Ingenious: Alan Lightman
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I felt connected not only to the stars but to all of nature, and to the entire cosmos. I felt a merging with something far larger than myself, a grand and eternal unity a hint of something absolute.

The Accidental Universe

Below is a sampling of the questions posed to Lightman during the event. His answers have been edited for clarity. How did this experience carry over into other parts of your life and the way you view the world? I think the experience affects me as as a human being, though not necessarily as as a scientist. But I think that that we are capable of both science and art. We do experiments and we also experience the world and as a human being. I want to be open to these kinds of experiences even if I can't quantify them. When I had that experience in the boat looking up at the sky, you could have connected every one of my billion neurons to a computer and write out the electrical impulse from all of them.

And you still would not have been able to understand the experience, this feeling of being connected to something larger than myself. But, paradoxically, I remain a materialist. I remain committed to the material world.

So it's this tension between the material and the immaterial that is that part of my life — and I imagine many of yours. It fuels my creativity and my excitement about being alive in the world. And the flight of the imagination. I wrote the book when I was in my late thirties. I needed to live a lot longer and experience more and understand more about what was meaningful to me. So in terms of what was the evolution, it is simply that I lived longer.

I think the longer that you live, the more questions you have about the world. It's a product of maturation, of what has meaning for yourself and your society. And I don't think that many year-olds ask questions like that. As we get older we begin wondering what it all means and thinking about the bad turns we've taken in life and so on.

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So it's a book that represents more maturity. In your book you suggest a way of proposing a peace between science and religion. Well I think that all statements about the physical universe, even statements in the sacred books or statements by religious institutions, have to be subject to analysis by science and have to be subject to experimental tests and rejected if found to disagree with evidence. And I think the physical world is the province of science, whereas everything else — and I do think there is something else — is the province of spirituality or religion and for me spirituality is a very personal experience.

I'm not talking about organized religion but I'm talking about this very vital immediate feeling of being connected to something larger than ourselves, as I described in that short reading I gave. And no one can deny the validity of a transcendent experience that you've had. In this lecture, Alan Lightman draws on his unique personal experience as both a physicist and a novelist to discuss the similarities and differences in the way that the sciences and the arts approach the world, their different conceptions of truth, their different methodologies, and the similarities in their creative process.

For example, all questions in science have definite answers, while questions in the arts and often the humanities do not have definite answers—and sometimes no answer at all. In this lecture, Alan Lightman discusses the differences between science and religion in their beliefs, in truth and knowledge—in the ways we obtain those beliefs and knowledge—and in recognized authority.

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He looks at the differences between the spiritual and physical worlds. Central to most scientific beliefs is impersonal testing in the external world. Science and religion differ profoundly in the process of revision: all knowledge in science is considered provisional, subject to test and proof.

About This Game

Alan Paige Lightman is an American physicist and writer. He has served on the faculties of Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is. Alan Lightman (Memphis, Tennessee, ) é um físico, romancista e ensaísta estadunidense. Obteve seu bacharelado magna cum laude em física da.

Science does, however, have one very important belief that is not subject to proof: belief that the physical world is governed by logic and laws, and that those laws hold everywhere and at every time in the universe. Thus, in this sense, both science and religion work on a kind of faith.

Art and science have long enjoyed a fruitful partnership da Vinci, anyone? In Harper's this month, theoretical physicist and novelist Alan Lightman asks: What exactly is As the co-founder of innovation consultancy Innosight, Mark Johnson helps leaders envision their For two decades, Thinkers50 has been recognizing the very best in management thinking.

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This year, Blog Posts. In the physical realm, nothing persists. Nothing lasts. Nothing is indivisible.

Seeing Things

Nothing is a whole. Nothing is indestructible. Nothing is still. If the physical world were a novel, with the business of examining evil and good, it would not have the clear lines of Dickens but the shadowy ambiguities of Dostoevsky.

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The Absolutes and the Relatives can be considered a large frame in which to view the dialogue between religion and science, or between spirituality and science. But I suggest that the issues go deeper, into the dualism and complexity of human existence. We are idealists and we are realists. We are dreamers and we are builders. We are experiencers and we are experimenters. We long for certainties, yet we ourselves are full of the ambiguities of the Mona Lisa and the I Ching. We ourselves are a part of the yin-yang of the world. Our yearning for absolutes and, at the same time, our commitment to the physical world reflect a necessary tension in how we relate to the cosmos and relate to ourselves.


Preview an Edge video. The subject was cosmology, and Einstein was poised to make one of the more momentous statements in the history of science. You start going around in circles, and you start getting upset. Jeff Behl Nov 21 at pm. Anything else? And both of them completely overthrew contemporary thinking--at a young age, I should add.

When I was seven or eight years old, growing up in landlocked Memphis, I visited my grandparents for a week at their little beach house in Miami. One dark and moonless night as I sat at the end of their dock, for some reason known only to children I grabbed a stick and stirred up the ocean beneath me.

I was astonished to see the water shimmer with light. To my mind, the ocean was already a mysterious place, with its changing colors, its infinite gray skin stretching out to the sky, and its waves flowing in one after another, like the breathing of some large sleeping animal. But the glow of the seawater was magic of a different order. My imagination flared.

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Was this fairy dust? Was this some kind of galactic energy?

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Excited, I ran into the house and commandeered my grandparents to witness the discovery. Again I stirred the water with my wand, and it happened again. Pure magic. I scooped up some of the supernatural liquid in a glass jar and took it into the house for further inspection. What I did find, after the water settled, were tiny organisms floating about. In a dark room, they glowed faintly like fireflies. They felt slightly grainy in my hand. I was crestfallen. The magic was just little bugs in the water.

That dual fascination with wonder and reverence for fact never left Lightman. He reflects sixty years later:. I know each cedar and poplar, each clump of beach rose, Rosa rugosa , each patch of blueberry bushes and raspberry brambles and woody stems of hydrangeas, all the soft mounds of moss, some of which I touch on my ramblings today. The tart scent of raspberries blends with the salty sea air.

Early this morning, a fog enveloped the island so completely that I felt as if I were in a spaceship afloat in outer space — white space. But the surreal fog, made of minuscule water droplets too tiny to see, eventually evaporated and disappeared. Shining sea water, fog, sunsets, stars. All material.

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So grand is the material that we find it hard to accept it as merely material… Surely, there must be more. It is almost as if Nature in her glory wants us to believe in a heaven, something divine and immaterial beyond nature itself. In other words, Nature tempts us to believe in the supernatural. For millennia, we have been aiming our range of tools — from mythology to science — at this paradox, but remain suspended between Absolutes and Relatives even as we make progress in fathoming the reality of nature on its own terms.

Lightman writes:. Nature may at times appear to be a Painter or a Philosopher or a Celestial Spirit. But deep down she is a Scientist. She is quantitative. She is logical. And nothing better illustrates her ruthless and unyielding adherence to that logic than the law of the conservation of energy. Energy does not appear out of nothing. Energy does not disappear into nothing. The energy law is a sacred cow of physics. Two thousand years ago, the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius suggested that the power of the gods over us mortals is limited by the constancy of atoms.

Atoms could not be created or destroyed, said Lucretius. The poet did not know how to tally up the number of atoms, as we tally up the number of joules in a box, but something was constant, and that constancy clearly provided great psychological comfort as well as understanding of nature. Let the gods and the supernatural have their sway, but they cannot alter the number of atoms here in our earthly world. Lightman observes that when modern physics arrived at the law of conservation of energy, affirmed by the discovery of the neutrino , it provided the same psychological comfort:.