# Roger Penrose

English mathematical physicist, recreational mathematician and philosopher

**Sir Roger Penrose** (born 8 August 1931) is an English mathematical physicist and Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, famous for his work in mathematical physics, cosmology, general relativity, and his musings on the nature of consciousness.

## Quotes

edit**There are two other words I do not understand — awareness and intelligence.**Well, why am I talking about things when I do not know what they really mean? It is probably because I am a mathematician and mathematicians do not mind so much about that sort of thing. They do not need precise definitions of the things they are talking about, provided they can say something about the connections between them.*The Large, the Small and the Human Mind*(1997).

**Some years ago, I wrote a book called**There's something else going on and the question of what this something else was would depend on some detailed physics and so I needed chapters in that book, which describes the physics as it is understood today. Well anyway, this book was written and various people commented to me and they said perhaps I could use this book for a course Physics for Poets or whatever it is if it didn't have all that contentious stuff about the mind in that. So I thought, well, that doesn't sound too hard, all I'll do is get out the scissor out and snip out all the bits, which have something to do with the mind. The trouble is that if I did that — and I actually didn't do it — the whole book fell to pieces really because the whole driving force behind the book was this quest to find out what could it be that constitutes consciousness in the physical world as we know it or as we hope to know it in future*The Emperor's New Mind*and that book was describing a point of view I had about consciousness and why it was not something that comes about from complicated calculations. So we are not exactly computers.

**Understanding is, after all, what science is all about — and science is a great deal more than mindless computation.**- As quoted in
*The Golden Ratio : The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number*(2002) by Mario Livio, p. 201.

- As quoted in

**Does life in some way make use of the potentiality for vast quantum superpositions, as would be required for serious quantum computation?**How important are the quantum aspects of DNA molecules? Are cellular microtubules performing some essential quantum roles? Are the subtleties of quantum field theory important to biology? Shall we gain needed insights from the study of quantum toy models? Do we really need to move forward to radical new theories of physical reality, as I myself believe, before the more subtle issues of biology — most importantly conscious mentality — can be understood in physical terms?**How relevant, indeed, is our present lack of understanding of physics at the quantum/classical boundary? Or is consciousness really “no big deal,” as has sometimes been expressed?**

It would be too optimistic to expect to find definitive answers to all these questions, at our present state of knowledge, but there is much scope for healthy debate...- Foreword (March 2007) to
*Quantum Aspects of Life*(2008), by Derek Abbott.

- Foreword (March 2007) to

*The Emperor's New Mind* (1989)

edit
*The Emperor's New Mind*, 1989 Penguin edition, ISBN 0140145346

- I have been arguing that such 'God-given' mathematical ideas should have some kind of timeless existence, independent of our earthly selves.
- Ch. 3, Mathematics and reality, p. 97.

- Gödel's theorem shows that this point of view is not really a tenable one in a fundamental philosophy of mathematics. The notion of mathematical truth goes beyond the whole concept of formalism. There is something absolute and 'God-given' about mathematical truth. This is what mathematical Platonism, as discussed at the end of the last chapter, is about. Any particular formal system has a provisional and 'man-made' quality about it. Such systems indeed have very valuable roles to play in mathematical discussions, but they can supply only a partial (or approximate) guide to truth. Real mathematical truth goes beyond mere man-made constructions.
- Ch. 4, Truth, proof, and insight, p. 112.

**It seems to me that we must make a distinction between what is "objective" and what is "measurable" in discussing the question of physical reality, according to quantum mechanics.**The state-vector of a system is, indeed,*not measurable*, in the sense that one cannot ascertain, by experiments performed on the system, precisely (up to proportionality) what the state is; but the state-vector*does*seem to be (again up to proportionality) a completely*objective*property of the system, being completely characterized by the results it must give to experiments that one*might*perform.- Ch. 6, Quantum Magic and Quantum Mastery, p. 269.

- What right do we have to claim, as some might, that human beings are the only inhabitants of our planet blessed with an actual ability to be "aware"? … The impression of a "conscious presence" is indeed very strong with me when I look at a dog or a cat or, especially, when an ape or monkey at the zoo looks at me. I do not ask that they are "self-aware" in any strong sense (though I would guess that an element of self-awareness can be present). All I ask is that they sometimes simply
*feel*!- Ch. 9, Real Brains and Model Brains, p. 383.

- How is it that mathematical ideas can be communicated in this way? I imagine that whenever the mind perceives a mathematical idea, it makes contact with Plato's world of mathematical concepts. ... When one 'sees' a mathematical truth, one's consciousness breaks through into this world of ideas, and makes direct contact with it ('accessible via the intellect'). I have described this 'seeing' in relation to Gödel's theorem, but it is the essence of mathematical understanding. When mathematicians communicate, this is made possible by each one having a direct route to truth, the consciousness of each being in a position to perceive mathematical truths directly, through this process of 'seeing'. (Indeed, often this act of perception is accompanied by words like 'Oh, I see'!) Since each can make contact with Plato's world directly, they can more readily communicate with each other than one might have expected. The mental images that each one has, when making this Platonic contact, might be rather different in each case, but communication is possuible because each is directly in contact with the same externally existing Platonic world!
- Ch. 10, Where lies the physics of mind?, p. 428.

- According to this view, the mind is always capable of this direct contact. But only a little may come through at a time. Mathematical discovery consists of broadening the area of contact. Because of the fact that mathematical truths are necessary truths, no actual 'information', in the technical sense, passes to the discoverer. All the information was there all the time. It was just a matter of putting things together and 'seeing' the answer! This is very much in accordance with Plato's own idea that (say mathematical) discovery is just a form of remembering! Indeed, I have often been struck by the similarity between just not being able to remember someone's name, and just not being able to find the right mathematical concept. In each case, the sought-for concept is in a sense already present in the mind, though this is a less usual form of words in the case of an undiscovered mathematical idea.
- Ch. 10, Where lies the physics of mind?, p. 429.

