive thing: that if you want to get something, and create greater good, you must give up, and the way to getting what you want is giving up what you want, and that’s the way to get what you want.
    • The religious literature has known this for thousands of years: the fact you feel good about something doesn’t mean that it is the good thing to do. Good and evil is not scientifically measurable and so it’s not a scientific concept.
    • Fine-tuning is a philosophical problem. It’s not a scientific problem in the sense that there’s an experiment which gives a result. The problem is that some of my colleagues are writing about it as if it can be solved on a purely scientific basis, and I think this is very misleading to the public, and I think it’s very misleading within the scientific community. I think it’s a problem when scientists present a philosophical statement and claim it can be tested or proved scientifically.
    • Yes, I take the completely unpopular position: I’m a dualist. There’s the mind and the brain, and the mind inhabits the brain… or thoughts, thoughts inhabit the brain and thoughts are not physical things. Thoughts are abstract things which get represented in a physical way. And again we do not understand how this happened, but the brain has a hierarchical structure. Thoughts have a hierarchical structure, and in the computer you can see these different levels. You can understand them, and you have got these interpreters or compilers which do it. I think eventually when we understand the brain enough, we will see exactly the same kind of structure happening in the brain. The logic is going top-down from the top level down to the bottom and it is the logic which is controlling what happens at the bottom level. Abstract entities are driving the physics at the bottom level. The physics is not controlling what happens.
    • Yeah, but physicists have great trouble telling you this famous question. Why does mathematics underlie physics? The famous thing that Galileo said that the nature of the universe is written in mathematics. And Wigner and Penrose and other people have pondered, why is it that physics can be written in mathematical terms? And that’s a deep philosophical question for which we don’t have a proper answer.
  • "On the limits of quantum theory: Contextuality and the quantum–classical cut", Annals of Physics 327 (2012) 1890–1932
    • The basic viewpoint taken here is that physical theory must explain not only what happens in carefully controlled laboratory experiments, but also the commonplace features of life around us, for which we have a huge amount of evidence in our daily lives.

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