Historically, physicists have busied themselves with trying to understand the laws and workings of the universe; now they might have even more work ahead.
Brian Greene, leading theoretical physicist and best-selling author, will be the first morning lecturer for Week One, “Our Elegant Universe.” Since the publication of Greene’s 1999 book The Elegant Universe — from which the week’s theme takes its name — there have been numerous developments in theoretical physicists’ understanding of the cosmos. These developments will be at the center of Greene’s 10:45 a.m. lecture today in the Amphitheater.
“I will describe how recent work toward a unified theory such as string theory has led us to consider a highly speculative idea,” Greene said. “That our universe may not be the only universe, that we may live in what we call a multiverse.”
Fredo Villasenor Villaseñor
Greene is at the forefront of research in superstring theory. He is the co-founder and director of Columbia University’s Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics. He also hosted the PBS series “The Fabric of the Cosmos.”
Through his lecture, Greene hopes to give those at Chautauqua Institution a glimpse of what is happening on the cutting edge of theoretical physics. He also wants the audience to recognize that many fields, such as quantum physics, string theory, computer science and philosophy, have all led to the same idea: There might be other universes.
“In no way does that mean that the idea is correct, but it does suggest this is an idea worthy of intense investigation,” Greene said in a 2012 interview with the Royal Society, a London-based fellowship of scientists. “If it is correct, we’re talking about the greatest upheaval ever in our understanding of how reality is constructed.”
In his most recent book, The Hidden Reality, Greene notes that there is still no hard evidence for the existence of a multiverse.
“Determining whether any of these ideas go beyond mathematical musings of the human mind will require more insight, knowledge, calculation, experiment, and observation than we’ve so far achieved,” he wrote.
Greene’s work suggests one must remain open to the products of future research and be willing to step outside of conventional ideas and frameworks.
Sherra Babcock, Institution vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, believes that Greene was the best possible choice for the week’s first speaker.
“His ability to explain complicated topics like string theory in a clear, understandable way — that non-scientists can understand and that scientists appreciate — will provide an excellent base for the week’s discussions,” Babcock said.