Lawrence Krauss: The Mysterious Origins of
is a world renowned theoretical physicist, a man who
significantly changed our view and our understanding of the cosmos. He’s a
fierce advocate for the public understanding of science and aims to bring it
closer to the masses through the origins podcast. Recently, He’s also been
pushing for much needed societal and cultural changes. Lawrence’s books have
been pivotal in popularizing science and have profoundly impact in me since I
first read them, and his latest book is no exception. Check out my episode from
earlier this year right here. Join us as we embark on a captivating journey to
the edge of knowledge recorded live in October 2023 at San Diego Air and Space
Lawrence, how are you doing?
It’s great to be here. I I I’m I’m really thankful for the
museum and for Brian. When when the Origins Project Decided to do some events
in California. When the last one we did was in Orange County a a few days ago,
and I contacted Brian. I thought it’d be great to come down here. And, Brian,
because he’s on the board, said, you know, I have a great place, and he
arranged for this to happen. And and And so it’s it’s the 1st time I’ve been
here, but it is truly an amazing place. And what a what a place to have this
this joint podcast in the sense that we’re doing.
The Origins Project is is, does do public events every now and
then, and this is just a A wonderful venue. So I wanna thank you and the
museum. It’s been it’s been great. And, of course, Andy Ornan who who organized
it and Helped set up the venue and and and and the the the VIP reception. It’s
been a it’s been a great chance to meet many of you. So it’s fun to deal with
Brian here, and and I hope we’ll disagree and then chat, about science. And
since it’s his home turf, I’m gonna turn it back to him for the minute.
Yeah. One of the things I’m most excited to talk to you about
tonight, in our signature kind of way where we debate things, I am a what I
call a practicing agnostic Jew, which we can get into what actually that means.
Lawrence is a devout bible beating Christian as you all know. Can’t get enough
of it. We’ll talk about religion. We’ll talk about politics, all the stuff
you’re not supposed to. But really, you stop science with a person who has had
And, a considerable influence both on my career and my thought process, but on
on generation of of young young people. And I want to start with something
that, you know, you can deny paternity maybe, but, I want you to talk about
this mysterious substance, which I’m told fills the universe, almost without
par, and it’s called dark energy.
And it’s something that you and my friend mutual friend, Mike
Turner, really invented, discovered. Let’s talk about the scientific process.
How do you think of this creation and the fact that it will Someday rip all of
our molecules apart.
How do you No. It won’t. It probably won’t do that. By by the
way, I appreciate when you say, yeah, it was the news that you said, like, cast
a long shadow on science because I thought that was Interesting way of putting
it. But, so dark energy is the biggest mystery in, I think, in fundamental
physics. It is the fact that when you take space and get rid of all the
particles and all the radiation and everything and just have empty space there,
it weighs something, And and we don’t know why. It is true that Mike and I had
had proposed, that it existed. Mostly, I did anyway, and I think I convinced
Mike that I I was being heretical, because At the time, the we looked at the
data and all the data of cosmology didn’t agree with the Our picture of
cosmology, the standard rule of cosmology, we knew we theorists knew way before
the observers, and he’s an observer, and I’m an experiment he’s an
I’m a theorist. We’ll get into the difference, and there are
differences. And but we, theorists, were Virtually certain that the universe
was flat. That that means it’s the and I and the other day in Orange County, I
don’t think I got to what flat was so I should explain here. It’s not flat like
a pancake. It’s flat a flat universe is just 1 in which the x, y, and z axes
point in the same direction throughout all of space. If you follow him up, they
keep going in straight lines. A curved universe is one that you might imagine.
The x, y, and z axis point here, up there, but somewhere in the
distant part of the universe is over here, over there, and over there. And in a
in a in saying a closed universe, if you look far enough In that direction,
you’ll see the back of your head. There are good theoretical reasons, and maybe
we’ll get to them, why we thought the universe was flat, but but There was a
big problem. The observers, being difficult people, did not Wasn’t weren’t
finding the universe to be flat. That well, British and DeJean, they weren’t
flying enough matter to make the universe flat because the geometry of the
universe depends upon the stuff in it, And you have to have a certain amount of
stuff to make a flat universe, and it wasn’t the right amount of stuff within a
factor of 3. And then we looked at all sorts of other observations, and it
wasn’t just Just not agreeing. And then we realized that in order to make it
all agree, you’d have to fill up the universe with another kind of energy, the
energy of nothing. And that was so absurd and ridiculous.
That’s why I love the idea of proposing it. But more important,
I did it Because and this is really important because we’ll probably get to
some current issues. At the forefront of science, Results are often wrong, not
because experimentalists are doing they’re doing difficult work, and it’s very
difficult to measure things. And sometimes the first measurement Is, you know,
isn’t quite right? And so I was convinced some of the measurements were wrong,
and this would be a a message for observers to to To review their data and and
and get it right. And and some of the observers, one I remember, a guy named
Saul Perlmutter said, well, you know, we’ll prove you wrong. And, and it turned
out more much to my surprise, more than anyone, that that what we predicted was
exactly right. That 70% of the energy of the universe resides in empty space.
We don’t know where the energy came from, why it’s there, But it’s here.
It’s exactly the amount we predicted, and and those guys won the
Nobel Prize for the observation, which is fine because, No. It is because the
people who convince the world of things are the people who actually measure
things. You know, we can talk. I can say it’s flat, but it or I can say there’s
dark energy, But no one’s gonna believe it unless the observers in some ways
confirm that. And so physics is an empirical science. It’s an experimental
science, and And and it’s led by experimentalists. I say that as a theorist.
