Brian Greene

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is an American theoretical physicist and string theorist. He has been a professor at Columbia University since 1996 and chairman of the World Science Festival since co-founding it in 2008.

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BrianGreeneHere519 karma

Tough question of course. But as I don't think there's free will, I'm compelled to answer it.

Clearly, there's much about reality we don't understand. But based on the current laws of physics, there's just no room for human intervention, no room for what we usually call "free will". We are all collections of particles that fully play by the rules of physics. There's no place that we can step in and change the course of how those particles -- you and I -- evolve. The SENSATION of free will is real, of course. But that's all it is--a sensation.

BrianGreeneHere289 karma

Thanks for the question--and apologies if this sounds like a shameless plug. But the project I am just about to launch, World Science U, is meant in part to fill this need. The idea is to create next-generation online science courses which make the abstract ideas of science visual, interactive, and exciting. We are starting with two pilot courses on Einstein's special relativity--one is purely conceptual and the other is mathematical. All are filled with animations that show how time slows and space compresses, and so on. In time, we will add other courses in math, physics and the other sciences too, biology, chemistry, astronomy. You should check it out.

BrianGreeneHere225 karma

Here's my view: There is no way for science to rule out a god, so when (some) scientists claim that religion is nonsense, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice. We garner applause from those who already hold the same perspective and disdain from those who don't. That kind of talk changes very few minds.

On the other hand, science can, and should, and does, and must argue forcefully that as a description of the natural world, science is our most powerful tool. Science is the future of a living, breathing, thriving culture.

So we need to make sure that everyone keeps straight the relevant domains. Religion--teach it in classes on theology, practice it in sacred halls. Science--teach it in the science class, practice it as a means of understanding and controlling nature.

Don't bring religion into the science class.

So, is it a big deal? Yes, but we're on it.

BrianGreeneHere215 karma

Yes. But I'm open to being proved wrong. I'm excited by the possibility that in the future, physics will teach us that there's another way to think about reality.

(Note: Quantum mechanics IS a deterministic theory. What it determines, though, are probabilities.)

BrianGreeneHere213 karma

Yeah--that's one of the difficulties with making the Many Worlds approach to quantum mechanics work. If it is true, we would be 100% certain that there would be worlds in which the inhabitants would witness outcomes that would NOT provide support for the predictions of quantum mechanics itself.

Those who develop these ideas want to prove that such worlds are RARE in some well defined sense of the term. But as you've already pointed out, that's pretty challenging to do.

BrianGreeneHere200 karma


If you study quantum mechanics and your head doesn't hurt, make sure someone takes your pulse. You may no longer be with us.

BrianGreeneHere169 karma

I think we teach the details of science without providing a parallel focus on the big, amazing ideas which those details allow us to understand. It's like teaching music by having the student only learn scales and never hear Beethoven. That's not to say that some teachers are fantastic. But overall, this is the big problem.

BrianGreeneHere161 karma

For me, it's pretty simple: I am totally grossed out by the idea of eating an animal. Started when I was 9 yrs old and my mom cooked spare ribs. I was a city kid and to me meat was just another thing that you bought at the supermarket. Had no idea meat was from animals. But when I saw those ribs, tasted that flesh--I was done with meat. (My mom still thinks that if she'd only used her other recipe....)

But I'm not an activist about being vegan. It's just what I do. I don't try to convince anyone else to do the same. (Except my kids who routinely act out for their friends the death throes of a chicken being slaughtered. Doesn't make me popular with the parents).

BrianGreeneHere137 karma

In this universe, I'd go with the horse-sized multiverse. But ask the the Brian Greene in one of the other universes and he may feel differently.

BrianGreeneHere127 karma

Yup, right you are. But here's the amazing thing: If you do indeed interact with that electron before it hits the detector screen, you will gain information about its trajectory, and by so doing you will SPOIL the double slit interference pattern. The universe is sharp: if you try to access information you "shouldn't" have, the experiment will show traces of your meddling. The interference pattern won't form.