The Universe According To Lawrence Kraus
Lawrence Krauss was just back from recording eighteen podcasts in sixteen days around the world “involving the most interesting people in the world, everything from art to science to literature,” for the new Origins Podcast which was released in June. “I have created two new, independent organisms: there is the non profit called The Origins Project Foundation and for-profit Origins Project, LLC. We have recorded everyone from Mike Gervais, Brian May, Nobel Laureates to Noam Chomsky, amazing people from all areas of life. People in science, literature, Hollywood, it’s just amazing!” Lawrence Krauss is a famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist, former professor at ASU, Yale and Case Western, author of best-selling books including The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe From Nothing. His awards include The US National Science Board Public Service Award, Humanist of the Year, AAAS Award for the Public Understanding of Science, Book of the Year for Quantum Man and the Oersted Medal. He is both lauded and determined to help the public understand and get excited about science and galaxies far away. ASU ended his original Origins program in July of last year. Lawrence wound up on the wrong side of a misconduct accusation that was subsequently proven false. That tangle did not stop the momentum of his illustrious career. He is already light years into his new project. He has never marched to anyone’s drum and thankfully the world continues to benefit from his mind-expanding research and ability to convey it in an appealing way to the public at large. Here are some words from one of Stephen Hawking’s closest partners in quantum physics crime.
Olivia Daane (OD): What is going on right now for you? Lay it down for a the lay-people of theoretical physics!
Lawrence Krauss (LK): My podcast The Origins Project, which has already become one of the most popular science podcasts on the web, with an amazingly diverse set of guests connecting science and culture. For example, I just met with Brian May, guitarist for Queen, at his home outside London. He is also on the New Horizons Mission to Pluto and beyond. He has a PhD in Astronomy. I talk to him about that, about space exploration, what got him interested in music and science and how the two mesh together. That symbiosis fascinates me. Go to www.TheOriginsPodcast.com. Next our new tax-exempt non-profit Origins project foundation (Go to www.OriginsProjectFoundation.org) is now going great guns. We have now organized two great travel expeditions with amazing speakers. First one was to the Mekong Delta with Richard Dawkins and Richard Somerville, and in September we are heading on a cruise to Greenland with author Ian McEwan and neuroscientist Ray Dolan. This who are interested can go to the website to book. It has advisors from six Nobel Laureates to (German film director) Werner Herzog, amazing people. The idea is that science and culture are the same. They both force us to reassess our place in the cosmos. I bring together people from a wide variety of disciplines to look at foundational questions: from our new understanding of space-time to exploring origins of violence.
OD: Next up?
LK: The first Origins public event tentatively scheduled for spring 2020. Possible new events include a panel on life in the universe, a potential reading of the play Copenhagen with some well known actors and a discussion with the author, an event on free speech and academia, and eventually an event on creativity and collaboration in music versus science with guests like Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson, Johnny Depp, Joe Perry and some famous scientists.
OD: What is the most exciting thing going on right now in science and tech, an intriguing piece of this puzzle right now on the planet? We are changing and invariably going to have to change more.
LK: Gravitational waves, there is so much to explore in this world. Terrestrially? The possibility of quantum computers. Machine learning is going to change the world in huge ways. Technologically manipulating quantum mechanics, atomic systems in brand new ways is going to change the way we can do tech and will have a butterfly effect throughout society. Quantum computers (the 1 and 0 system), like an electron, can be spinning at both directions at the same time; so you can do not just a single computation, but if you don’t disturb the electron, you can do many in parallel at the exact same time. If we can do it...we can do computations that would take literally longer than the age of the universe right now. Also, we will have the extreme ability to do neural networks leading us into the later part of the century where machines will be able to do things better than people and that will change society.
OD: Social critic Anthony Haden-Guest says, “human beings will always have mystery to them and that is what will always separate us.”
LK: I do not think I agree. What we mean by human will change. Machines will have mystery too; it will just be a different kind of mystery. If it’s better or worse, who can say... but it will be different. Who is at the top of the food chain is not going to be clear. Humans and machines will be different. We can celebrate that or worry about it. Fortune favors the prepared mind.
OD: What is something in nature that excites you?
LK: Everything about nature fascinates me! The universe continues to surprise me. Most recently the fact that we are surrounded by gravitational waves, these undulations of space and time that we can’t see, that I thought would be impossible to ever detect. We built detectors that can detect even those! That allows us to see into distant universes and black holes! We are opening new windows in nature. Each new window surprises us. The imagination of nature is so much greater than the imagination of human beings.
OD: Something man-made that wows you?
LK: I guess self-driving cars surprise me.
OD: If you were not a world-renowned cosmologist, teacher, thinker, author...what would you be?
LK: I have dabbled in acting. I have been a villain in a Werner Herzog movie and we are making some more. I like movies. A movie star. What I would love to be is a musician, but my problem is I have no musical ability. Although, I look good on paper. I soloed with The Cleveland Orchestra. I wrote a libretto for Gustav Holst The Planets. I was front and center between each movement. I read the narration along with images from NASA for each next movement. I got a Grammy nomination for the liner notes for the music from Star Trek. I talked about how the music captured the themes, the feeling of Star Trek.
OD: On your bedside?
LK: I always have about seven or eight books open. I read twenty-two in the the eighteen days we filmed the first podcast research on topics as diverse as recovered memory, to paleontology to novels. I will open my Kindle and see...I just got home and everything is a pile. For personal pleasure, I just read The Doomsday Machine – Daniel Ellsberg. For the podcast, I have read everything from A Natural History of Beer – Rob DeSalle & Ian Tattersall, Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics – Stephen Greenblatt, The Myth of Repressed Memory – Elizabeth Loftus, Regenesis – Ed Regis & George Church, The Challenge of Things: Thinking Through Troubled Times – A.C. Grayling and transgender author Jennifer Finney Boylan’s book, Long Black Veil: A Novel.
OD: What is on your playlist?
LK: With playlists, I let Apple choose it for me. I like independent music, blues, rock and roll. I work out to music every day.
OD: How do you refuel from all this brain expansion and physical exertion?
LK: I enjoy binge watching on Netflix...Amazon. Last year it was, Game Of Thrones.
OD: Can you share some thoughts on your work with Stephen Hawking?
LK: We talked about many things from the nature of black holes to the possibility of a universe from nothing(also the title of Krauss’ 2012 book). That was a subject of great interest to us both. He was remarkable. When I was with him, he was the most pig-headed, stubborn person I ever met and that’s probably why he survived so much. Just to be able to get up each day required the most intense dedication of anyone you can imagine. He would have been be so excited to see the photo of that distant black hole, an amazing vindication of our understanding of science. Steven changed our thinking on black holes and seeing the image is something I never thought I would see. They took eight telescopes turned into earth-sized ratio telescope so they could image a black hole fifty-five million light years away.
OD: You think that things are likely or unlikely, that there is no prime mover, but nature is so brilliant...we are a part of nature! So do we have a purpose within a larger system?
LK: Enjoy that illusion. If it keeps you going... I have no problem with it. We make our own purpose. It (life) is a remarkable accident that we should just enjoy. Rare events and coincidences happen all the time.
Krauss is a non-conformist with a tremendous mind. Instead of listening to the choir preaching to the choir, he is bringing the choirs together. He does not want to disturb your worldview, he just asks you to peer inquisitively into his. And the Oscar goes to…