But any case so it turned out to be right, And and I was very surprised, but
but we don’t know if it’s constant, if it’s gonna stay there.
Bryan said it’s gonna tear us apart. Only see, if the dark
energy is there, 1 of 2 things can happen. It could just stay there, which is
my bet, by the way. Just stay there, not change. And then it would be something
that’s akin to something Einstein invented to call the cosmological constant, a
fundamental lowest energy state of the universe. Or it could get it could go
away one day, and we talk about how that’s happened earlier in the history of
the universe, something very much like it, Or it could increase. Now if it
increases, then dark energy has this weird property that it’s gravitationally
repulsive. All of you who studied physics know that gravity sucks.
K? It always pulls pulls in. If you put energy in empty space,
it blows. Okay. And it causes the expansion of the universe to to accelerate,
and that’s what the observers saw and others looking at supernova I first
measured. But if it’s constant, it causes the universe to accelerate, but it it
really only impacts on the evolution of the universe on the largest scales.
That’s why we never observed it before. You have to look at the motion of
distant galaxies. But if it’s increasing, its effect becomes more and more
important on smaller and smaller scales.
So right now, it’s pulling apart galaxies. The galaxies aren’t
being pulled apart. There our galaxy is the same size, and it’s not growing due
to even due to the expansion of the universe. But if the dark energy increases,
eventually, that repulsive force will blow apart the galaxy. And then if it
keeps increasing, it’ll it’ll ballpark the solar system, and then it’ll blow
apart planets, and then it’ll eventually blow apart atoms, and it’ll eventually
We’ll blow apart space itself. It’s called the big rip. A call a a former
student, you know, in invented the name. It’s a nice name.
I think there’s no I would say there’s no theoretical reason to
expect that at all. There’s no theory that suggests that that dark energy will
increase. It’s a beauty it’s a cute thing that the, You know, captured a lot of
people’s imagination, but it’s not likely. The likelihood is that either it’s
staying the same or, Quite possibly, it may not be a fundamental energy of
empty space. It there may be somehow being energy being stored in empty space,
and it may go away. And that would change Everything, including our law well,
including life. So, anyway, that’s
a long answer. This won’t happen for several 1,000,000,000 or
perhaps 1,000,000,000,000 or perhaps 1,000,000,000 a year or so. Keep paying
your well, actually, show up tomorrow night, Harrison.
Interesting thing is we don’t know because we don’t understand
it. It could happen tomorrow. The great thing about it is if it hap we won’t
know it Until and we won’t know until it hits us, and we won’t be there
afterwards. The effect will happen at the speed of light, and so we will be go
away and before we even knew we got hit. So It doesn’t matter. Enjoy life. Have
a, you know that’s like that song says Saturn and
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subscription. Now let’s get back to the universe.
When you think about The differences between observers,
experimentalists, theorists, I I find, like, a lot of my students don’t really
comprehend the subtleties between those. But I I think one thing is, you know,
right over there, they put up a great image of Earth’s nearest neighbor, the
moon. And that’s a view that humanity never had for 1,000 of years until some
Dutch guy took his spectacles and broke them in 2 and Put one in front of the
other, and then Galileo, our my hero, at least, I’m sure you’re also held to
him for intellectual debt. He turned it to the moon, and no one had ever done
that before. Never looked up with a telescope until Galileo, essentially.
And they were looking at people’s windows before that. Yeah.
That’s right. But anyway yeah.
I mean, my neighbor was quite quite attracted. Anyway, looking
at the moon, even now, you can see it. You can use something built by a human
being. You can observe something, then you can take that observation And use it
to test a hypothesis. One hypothesis that Galileo tested was whether or not
that ball was actually perfectly smooth and crystalline and ideal in its form.
And when he saw it wasn’t, that it had mountains and it had valleys and it had
holes in it and all sorts of crazy stuff, He could use that to formulate a
hypothesis. And he said famously I love this quote. He said, a scientist should
measure what is measurable And then make measurable what is not yet so.
I’ve always been curious. What do you think is the minimum
amount of knowledge, that, a, an educated layperson, and some of you are
brilliant laypeople, but what do you think an educated layperson should know
about science? And 2, what should a theoretician like those that you train know
versus, say, an experimentalist such as someone in my laboratory building
Now let let me let me preface this by saying physics being the
most advanced of the sciences in some ways is probably is is one of the is Not
the only science, but one of the only sciences where where it’s so complicated.
And there’s so much intellectual baggage that it has, in most areas of physics,
Separated into theorists and experimentalists, because what you need to do to
be a good experimentalist in terms of the cutting edge technology that you have
to master requires a great deal of time. And And similarly, the mathematical
baggage that you need to to understand fundamental science and physics is also
extreme. So you don’t see theorist and experiments. The last in my opinion, the
last great theorist experimentalist was Enrico Fermi, Oh, oh, at, you know,
University of Chicago, if you saw if you saw that movie, Oppenheimer, you would
have seen Fermi. He’s a huge hero of mine, And he he was he was a theorist. In
fact, and and and an experimentalist equally well, and he He, he proposed the
fundamental theory, one of the fundamental theories that later ended up
describing one of the forces of nature And then did experiments on it and won
the Nobel Prize, I think, for his experiments. But, anyway, it that was the
last time you could sort of do that, so it sort of separated.
