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“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” ― Albert Einstein

Knowledge versus imagination. Einstein spent the latter part of his life pursuing a “single, all encompassing theory of the universe.”  He wanted to able to describe all of nature’s forces – to explain it all. He didn’t find it.

James Taylor sings in “Secret of Life

Now the thing about time
Is that time isn’t really real.
It’s just your point of view,
How does it feel for you?
Einstein said he
Could never understand it all.
Planets spinning through space,
The smile upon your face,
Welcome to the human race.

That Einstein quote at the top of this article continues “…for knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Imagination is often the pathway to increasing knowledge.

It is interesting that astronomy experiments now might test an idea of Einstein’s that he proposed almost exactly a century ago. It has been a longstanding question of why the Universe is expanding at an accelerated rate. Calculations in a new study could help to explain whether dark energy, as required by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, or a revised theory of gravity are responsible.

Einstein wasn’t a big fan of a lot of the physics that came at the end of his life, and would probably not be a fan of string theory.

Brian Greene is a professor of mathematics and physics at Columbia University who is probably best-known to the public for his NOVA television specials. He is one of the best “explainers” of this deep science. He explains string theory and I can understand it – until he stops explaining it and I have to tell someone else what he meant. The idea of minuscule filaments of energy vibrating in eleven dimensions that make up the “fabric of space.. and create every particle and force in the universe” is not easy to understand or accept.

String theory fills in the gaps of Newtonian physics, especially regarding how gravity works, and Einstein’s Unification Theory depends on the existence of extra dimensions, which contain these filaments and some string theorists posit that there are at least eleven dimensions. For all of us used to living in four dimensions, that is tough to imagine.

James Gates is known for work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. When he was asked about Einstein’s statement that “imagination is more important than knowledge,” he said“For a long time in my life, imagination was the world of play. It was reading about astronauts, and monsters, and traveling in galaxies, all of that kind of stuff, invaders from outer space on earth. That was all in the world of the imagination. On the other hand, reality is all about us. And it’s constraining, and it can be painful. But the knowledge we gain is critical for our species to survive.”

 


Brain Greene on string theory

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As a person who has read a lot about time travel, and who still plans to do some time traveling one day, I was pleased to see Brian Greene’s simple explanation of traveling into the future. I have been thinking about this since I was a kid and read the Classics Illustrated comic book version of H.G. Wells The Time Machine. Those comics led me on to many classic novels and to the library to find books about topics like time travel.

When it comes to time travel, there’s a misconception  – one that most of you are probably aware of – that’s important to clarify: It is only time travel to the past that’s speculative and, as many physicists anticipate, will one day be ruled out by a deeper understanding of physics.

Time travel to the future, by contrast, is an established part of modern understanding. As I briefly describe in the video below, Einstein showed us how you can — at least in principle — travel as far into the future as you’d like.

There are “technological/engineering” obstacles to doing so — the difficulties of achieving sufficiently high speed or traveling to the edge of a black hole — but the laws of physics themselves are unequivocal: time travel to the future is possible.

This video is part of World Science U, a new free digital education platform for teaching and learning science that I signed up for recently. Check it out at www.worldscienceu.com

There are other videos of Greene talking about time and answering questions about things like why the way we measure the passage of time using clocks and watches is merely an attribute of time, not its essence.

I have always loved listening to Greene explain complicated theories of physics in ways that I can fully understand – until he stops talking and I have to explain it to someone else. Then, I am back to, if not square 1, at least square 3.

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