‘Wonderfully weird’: Brian Greene takes on parallel universes
Best-selling author and physicist to give free talk Feb. 26 in Boulder
BOULDER, Colo. — At this very moment, there may be an infinite number of “you’s” in an infinite number of universes doing every conceivable thing all of you could ever possibly do.
That’s the kind of thing Brian Greene ponders not only in his day job as a scientist, but also as the foremost translator of the “wonderfully weird” concepts of theoretical physics for millions of curious non-scientists.
Take, for example, all those versions of you. Scientists aren’t yet sure whether the universe is infinitely large — though it’s a viable possibility, Greene says — but if it is, and matter is finite, then multiple “universes” are inevitable. Greene uses a deck of playing cards to explain.
“If you shuffle, there are only so many orderings that can occur,” he says. “If you shuffle enough times, the orders must repeat. So in an infinite universe with only a finite number of configurations of matter, the way in which matter arranges itself has to repeat.”
Greene will take his audience on a tour of the mind-bending science behind parallel universes — there currently are nine theories of how and why they might exist — when he gives the 48th George Gamow Memorial Lecture on Feb. 26 at Macky Auditorium. The lecture is named for the late theoretical physicist and early proponent of the big-bang theory who spent much of his career at the University of Colorado Boulder.
But don’t worry; you won’t need the brilliant science mind of one of your infinite doppelgangers to understand Greene’s talk, titled “The Hidden Reality: From Unification to Multiverse.” He presumes no physics background and will use professional animations to help illustrate all those quirky or counterintuitive concepts.
“I’ll definitely give background for people who perhaps don’t have any familiarity with the subject,” Greene says. “Animation has a wonderful capacity to give a visual sense of ideas that otherwise might be completely impenetrable. It’s a key way that someone with no background can leave the talk with at least a rough sense of the amazing things modern physics has revealed.”
Bringing the lofty concepts of theoretical physics down to earth has become Greene’s stock in trade. His book “The Elegant Universe” has sold more than a million copies. Both “The Fabric of the Cosmos” and his newest book, “The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos,” have spent many weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. He has been a frequent guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Charlie Rose, The Late Show with David Letterman and many other programs. He co-created and hosted a Peabody Award-winning, four-part NOVA series based on “The Fabric of the Cosmos.” He’s even made a guest appearance on the top-ranked, geek-glorifying television comedy, “The Big Bang Theory.”
“Just like George Gamow, Brian Greene is both a distinguished theoretical physicist and is outstanding at interpreting science for the general public,” says Paul Beale, chair of the Department of Physics at CU-Boulder. “His best-selling books and award-winning television series are changing the way the public thinks about science.”
Already one of the pre-eminent science superstars of his time, Greene says he has no desire to become the Dr. Oz of physics: “Mehmet is a friend, and it’s great what he’s doing. But being in the media does leave less time for pure, pristine, dedicated research.”
Still, Greene sees his media work as a mission of sorts. Though he’s concerned about the level of scientific literacy in the United States, he encounters thousands of people who are as taken by the “wonderfully weird” concepts of modern physics as any scientist.
“It’s exciting and gratifying when I talk to kids and find them so open to these ideas. I can tell them in detail about black holes or the big bang and I see their eyes open wide. They say, ‘Wait, that’s science?’ For many science is dry stuff in a textbook that they have to memorize,” he says. “But if we make the big ideas of science available to kids, they are ready, willing and able to go on the journey. It’s up to us to facilitate that through an educational system that does that.”
Greene says he’s still awed by the ideas of modern physics. Like a kid thinking about the ungraspable notion of infinity, he even finds himself lying awake some nights pondering the wondrous depths of reality.
“These are the same kinds of issues that have kept generations of people, stretching back thousands of years, wondering late at night; not just scientists but philosophers, poets, musicians and writers throughout the ages,” he says. “But now we have powerful tools of observation and mathematical theories that allow us to gain testable insight into these questions as opposed to conjecture.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: 48th George Gamow Memorial Lecture
WHO: Dr. Brian Greene, New York Times best-selling author, physicist and co-creator and host of the four-part NOVA special, “The Fabric of the Cosmos”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26
WHERE: Macky Auditorium, University of Colorado Boulder campus
TICKETS: Free and open to the public
INFO: http://phys.colorado.edu/welcome-department-physics or 303-492-6952