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Brian Greene Lecture
updated: Feb 26, 2013, 2:00 PM

By Robert Bernstein

Physicist Brian Greene sold out UCSB's Campbell Hall for his talk "Explaining the Elegant Universe." Greene is not only a respected researcher, but is also an engaging and entertaining ambassador of the field.

Here are my photos from the event.

Greene explained that Galileo and Newton pioneered the use of math to gain insights into the nature of reality. Even when the equipment to test the theory may not yet exist. This powerful technique succeeds to this day.

Sometimes the math leads in directions that seem impossible or absurd. Yet that is when the discoveries can be greatest.

Einstein was able to develop his theories of relativity by asking the kinds of questions a five year old might ask. "How does gravity really work?" for example. Then he let the math and the physics take him wherever they might go, however impossible the answers might seem.

The result was a world in which space itself warped to create what we call gravity. It was only later that a solar eclipse allowed the theory to be confirmed. By watching the sun's gravity warp the light path from a distant star.

Belgian priest and physicist Georges Lemaître radically applied Einstein's theory to the entire universe. He concluded the universe cannot be static. It must be expanding or contracting based on the raw math of general relativity. Einstein said Lemaître's math was brilliant, but the physics was abominable. Einstein should have realized not to dismiss the physics just because the result was surprising.

Lemaître was in fact correct. The universe was expanding, as Edwin Hubble discovered. And we now know of the force behind the expansion as "dark energy". Einstein's own equations allowed gravity to repel as well as to attract.

And this repulsive energy is so great that there is more than enough to drive our own big bang and cosmic expansion. There is enough left over to create bubbles of other universe creation.

Greene's original research is in string theory, the theory of the very small. But there are now vast numbers of different string theories. The idea of multiple universes gives a chance for each of these different theories to exist, each in its own universe!

Thus, the study of the very small connects with the study of the largest of all: The "multiverse" of all possible universes.

Not all physicists are so quick to resort to such radical solutions. But Greene said we should try to observe the existence of these other universes. What a great achievement that would be for our generation, to establish that ours is not the only universe, Greene concluded.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 378916 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-26 02:31 PM

He is smart - but does no constructive research in the very fields he is talking about. He is more of an entertainer than physicist/mathematician - where as Carl Sagan was both. His Cosmos series on PBS has yet to be matched. This whole debate on multi-verses is really more fluff that substance - I'd rather he focus more on quantum theory topics like the Higgs-Boson particle.


 MENEUSH agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-26 10:25 PM

Thanks for the lovely synopsis, so sorry I couldn't attend. The problem with not understanding most of these concepts is that the explanations all tend to sound like baloney, but the fault, and ignorance, is truly mine. There is the ground-breaking science, and then there is the attempted translation of the science for the lay public; both require genius. Thanks again...


 COMMENT 379515 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-27 03:53 PM

Thank you for the kind words regarding my synopsis. There are a number of challenges in the area of Greene's research.

Verifying these theories of string theory and of multiverses both seem beyond our current measurement abilities. But Greene is actively looking for signals that may be a result of universes interacting with each other. So it is not all speculation.

It is true that his publications peaked in the late 1990s. But he continues to publish within the past year. His 82 citeable papers have been cited 5,496 times. I think he is more than an armchair speculator and/or entertainer.

-- Robert


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