In terms of the the fundamental stuff that people should know, I
really think that what we really need to teach is not the stuff that you should
know, but the process by which you know it. And that’s the one thing that I
think is most important for people to carry on. You know, the details of
science are fascinating for me and you. And I think for most people, once they
realize it’s science, you know, a lot of people don’t realize they’re
interested in science because they don’t know it’s science. That’s one of the
And I guess people should, Of course, the basic things people
should understand about the world is that there was a big bang. The universe is
expanding. Evolution happened. Basic stuff like that. But more important, The
process by which we get that information, the process by which we test it,
because that’s the tool those are the tools that people will carry with them In
all of the areas aspects of life, and if we just used the scientific method,
then politics and, Well, even religion, but politics would be would be more
sensible and more rational because people would test the ideas of politicians
and say, are they telling the truth? But politicians might also develop
policies based on empirical evidence and and also be able to change their
minds. Do a policy. It’s not working. We’re gonna change our minds.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful? So I think that’s the kind of thing
that that we really need to teach. I wish, as a as a theorist, I’ve, of course,
come to appreciate experimentalists much more than I did when I was a a
student. Theorists, you know, like Oppenheimer. Right? It it’s the sexy stuff.
It’s Einstein, and it was so so somehow Theorists have captured people’s
imaginations, and the the tinkerers, if you wish, aren’t usually the heroes of
the movies, but they’re the heroes of science. And I kind of wish I’d I’d I’d,
as a student, appreciated that. I more. I actually did a degree in mathematics
And a degree in physics.
And I did that for a a variety of reasons, but one of the
reasons was so I could get out of the laboratory requirement in physics. Okay?
And so, but but over time, of course, I’ve come to appreciate that. And and As
a theorist, actually, I used to be a very mathematical theorist when I was a
student, a graduate student, and then a a friend of mine who, you know, Sheldon
Glashow, won the Nobel Prize. I remember when I was a student, he once said to
me, there’s formalism and there’s physics, and you have to know the difference.
And And from that time on, I’ve always, in my physics, tried to tie it to
things you can measure and see, and that’s become fundamental to me. And to try
and understand What observers can do, an experimentalist can do. And I in my in
my life, I tried to propose new experiments because it’s fascinating to learn
about new technologies because every time We open a new window on the universe,
we’re surprised. So I think I think if people realize the significance of that,
that would be very important, but it’s not the facts.
It’s that It’s the process. It’s the tools. And I do think
everyone should the problem with you know this. When if you’re in a physics
lab, It’s just like 1st year physics is boring and all well, anyways, thing
it’s it’s things sliding down in Klein planes. It’s, But experimentally, it’s
also these recipe things. You know, here’s the stuff and you do this, and it’s
not it it would be great if we could design experiments that people could
Discover, not know what the answer is gonna be, discover because that’s really
when you’re playing, that’s what’s really, really fun.
I have a special favor to ask you. YouTube analytics Tells me
that of the 30,000 plus of you that viewed my previous chat with Lawrence for
his book, the edge of knowledge, Only 1 third of the viewers actually subscribe
to the channel. One. I’d really appreciate it if you consider subscribing to
this channel. Doing so helps me get great guests and helps me deliver a great
content that you’ve come to expect from this channel. Thanks so much for
helping me help you. Now back to my live chat with Lawrence Krauss. But I
think, you know, sometime you’ll hate this phrase, Lawrence, I
know, but I think we should teach the controversy. And by that, I don’t mean
what you’re thinking about, but I mean, you just mentioned this boring, rolling
down an inclined plane. Well, you know who Came up with the formalism for that.
It’s my hero. We already mentioned him, Galileo. Yeah. It was his final book.
He was discussing relativity.
He was discussing How things in relative motion cannot determine
who is truly moving and who is stationary. If you’re a fish in the ocean and
next to a boat and the boat has an aquarium on it and there’s a twin fish of
yours, and they’re swimming. You cannot tell relative motion who is moving. He
also used a genius trick by using this inclined plane that we call it to slow
the force of gravity. Back then, they didn’t have clocks. Couldn’t measure
things. You had your pulse. You had an hourglass.
You you use this pulse, and I you know, you’ve have you been to
Florence? Have you
I’ve been I not only been to Florence. I had a I had a
conference hosted a conference in his prison house, and that’s a controversy.
Because I wanna say No.
But, anyway, I like that I like the museum there.
is Everyone goes to the art museum in Florence, but go to the
Museum of Science and Lawrence. They have the Klein plane. They have the little
telescope, which you just cannot see how he’s doing, And I think they have his
That’s in a different museum, but, yes, it’s his middle middle
finger. I was about to do it, but I won’t do it, just to that plane making
noise overhead. What I wanna say is imagine you taught people this, that
Galileo’s manuscript was smuggled out under penalty of death. That that
manuscript that we talk about, if we told that to freshmen and, yeah, and
sophomores when we teach the 1st year students, I think it would make it more
engaging. I think we do a terrible job. We’ve been given the greatest script ever
made. I mean, the greatest story ever made told is your book. Right? But the
greatest script ever handed or bestowed upon humanity It’s a story of science,
and we are the worst actors on any stage imaginable, I feel.
We need to do a
better job. I think you speak for yourself. No. I’m not joking.
But, The, well, everything I know The the no. Actually, I agree with you. I
actually require my students, especially the non science students, to read
Galileo. I always, you know, would photocopy because he doesn’t have the
copyright anymore anyway.
