Sunday Funnies #11

The latest strip from Calamities of Nature.

The Most Astounding Fact

Late last night, I received a link to this video from one of my former students, and as my daughter and I have been spending a great deal of time looking at the heavens through our telescope lately, it seemed perfectly appropriate and too good not to pass along.

In this short clip Neil deGrasse Tyson answers the question, “What is the most astounding fact that you can share with us about the Universe?” His answer reminds us that we a part of this magnificent and incredible universe… all of us. It’s the same message that Sagan had when he said that “we are star-stuff,” or when said that “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself. We are creatures of the cosmos and always hunger to know our origins, to understand our connection with the universe.”

When I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up – many people feel small, ’cause they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big because my atoms came from those stars.

So as Jack Horkheimer used to say “keep looking up!” And when you do, feel big.

A Universe from Nothing

In an interview with ABC in 2010, Diane Sawyer asked Stephen Hawking the following question, “If the universe gave you a gift tomorrow, an answer, what’s the answer you most want?” In response, Hawking, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday, stated,

I want to know why the universe exists. Why there is something rather than nothing.

In seeming response to this question, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss’s new book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, is being released today.

"We are all, literally, star children, and our bodies made of stardust."

I first read Krauss what seems like a lifetime ago when he published his book, Physics of Star Trek, and have, since then, continued to read his many works, my favorite being Quintessence (on the question of dark matter).  He recently published a book about Richard Feynman titled Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science, which although I’ve not yet read, is on my list. And now, as stated above, his new book was just released, inspired by an incredibly popular video of a talk he gave titled “A Universe from Nothing.”

Like Dawkins, Sagan, Hawking, and others, Krauss has become a strong voice for the skeptics and rationalists among us, and in this talk for the Richard Dawkins Foundation he does not disappoint. I think he’s quite successful in conveying the idea that a godless universe need not be a “scary” place. According to Krauss,

It motivates us to draw meaning from our own actions. . . and to make the most of our brief existence in the sun.

Here is the video that inspired the writing of this book.


Happy 70th Birthday Stephen Hawking!

"It surprises me how disinterested we are today about things like physics, space, the universe and philosophy of our existence, our purpose, our final destination. It’s a crazy world out there. Be curious."

From Reuters:

 The world’s best known living scientist, Stephen Hawking, was too ill to attend his 70th birthday celebrations Sunday but in a recorded speech urged people to “look up at the stars” and be curious about the universe.

Hawking, the author of the international bestseller “A Brief History of Time,” was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1963 and told he had barely two years to live. He has since been hailed as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein.

In the speech played out at a symposium in his honor at Cambridge University, he said his excitement and enthusiasm for his subject drove him on, and urged others to seek out the same inspiration.

“Remember to look up at the stars, not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious,” Hawking said in the speech he had been due to give in person.

Earlier today while visiting my father, the conversation turned to the telescope that “Santa” had brought for my daughter and me. As the conversation went on, my father reminded me that he used to take me to the planetarium on his visitation days, when I was still quite young. I think within a span of a just two or three years we must have gone at least once every three weeks or so. It was certainly there where my obsession with space and science began. That was in the 70s. In the 80’s I discovered Carl Sagan‘s Cosmos, and began looking through the larger telescope at our local science museum. It was as that passion began to mature that I first came across Stephen Hawking.

His book, A Brief History of Time was given to me late in high school, and reading it had me absolutely determined to study physics. I did, and although I never quite got around to completing that major (I finally settled in the history department), it has shaped the way that I have learned to look at the world.

So thank you, Dr. Hawking, and a very happy birthday to you. Your work continues to inspire me to live filled with that sense of curiosity and wonder that I have so often written about, and your life serves as a reminder to face the challenges that I am handed with the strength that you have always shown.

Here’s the first part of the PBS series Steven Hawking’s Universe.

Keep looking up at the stars, and enjoy!