- It is hard to see how one could begin to develop a quantum-theoretical description of brain action when one might well have to regard the brain as "observing itself" all the time!
- Ch. 10, Where Lies the Physics of the Mind?, p. 447.

- Beneath all this technicality is the feeling that it is indeed "obvious" that the
*conscious*mind cannot work like a computer, even though much of what is involved in mental activity might do so.

This is the kind of obviousness that a child can see—though the child may, later in life, become browbeaten into believing that the obvious problems are "non-problems", to be argued into nonexistence by careful reasoning and clever choices of definition.**Children sometimes see things clearly that are obscured in later life.**We often forget the wonder that we felt as children when the cares of the "real world" have begun to settle on our shoulders.**Children are not afraid to pose basic questions that may embarrass us, as adults, to ask.**What happens to each of our streams of consciousness after we die; where was it before we were born; might we become, or have been, someone else; why do we perceive at all; why are we here; why is there a universe here at all in which we can actually be? These are puzzles that tend to come with the awakenings of awareness in any one of us — and, no doubt, with the awakening of self-awareness, within whichever creature or other entity it first came.- Ch. 10, Where Lies the Physics of the Mind?, p. 448–9 (p. 580 in 1999 edition).

*The Road to Reality* (2004)

edit
*The Road to Reality*, 2004 Random House edition, ISBN 0224044478

- Do not seek for reasons in the specific patterns of stars, or of other scattered arrangements of objects; look, instead, for a deeper universal order in the way that things behave.
- Prologue, p. 5

- ...the entire physical world is depicted as being governed according to mathematical laws. We shall be seeing in later chapters that there is powerful (but incomplete) evidence in support of this contention. On this view, everything in the physical universe is indeed governed in completely precise detail by mathematical principles — perhaps by equations, such as those we shall be learning about in chapters to follow, or perhaps by some future mathematical notions fundamentally different from those which we would today label by the term ‘equations’. If this is right, then even our own physical actions would be entirely subject to such ultimate mathematical control, where ‘control’ might still allow for some random behaviour governed by strict probabilistic principles.
- Ch. 1, "The roots of science", p. 18-19

- It is quite likely that the 21st century will reveal even more wonderful insights than those that we have been blessed with in the 20th. But for this to happen, we shall need powerful new ideas, which will take us in directions significantly different from those currently being pursued. Perhaps what we mainly need is some subtle change in perspective—something that we all have missed....
- Ch. 34, "Where lies the road to reality?", p. 1045

*Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe* (2016)

edit
- General relativity is certainly a very beautiful theory, but how does one judge the elegance of physical theories generally?

- The idea of having an ambient space-time of some specific dimension seems to play less of a role of string theory than in conventional physics, and certainly less than the kind of role that I would myself feel comfortable with. It is particularly difficult to assess the functional freedom that is involved in a physical theory unless one has a clear idea of its actual space-time dimensionality.

- One is left with the uneasy feeling that even if supersymmetry is actually
*false*, as a feature of nature, and that accordingly*no*supersymmetry partners are ever found by the LHC or by any later more powerful accelerator, then the conclusion that some supersymmetry proponents might come to would*not*be that supersymmetry is false for the actual particles of nature, but merely that the level of supersymmetry breaking must be greater even that the level reached at that moment, and that a*new*even more powerful machine would be required to observe it!- Ch. 1, Mathematical Elegance as a Driving Force, pp. 102–103

- What the anthropic principle depends upon is the idea that whatever is the nature of the universe, or universe portion that we see about us, being subject to whatever dynamical laws govern its actions, this must be strongly favourable to our very existence.
- Ch. 3, Fantasy, p. 311

- Whereas originally the hopes for string theory, and its descendants, were that some kind of uniqueness would be arrived at, whereby the theory would supply mathematical explanations for the measured numbers of experimental physics, the string theorists were driven to find refugee in the strong anthropic argument in an attempt to narrow down an absolutely vast number of alternatives. In my own view, this a very sad and unhelpful place for a theory to find itself.
- Ch. 3 Fantasy, p. 322

## Quotes about Penrose

edit**Although I'm regarded as a dangerous radical by particle physicists for proposing that there may be loss of quantum coherence, I'm definitely a conservative compared to Roger.**I take the positivist viewpoint that a physical theory is just a mathematical model and that it is meaningless to ask whether it corresponds to reality. All that one can ask is that its predictions should be in agreement with observation. I think Roger is a Platonist at heart but he must answer for himself.- Stephen Hawking,
*The Nature of Space and Time*(2000) by Stephen W. Hawking and Roger Penrose, Ch. 1 : Classical Theory, p. 3.

- Stephen Hawking,

- [I]n the June, 1960 issue of... the
*Annals of Physics*, there appeared a paper by... Roger Penrose with the esoteric title "A Spinor Approach to General Relativity." Although the paper was highly mathematical, it outlined a very elegant and streamlined technique for solving certain problems in general relativity. ...this new method made some computations almost easy.- Clifford Martin Will,
*Was Einstein Right?: Putting General Relativity To The Test*(1993) pp. 5-6.

- Clifford Martin Will,

## External links

edit- Brief profile at the University of St. Andrews
- Review of
*The Emperor's New Mind* - "Science and the Mind" (12 May 1999) audio lecture and diagrams online