I’ve I’ve photocopy parts of the book And, and I because it read
I’ve I’ve often said this. It’s we force these students to read like James
Joyce, but Galileo is easier to read and funnier And and poetic. And so I I
really, I I’m a huge fan of Galileo’s, and and I do think it’d be great for
students to read because you see How these things which see as you say, seem
boring out, how how he was thinking And and seeing the thought processes were
what I think people were like to
do is wrong too. You great scientists, great women, great men
Make great mistakes. Yeah. Brilliant blunders. Right?
Yeah. Yeah. No. No. So it’s, but you’re absolutely right. The
reason we do inclined planes is because it’s too hard to when you drop
something, it travels. It accelerates so fast. That’s why Aristotle thought,
you know, things immediately got their final velocity, and he said, well, if I
do it on a climb plane, things will it’ll slow things down, but I can watch
them accelerate and And, and it was the basis of modern science.
And and, and, yeah, he’s he’s he’s at the top for
I wonder if there will be new not only new teachers for for,
upcoming students, but but new new students and new and new ways of thinking.
And I’m thinking particularly of of large language models, of artificial
intelligence. You talk about this in your latest book, The Edge of Knowledge.
Hold it up so people can go to Amazon, you know, when they’re not getting my
book. Yeah. Yeah. I know you
You have bookings there somewhere. Dueling thoughts. Your book
in a second.
We’ll get there.
And and that is artificial intelligence, and I wonder, I wonder
how how you react to the statement. When I, think of what Gala what Einstein,
who was a successor to Galileo in many, many ways, not like that prick Newton
who you’ve written about as a as a real juror, and I learned that, from your
writing. But good old Albert, he said that he had his Happiest experience,
happiest thought ever was that somebody in free fall would experience no
gravitational force. And that led
him to construct the Einstein equivalence principle and
everything in GR follows from that. But, you know, what people don’t realize is
that he said that, But he said that the only time his heart ever had
palpitations, and this is what’s important. I mean, I I think Einstein was sort
of working this vacuum. They all think, lone genius. Physicist are alone at
night just coming up with things, but he was tied to observation and
experiment. And and the moment that he wrote down this beautiful theory, but that
didn’t give him palpitations even though it was beautiful. And he once said if
he knew it could be wrong because it was so beautiful. But although most of
them say that about their own work, and most of them are wrong.
But, But he said when when he did the calculation for general
relativity and discovered something called the perihelion of Mercury, Mercury’s
orbit sort of rotates very slowly, few seconds of arc per century. But it would
no one could understand it. Newton’s laws didn’t give it. And he did the
calculation general relativity, and it came up with the exact number that
people had observed. That’s when he said he had heart palpitations and almost
fainted. That’s It was realizing that he had he had, you know, it agreed with
observation, and that so physics isn’t done in this vacuum. It depends On the
observations that I’m very, very rarely theorists lead, but but, you know, even
Einstein wasn’t was certainly a product of some and his His earlier theory in
special relativity, people I hate the way it’s taught in schools, and and I’ve
written in my books of different ways of teaching it. Everyone says, okay.
The speed of light is a constant. In fact, I got asked by
someone the other day, Orange County. What if, you know, what if the what if we
find the speed of light isn’t constant or something? He didn’t just say, oh,
the speed of light is constant, and therefore, the world is crazy. What he
realized was 2 things. In fact, it’s good you mentioned Galileo. Galileo told
us just what you just said, Galilean relativity. If you’re on a plane and your
windows are closed, you need to show up a ball, you don’t know you’re moving.
We don’t know.
We think we’re standing still, but we’re moving at 30 kilometers
per second around the sun. We feel like we’re staying still because Galileo
told us there’s no experiment you can do That will tell if you’re moving or
standing still, if you’re moving at a constant velocity or standing still. I
say you’re moving, you say I’m moving, it doesn’t matter. That’s Galilean
relativity. It’s true. It’s been tested. James Clerk Maxwell developed
electromagnetism, this theory of electromagnetism, And for reasons I won’t go
into right now, but I could, but I’m not going to. It turns out the theory of
electromagnetism is a beaut is our prototypical most beautiful theory we have
in physics almost.
It was inconsistent with Galileo. You couldn’t have Maxwell and
Galileo at the same time. And it was thinking about that that forced him to the
theory of relativity. The only way to make Galileo and Maxwell consistent Was
to do crazy things to space and time, so he was driven to it by thinking about
the observations of time. So if if Max if Einstein had been born, You know,
Maxwell was, like, 50 years before Einstein. If if he’d been born 80 years
earlier, he wouldn’t have been Einstein.
One of my favorite anecdotes about Einstein is that he was for
the presidency of Israel. Uh-huh. And can you imagine what kind of a career he
could have had if he was the president of Israel?
He could have been famous.
But I I I wanted to make one point about this and get your
reaction to it. So here’s Einstein. He’s saying your free fall, you can feel
this, gravitational force that you’re in motion. And it was this delightful
visceral experience that he had. How can my iPhone running chat g p t As it
often is, how can it experience heart palpitations? How can it have a happiest
thought? How can it visualize The sensation of free fall. What I’m getting at,
can we have and I asked this of your friend, Noam Chomsky, when he was a you
know, can you have creativity of a physical variety That without embodiment.
Well, no. In fact, again, I was talking about this the other
day. I I think it’s quite likely, and I talk about in the new book. I think
it’s Quite likely that that systems AI systems, if they ever could be self
aware and conscious, will not be able to Do it unless they have feelings, and
feelings will require, sensors that can sense the outside world and the
internal state of the system. That’s what what’s developed in us. The the
homeostatic system, we can set started sensing pain and pleasure. But beyond
that, we We sense the world, and then those physical feelings turned into
emotional feelings. And I think it’s quite likely that you won’t see Eddie,
IChatGpTO or a static regurgitational system that can’t sense the world.
