Let’s Get Physic-al: Two Brians, the Expanding Universe, and Junior High Romance

I have a thing for physics.  A very complicated thing.

Physics can be thrilling, beautiful, and wondrous.  It makes me feel hopeful.  Physics can also be baffling, contradictory, and impossible.  It makes me feel stupid.

It is a perfect analogy for my first junior high school romance.

So it was with a 13-year-old’s sense of awe and dread that I went uptown to see Brian Greene speak about “Searching for the Deep Laws of Nature” at the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series.  Brian is professor of physics and mathematics and sometime NOVA host on PBS who has sold gazillions of books, including The Elegant Universe, a Pulitzer Prize finalist.


Brian Greene by Lois Greenfield in the Spring 2006 Columbia Magazine

None of that mattered.  He had me at “Deep Laws of Nature.”

Brian Greene is a star (not in the cosmological sense) and draws a crowd, so the auditorium was packed with a few hundred people jamming both the main floor and the balcony.  The crowd was mostly medical students and faculty, and it looked like a scrubs-and-backpacks convention.

When Brian explained that his work is all about trying to understand beautiful concepts  that are beyond our ability to measure, a very serious young doctor behind me muttered “That is so weird, but so cool.”

When he explained Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity as
simply as if it was the way to open a combination lock (turn to the left, turn to the right, turn to the left: Gravity), the person next to me audibly gasped.

And when he explained that the past, present and future actually exist in the universe at the same time (Einstein called the distinction between them “a stubbornly persistent illusion”), I think I actually heard the sound of minds blowing.  But that may just have been mine.

It was another great example of the amazing (literally) things that are available to us within Columbia on any given day.

The Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series is a set of annual talks by faculty in the Humanities, Basic Sciences and Clinical Sciences for CUMC audiences.  Past speakers include Sylvia Nasar, Simon Schama, Fred Friendly, and Eric Kandel.

There is a lot more about Brian Greene at www.briangreene.org.

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