A Theoretical Physicist for the Rest of Us
Rare is the theoretical physicist and cosmologist who can engage the general public. Marcelo Gleiser, a professor of natural philosophy, physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College, is that guy. As an active promoter of science in the public sphere he is a co-founder of 13.7, a blog about science and culture published by National Public Radio. ( The blog name isn't arbitrary; 13.7 billion is the estimated age of the universe.)
Gleiser's blog topics range from the biggest universal questions — Could it All Come From Nothing? —to down-to-earth questions that might be asked by anyone whose vacation was interrupted by a text from the office — Does Technology Make You Freer?
Dartmouth recently announced the creation of the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement at Dartmouth (ICE) and Gleiser will be the the institute’s founding director. The institute will explore man's biggest questions — from the limits of human knowledge to the nature of time, consciousness, and reality itself — as it bridges the so-called two cultures that divide the sciences and the humanities.
“There are questions that scientists are dealing with right now that science alone cannot answer,” says Gleiser. The question of free will, for example, has traditionally been a problem for philosophers and theologians, but is increasingly a subject of inquiry in neuroscience. But scientists and humanists don’t always understand or listen to each other. “We speak very different languages,” Gleiser says.
But not always. Last year Krista Tippett hosted Gleiser and novelist Marilynne Robinson on her radio program "On Being" for what Tippett described as a "joyous, heady discussion of the mystery we are.” Gleiser and Robinson, says Tippett, are “both passionate about the majesty of science, and they share a caution about what they call our ‘modern piety’ toward science."
Required Reading: Gleiser's latest book, The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning, delves into this arena. (Watch him discuss the book the book in this Google Talk video.)