Now Can you sense the world through the Internet? Maybe at some
level. But, but I do think that that that consciousness, that self awareness
requires that that That connection to the world. The interesting question is
whether it’ll become an emotional connection or not, and and who knows? Because
we don’t really know.
Without Visceral, you know, without sensors or replication of
physical sensation. Could I have what? Can you have a motion? Are emotions in
Oh, no. I mean, that’s the point. Between 1 or the other emotions Our visceral
sensations, what did
you do? Who knows? I mean, it’s it we do know that amoebas don’t
have, you know, dog. Don’t feel good about it.
the But but as I was saying, I I I debate this, you know, with
some neuroscientists, my dog. And I was just actually, tonight, there’s a
podcast dropping with Robert Cebulski on our our podcast from his new book
about free will. And and Przybylski agrees with me. Our dogs, you know, have
emotions and feel bad and good. I’m convinced of it.
Not just Levi, but I’m
not sure my cat does, but my dog knows.
Oh, who knows what cats are thinking?
They’re Yeah. No. I mean, you know, cats are cats are are are in
yeah. You you can’t tell what cats are thinking.
So what if you are a beginning graduate student right now or
smart undergraduate, there’s some here tonight, And there’s even some, you
know, pre freshman over there. There there there there.
I was talking to them. Love it there. The youngster, the future
is right there.
What what excites you about science nowadays? You were starting
off, Well, you somebody asks you, what would you do? A 20 year old who started
getting into science, brilliant, smart, whatever, has the gifts, privilege,
whatever. What do you advise them
to do? Well, you know, the of course, I should I’d advise them
to do what they like to do, which is the first thing they’re not gonna be good
at TikTok. Unless they enjoy it. But but one of the things that I one of the
things I would tell them to think about, which I unfortunately well, I did what
I did. But When I was growing up, I my mother wanted me to be a doctor, of
course, and I thought I was gonna be a doctor. And I took biology in high
school, and I dropped it after 2 weeks because we dissected frogs and memorized
the parts of frogs.
Wait wait a second. What did that Oh, wait. Wait. A Jewish
mother wanted to be a doctor?
Not only she want me to be a doctor, I think I’ve told this
story. I might when I got my 1st job at Harvard, which was the best job in the
country at the time, My mother phoned up my my first wife at the time that day
when I was out of there and said he could still become a doctor.
And he stops him late.
And, anyway, she was for a long time. But, anyway, so I went to
biology class and it was memorizing the parts of a frog, and I ate mem I the
reason I like physics is you don’t have to memorize anything in principle. And
and so I I I feel Cheated in a way because, of course, DNA had been discovered.
You know, I was a child of this at that age in the sixties, and DNA had been
discovered a decade earlier, but, of course, in high school, it usually takes
20 to 30 years to get into the books. And I didn’t realize what an incredibly
exciting field it is. So, nowadays in fact, when I when I was doing my PhD, I
did at MIT, as one does, I think, and as one I hope one does, I got discouraged
many times, and I think students should get discouraged. If they’re not getting
discouraged, then they’re not really pushing the edge of the envelope. And I
thought of doing and my mother would have been thrilled.
I thought of doing a joint MD PhD, which you could do at Harvard
MIT. And so I went to, the the cousin of a friend of mine who was a chair of
cell biology. I wanted to I was gonna do biophysics. You know, I like
fundamental physics, but I was getting so discouraged. So I went to see him,
and this was in 1980, 81, so maybe late seventies, early eighties. And and I
said to him, you know, should I do this? And he said, don’t do biophysics. And
I said, why? And he said, because it’s not of interest to biologists and it’s
not of interest to physicists. That was true in 1979, but now it’s really one
of the most exciting forefront areas of physics because biology is becoming an
area where physicists are learning to study physical processes and, of course,
the tools of physics are being used in biology.
So it’s incredibly exciting area. So I would not I would say,
you know, and, of course, genetics and genomics and combinatorics and genetics
that go along with AI are incredibly exciting area. And and the disciplines of
the 19th century disciplines are disappearing, so the interface between physics
and biology is disappearing. And and so, I would argue that there’s a whole
spectrum from biology to fundamental physics and in in the kind of physics that
If you ask me what are the sort of growth areas, one is manipulating quantum
systems. We can manipulate quantum systems like we could never do before. Some
of it involves quantum computers. Some of it involves making new materials that
might do just what you wanted to do. Of course, astrophysics is a And cosmology
are growth areas because we have all these new tools.
Ultimately, though, I think what, you know, I would come back
and say what well, I would say When students ask me where they should go to
graduate school, I often say go to a school that has a lot of different
programs So you can see what you might like.
Then it’s, I often say it’s more important who you work with
than what you work on because your adviser and you develop that relationship.
Since we’re in the Air and Space Museum, the best one in the world, I wanna,
run a topic by you. This one I call the Von Karman line, which is loosely
defined. People are here more expert than me, but it’s loosely defined as a
boundary between space and Yeah. And the Earth’s atmosphere. And it seems to me
that, you know, kind of the The most pressing problems that that are, being
approached by physicists, and you worked on some of these, all happen below the
Von Karman line, and I’m talking about nuclear war. I’m talking about,
pandemics that spread through atmosphere transmission And, and Climate change.
And climate change.
So you’ve written books on at least 2 of the 3 of these things.
