Skip to main content

David Orrell - Four Way Interview

David Orrell is a writer of general audience books on science and economics, and an applied mathematician in his spare time. He has written books on topics including the science of prediction The Future of Everything, the relationship between science and aesthetics Truth or Beauty, and the problems with economics Economyths. His most recent book is Quantum Economics: The New Science of Money.

Why science (and economics)? 

I came into science through mathematics. My university offered undergraduate mathematics as part of an arts program, so you had to take half mathematics courses, but the rest could be from arts or sciences. So I combined subjects like set theory and topology with philosophy and art history. One thing I always liked about mathematics is that, being abstract, it can be applied to many different things and doesn’t lock you into a particular way of seeing the world. I became interested in economics after writing a book (The Future of Everything) about the science of prediction. I thought economics sounded completely crazy!

Why this book?

Quantum Economics is my attempt to make economics a little less crazy (though the title suggests otherwise!). The idea is that the money system shows the characteristic properties of a quantum system, including duality, indeterminacy, entanglement, and interference. It draws on areas such as quantum cognition, quantum finance, and quantum social science, where researchers use the quantum formalism to model human behaviour. But the main idea is that economics needs to focus more on the complex properties of money, which have been curiously neglected until now.

What’s next?

I would like to follow this quantum thread a little further, though not sure yet exactly where it will lead ... somewhere exciting I hope!

What’s exciting you at the moment?

Quantum ideas seem to be having something of a moment in the social sciences, which until now have been based on a firmly classical model of behaviour. I recently attended a workshop on quantum international relations at Ohio State University, which had an incredible mix of people from different backgrounds including political science, anthropology, physics, mathematics, and so on. As with my undergraduate education, it was a combination of sciences and humanities, so I felt right at home.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ancestral Night (SF) - Elizabeth Bear *****

Only a couple of weeks ago, reviewing a 1960s SF book, I bemoaned the fact that science fiction novels of ideas are less common now. Although it is correctly labelled a space opera, Ancestral Night delivers ideas with aplomb.

Let's deal with the space opera aspect first. Elizabeth Bear provides some excellent adventure scenes in space, and we've the usual mix of huge spaceships and interesting aliens. Main character Haimey Dz is an engineer on a ship that salvages wrecks - but, as we gradually discover - she also has a forgotten past. A major feature of the storyline (one that seems to link to the medieval idea of the lost wisdom of the past) is ancient technology from a long-dead race with capabilities, notably manipulating spacetime mentally (Bear has yet to point out that the travel technologies used here could manipulate time as well as space), which fit well with Arthur C. Clarke's magic definition.

I particularly liked the (surely intentional) nods to the much-misse…

The Future of Fusion Energy - Jason Parisi and Justin Ball ***

There is no doubt that fusion, the power source of the Sun, has the potential to be a significant contributor to our future energy needs. It's clean, green and continuous, able to fill in the gaps where wind and solar simply can't deliver. It uses cheap fuel and doesn't produce much in the way of nasty waste. And it can't undergo any sort of runaway reaction. So it's certainly a worthy topic for a popular science title. This book covers one aspect of fusion power - tokamak reactors - in great depth for a relatively non-technical book. But as we will see, it will only really work for a limited audience.

You won't necessarily realise it from the cover, which I interpreted as emphasising that Homer Simpson will still have a job when Springfield Energy converts to fusion power, but Jason Parisi and Justin Ball have packed The Future of Fusion Energy with information on the detail of how fusion reactors work, and all the difficulties that are faced in getting a stabl…

The Demon in the Machine - Paul Davies *****

Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book. 

At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…