Theories of everything are everywhere.

March 11th, 2011

I didn’t find out about the 2011 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate on Theories of Everything at the Museum of Natural History in New York City until two days after the annual event when John Matson’s article, “String Query,” appeared in Scientific American online. Yesterday afternoon a Podcast of the entire discussion became available on the Museum’s web site.

Participants included:

Dr. Katherine Freese, professor of physics at the University of Michigan
Dr. Jim Gates, professor of physics at the University of Maryland-College Park
Dr. Janna Levin, professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College
Dr. Marcello Gleiser, professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College
Dr. Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University
Dr. Lee Smolin, theoretical physicist at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

It was Brian Greene who first introduced me to the theories of quantum physics in his three-part PBS NOVA series titled, “The Elegant Universe.” And Marcello Gleiser is someone I follow for his outspoken views on the subject of a single unifying theory that explains the nature of the physical universe. (see Brain Food Blog post dated 11/12/10)

I expect to satisfy my craving for controversial debate on the mysteries of physical existence tomorrow when my Brainiac friends and I attend a “Theories of Everything” roundtable and discussion at The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination. This panel will address the arguments of the differing existing theories and in the process clarify the problems inherent in forming such a single, unifying theory.

The roundtable participants will include:

David Albert, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. His research has centered on the foundations of quantum mechanics and the nature of time. He has published two books, Quantum Mechanics and Experience and Time and Chance, both published by Harvard University Press. He is currently at work on a book entitled After Physics.

Glennys Farrar, Collegiate Professor of Physics at New York University. She has made seminal contributions to particle physics, demonstrating that quarks are not just mathematical constructs but are actually physically present in protons, and pioneering the search for supersymmetry, now a primary goal of the Large Hadron Collider. The first woman to get a Ph. D. in Physics from Princeton University, Farrar served as Chair of the Physics Department and was Founder of the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics at NYU; she has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, on the faculty of Caltech, and spent sabbatical years at CERN, Princeton and Harvard among other appointments.

Charles Liu, Professor of Astrophysics at the City University of New York, College of Staten Island, and Associate in Astrophysics at the Hayden Planetarium and the American Museum of Natural History. His research focuses on the star formation history of the universe. He is the author of Black Holes, Quasars, Time Warps and The Handy Astronomy Answer Book, and co-author of One Universe: At Home In The Cosmos.

Herman Verlinde, Professor of Physics at Princeton University. He has made influential contributions to string theory, which unifies the general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics.  From 1994 to 1998, Verlinde was Professor of Physics at the University of Amsterdam, where he was one of the founders of the Center for Mathematical Physics. Last year, he was a member at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton.

I’ll keep you posted on what stands out among the intriguing, work-in-progress ideas of these experts. And I want you to know that while there, in the back of my mind, I’ll be remembering that the images of everything we see in the physical world around us is formed in the complete darkness of our brains.

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