I await your biophysics, book, which is undoubtedly being worked on as we
speak. But but of these things, can you rank them? Or is does what you were I
should say the The, chairman of the board of atomic science, of the Bolton of
Atomic Scientists, which is one of the foremost agencies founded by
uncle. I’m a I’m a Einstein, so I was very honored to have the
the same position as them. Yeah. What keeps you up at night?
I mean, I often say, You know, the problem with physics is that
we saved the world. You know, we we created the atomic bomb, but that that’s a
bit been that’s not Clear of it. Einstein deeply regretted it. Oppenheimer had
some regrets. It’s not really clear exactly what he regretted. You and Shelly
Glasshow written about this. Pandemics.
Science has made the world a better place. To deny that, I
think, is ridiculous. People in this audience are alive who would not be alive
to be here A 100 years ago if it weren’t for science. And more people eat and
are are are able to survive and live a higher quality of life because of
science. We could do amazing things. We can communicate around the world. We
can we can experience things we could never experience. Someone with a with a
phone and even a poor village in In African experience parts of the world, they
never could experience before, where most people, the world never for most of
human history, never walked more than 10 kilometers from where they lived.
Yeah. And, of course, along with technology can come problems.
And how we address that is, is unfortunately not a scientific question. It’s a
political question. So the politics of dealing with these questions is much
harder than the scientific ones. The technologies of dealing with climate
change are much easier To consider then the politics of implementing them. I
never rank things, and and all of those things Concern me, I think nuclear war
is still, in my mind, the the the Most immediate, and and it it gets poor well,
maybe now it’s not, but it it it amazes me that people sort of, As you know, I
or may know, you know, I I wrote I written for lots of newspapers over the
years. And every time I wrote an article about nuclear war.
War nuclear weapons. It had the least response of any of any of
the pieces I wrote. I think people don’t wanna think about it, But people don’t
realize that there are it right now, a thou at least a 1000 warheads in the
United States and Russia that are on trigger hair alert, but ready to be
launched and if a perceived signal of another launch is perceived. And and and
that also, As people did learn when when that guy was president a few years
ago, the command and control infrastructure of this country is such the only
person Who can issue a launch for order the launch to the government? This is
the president. And no other organization. No. He doesn’t have to go by anyone
else. There’s no other individual who can who could override that unless they
decide the president’s crazy.
But in the actual organization, There’s no there’s no, you know,
no other people are just gonna say, hold on. So I do think it’s amazing as it
it’s amazing that we’ve been around for 70 some odd years Without the use of
nuclear weapons and maybe mutually assured destruction is is part of the
reason, but it’s a it’s a problem, and it’s a problem we could address, but
it’s a political problem. But, you know, saying that scientists create the
problem you know, Steve Pinker had a great analogy. He said it’s like it’s like
blaming architects for Dachau. You know, he had to have architects to design
the concentration camps. Is is is our concentration camps a necessary product
of architecture? No. And so I think I think it’s really You have to think about
it carefully before you point those fingers. Before I wanna ask you a question
over for a second.
You you asked me, What people should know. What do you think
people should? What as an experimentalist, do you think people should, you
know, what do you think people should know And and and and when in science in
Oh, I mean, I think for me, the most important things that that
people should have as a scientist, first of wall. Speak to that first is
humility. But I don’t think you can only have humility. I think you need a
little bit of, I call it, swagger. Maybe it’s arrogance that you could actually
attempt to take on problems that even Einstein was unable to solve. And
hopefully, know, maybe even people in this room can approach and solve it and
it’s not an exclusive sect of a high priesthood that can’t be approached except
by the ordained, members of a certain sec. But I also think that we should also
not fool ourselves. We’re mostly wrong.
I mean, it’s amazing how much we’ve been able to do, You know,
to come in, in a few decades to, you know, from the 1st transistor. If you look
at the 1st transistor embedded in 1956, the 1st practical transistor Shockley,
Bardeen, etcetera. It looks like, the following say, go and get some bazooka
bubblegum, chew it up, and go down to the dry cleaner and get wire hanger and
stick it together on a piece of rock, and that’s exactly what it looks like.
Yeah. And now each and every one of you has 14,000,000,000 of them in your
pocket right now,
maybe the kids, but maybe, you know, maybe they even do it now.
I let my kids out. And they know how to use it better than you
That’s right. When I I first got worried about technology when
One of my kids was looking at me, and I was just staring into her beautiful
eyes as only a 3 year old could could have this perfect innocent face, and And
then she reached up to touch me, and I was welling on the tears, and then and
then she tried to swipe and and, you know, change the change my image. But but
I think that we should know that, you know, you need to be we need to be
humble. We’re off and wrong, but the progress gets made, you know,
exponentially, and we just are not capable of thinking with our linear limited
brains of the pace of change, and I think that is the hardest thing. I think
scientists the public should know That a good scientist should often say as
your tutor, as your mentor, Richard Feynman said. You know, science is the
belief in the ignorance of experts, Not the knowledge, not the wisdom, but the
ignorance that actually Lawrence wouldn’t have been able to create this concept
of dark energy had Someone got into it first or been right that there actually
is no such thing as dark energy, so you’ve doubted that person. It was Einstein
at one point, And you proved that wrong or you conjecture that he indeed may be
wrong. I think that’s incredibly powerful that you have to realize science is
done by people And human beings despite the contrary.
Yeah. And, you know, the first I said it the other day, the
first 3 words in the book are are the most important Words in science are I
don’t know. They but but, actually, what we really should get across you’ve
made a good point. Most ideas are wrong. Most experiments are wrong when
they’re first done, and that’s okay. The press never gets that. I I I was
castigating the press the the other day, No. Because they all you know, someone
gets an absurd result and their university doc press office sends it out.
And then simply because most papers don’t have enough money to
have science report anymore, the science report has just take the press release
and publish it. And it’s nonsense. And you read it as a scientist, and you know
it’s nonsense. And then and then it’s wrong, but no one ever writes that story
later on. They just show. Another result that disagrees with it, and it gives
people the idea that science is is faddish. If you weren’t wrong most of the
time, anyone could do science. I mean, that’s But but but anyone can
do science. Right? I mean, it shouldn’t be this exclusive thing
that’s only populated by Einstein, and it doesn’t mean that you guys can out
there, you know, Einstein says a lot of things. Right? One of the things he
says was imagination is more important than all. But, you know, I don’t know
about you. When I go to my, you know, gastroenterologist, I don’t wanna say,
I’m the one that’s new procedure I’ve been waiting to try.
Would you mind if I imagine it on no. But but I do think it’s it
is important to have, we don’t want people mistake this. They they everybody,
have you heard Famously, Eisenhower’s farewell address where he warned about
the dangers of What did he talk about? He talked about The military industrial
complex. Industrial complex. That very same farewell speech, he warned about
the dangers of a technological scientific elite That would do things to promote
their own interests and keep it shielded. And I often say that you and I, as
every scientist who’s paid by the public, has a moral obligation to share he
what he or she does. Not to be professional communicators like, you know, Neil
deGrasse Tyson or, you know, Michio Kaku or whoever you like, Gen 11 or
somebody, but but but who should give back to some proportion of what they’ve
received from the public. You know, Look.
I I’ve spent
a lot of my life explaining science, and I and I and I enjoy
doing it, and I’m I actually think what young sign because the young people who
wanna Do what I’m doing, say say how do how do how can I do what you’re doing?
And I always say to them, do good science. If you’re a young scientist and
you’re a good scientist, what you should do Spend your time in science. Now if
you’re interested in in reaching the public and explaining things, the more
science you do, the better more opportunities you’ll have to then reach out.
But but I think most scientists actually do want to but feel uncomfortable.
It’s very the first time you you talk out, Academia is a very safe environment.
People that pretend it isn’t, but it is. It’s an ultimately self it’s a it’s a
the safest environment. And so when you go out in the public, it can be
terrifying, and I understand that.
And so I don’t think everyone should be in fact, I remember when
the National Science Foundation once Had some requirement. I when I was chair
of of CASE, where you went, young faculty I have come in, they’d apply for
these awards from the National Science Foundation, And they’d they’d have to
have a part of their plan, which was an outreach plan. Now I’m a big believer
in outreach, But this was nonsense because these got people who were postdocs.
They’d never been involved in outreach. They did they were really interested in
doing their work, and they come up with these cockamamie plans, None of which
ever happened, and and I think forcing them to do that is crazy. There are
people who are talented at it and naturally like to do it like anything else
and will do a good job. But they’re most they’re many of my colleagues, I would
far prefer not have a, The public would be better off if they didn’t hear them.
So we talked about a lot of things. A few more minutes the 2 of
us can chat about. Prerequisite for most podcasts, talk about I, but also talk
about something that has those two letters AI, and that’s aliens. I haven’t
talked to you about this very much. No.
I’m gonna do I’m gonna do an event in New York on on December
1st, not debating because I stopped debating UFO people, I’m having a dialogue
with a guy named Nick Pope, who’s, who was the MI six British guy who would who
Who looked at yeah. He looked at, unidentified objects, and so
Wasn’t he the inspiration for discussion x
files or something?
Yeah. Anyway, what was that?
I think he was, inspiration allegedly late for somebody in the X
Files, a Mulder, or Scully. I may I may have
been Mulder. I hope it was hope it was Scully and not Mulder.
well, let’s talk about that. So One thing that’s always bemused
me maybe is the fact that the public’s fascination did sort of start to, You
know, initiate around the time of the atomic bomb program, right after and it
was in the same part of the country. Roswell is not far from Alamogordo and
from, Los Alamos. So what do you make of this recent resurgence? Give it what
do you make of the testimony in the in the and I had one of my friends who’s
here tonight, a fighter pilot in the US Navy Who, did a podcast with another
fighter pilot who who claims to have encountered, certain things or have
eyewitness reports about that. But what do you make of all this? Is it
important? Is it just funny?
What Simon said, and I’ve always subscribed to this. He said, I
think, you know, UFOs are aliens. UFOs being a tribute to aliens. It’s kind of
amazing when you think about it. So you see something up in the sky. You don’t
know what it is. It’s immediately aliens. Okay.
Now, let me give 2 aspects at the what Feynman said is I think
UFOs are more likely, and I the other day, I was explaining to the audience
that physicist say more likely or less likely. We don’t but UFOs are much more
likely due to the known irrationality of humans Rather than the unknown
rationality of aliens. And he said that because, if you think about it and I
guess one of my books, I think, beyond Star Trek, I talked about this a great
night. Almost anything you can think of, regardless of how absurd it may seem
as an explanation of what people may see out there, is more likely than it’s
it’s aliens coming here to to to Earth. So almost anything you can think of is
more likely. The laws of physics are such The known laws of physics forget the
unknown laws of physics. The known laws of physics put constraints that make it
so unlikely That anything you could think of is like the magic bullet in the
Kennedy assassination. Anything is more likely than it that it’s aliens.
And I the way I I like to think of it this way, to To come for
an alien spaceship powered by fuel inside the spaceship, to come here from a
distant star at nearest light speed Would require harnessing essentially the
power output of a star. I have a hard time thinking they come all the way here
To abduct patients of some Harvard psychiatrist and do kinky experiments on
them. I mean, it just seems like a big waste of time to me.
So it’s almost 8 o’clock. Yeah. Let me ask
you 1 question. It’s almost 8 o’clock we should end. I do wanna
ask you 1 question of an experimental question You got to ask me a bunch here,
but I did wanna say, what experimentally and and it gives you a chance to maybe
talk about your own work too, but what experimentally do you think Is the neck
what technology is gonna be most useful in in your area of physics or in
physics in general that you’re aware of?
Yeah. So, you know, I’m a experimental cosmologist, which means
I build universes in the lab or die. I don’t have to build universes. We build
telescopes that Have technology to do it like Galileo did with the telescope to
reveal things deeper and farther and, more exotic than what we could perceive
close to home. And the project that I’m privileged to be leading is called the
Simons Observatory, which is a $100,000,000 bus experiment in the high Atacama
Desert of Chile, Where we are going to attempt to be the 1st instrument to do
something that’s never been done before, which is to measure the actual spark
That ignited the big bang, and it it assures some properties in common with
dark energy, that Lawrence mentioned earlier, but it couldn’t provide A whole
host of cosmic observables that would answer a lot of questions that
cosmologists and lay people have had. And one of my philosophies as a as a As
an adviser to my students is reach, you know, reach for the stars as Casey
Cason said, but keep your feet on the ground. And and that to me means, do
something really ambitious, like measure what actually banged. Who banged? She
No. I don’t know if she banged.
But but Let’s keep it.
Yeah. We’ll keep it clean.
It’s where, famous pops on. But the question is, is there
something safe that you also get no matter what. And for us, that’s measuring
the mass of these ghostly particles called neutrinos that we’ve known about for
a 100 years.
This is neat, but I would like you but what I really would like
you to do because it’s it’s these are these now people say this is great, but
why don’t you say How are you gonna do it? I think that’s that’s really
because, you know, what techno you know, I know, but I think it’s worth
explaining what your what the Simons observer do So
I’ll do I’ll do a little demo here. So I brought a handy dandy
flashlight, which you can now please see in the back. I won’t blind you. It has
a blinding mode, which is kinda cool. If Lawrence gets out of hand, I’ll blow
oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to blast you. So if you have a light source, you can
use that light source to illuminate everything, Not only about where the light
source itself was created, but everything it encounters along the way. Here
it’s my finger or here it’s this, vodka Coke.
No. No. It’s just plain Coke. And and so you can learn about it
by by knowing something about the source of light and its and its primitive
state and then how it has been transformed by the medium, the material along
its path, If you can detect it. So we build the most sensitive detectors ever
made that can see literally off this flashlight on the moon in in appropriate
units, from here in on the planet Earth,
we don’t have to launch
a satellite. It’s not like the web telescope. It’s much much
less expensive, although pretty expensive. And we cool down these ultra
sensitive detectors instead of, like, your eye, Galileo’s eye looking through a
telescope. We look to telescopes with Very, very sensitive, highly
sophisticated quantum devices called superconducting bolometers. And we build
those here in San Diego. We ship them down to Chile. They just set up their 1st
astronomical image of the moon, and if you saw it, you’d be hardly impressed
because it just looks like almost like, like a bell curve, and that’s about it.
But That’s the 1st wispy indications that we are on the right
track to actually unveil both the properties of the extremely early universe
and then the late universe, neutrinos, Exotic particles, forces, fields,
energy, and matter. And what’s really fun is we get paid to really Not to prove
people like Lawrence right, but to actually prove everybody else wrong,
perhaps. And then the last woman or man standing, the Apsiri, is the one That
for a provisional period of time is entitled to enjoy some attention until some
other theory comes along and experiment to supplant it. So it’s to me, it’s the
most exciting time to be. There’s many other telescopes, Vera Rubin, Nancy
Grace Observatory, space and ground.
Yeah. As a theorist, I I mean and this would happen, as I say,
well after I graduated. But the other thing that’s worth important saying to
the students and everyone else too Is I I certainly learned a lot more physics
after I got my PhD than I did before. And I learned a lot about experimental
physics because to me, it fascinates me. And I remember before you were even a
student at CAES, just talking about the importance of bolometers, and and we
proposed bolometers to look for dark matter, and it was amazing to me to see
what you could do with, you know, superconducting technology and bolometers.
But by the same token, that’s why I’m a theorist because that was 40 years ago.
Yeah. And then all the experiments just have to work for 40 years, and I just
have to write the paper in 1985, and I could do go do something else.
So Thank you,
thanks for watching part 1 of my very special conversation with
Lawrence Krauss. After our conversation concluded at the San Diego Air space
museum. We did a wonderful q and a session with the 100 or so members of the
audience. But to get access to that, You’ll need to subscribe to my mailing
list at briankkeeting.com. You’ll also be eligible to enter a drawing to win a
real piece of 4,000,000,000 year old space schmutz, a meteorite, a real piece
of our early solar system’s history. And if you have an e d u email dress. You
automatically win. So to get 1, if you have an EDU address, go to
briaynekeeting.com/edu and enter your email to win a real chunk of our early
Looking forward to seeing you in the q and a session.