May 11

Marcelo Gleiser Talk at UNH, May 2010

On May 10th 2010 Marcelo Gleiser gave a very inspiring talk at the University of New Hampshire. The lecture’s title was: A Tear at the Edge of Creation, which is also the title of professor Gleiser’s new book. The lecture was part of the CEPS Frontiers Lecture Series.

Marcelo Gleiser is a distinguished physicist and astronomer. He holds the Appleton Professorship of Natural Philosophy at Dartmouth College. In his career so far he authored more than eighty peer reviewed publications as well as three books in popular science. He is the recipient of many awards.

Professor Gleiser’s talk focused on the significance of asymmetries in our universe that made our lives possible. In the first part of his lecture, he gave a brief historical overview of the research of the “heavens”. He argues that everyone so far has been looking for a unified explanation of the universe and it’s laws, starting with the ancient Egyptians, Thales, Pythagoras, Plato, Kepler, Newton and all the way to Einstein. In Gleiser’s opinion, this might not be the right way of thinking, especially if one accepts that our universe is based on fundamental imperfections and asymmetries. He then goes on to explain how time, matter and life are all asymmetric. Time can expand only in one direction, because it is very improbable that things would go “backward”, towards less entropy. Secondly, the universe which we can observe is full of matter and lacking anti-matter. This seems to be a physical necessity, which also creates asymmetry. Finally life on Earth is also asymmetric. For example amino acids in the DNA are “left-handed” while “right-handed” amino acids can be fatal for humans.

Gleiser hypothesizes that self-aware intelligent life in the universe is very improbable and this is why in his opinion it is very unlikely that we will get in contact with other intelligent life forms. Because of this, we should cherish life on our planet and be “humancentrists”.

Professor Gleiser’s lecture was very interesting and witty at the same time. His clever remarks kept a constant smile on many faces. His great way of presenting keeps the audience’s attention easily on topic. I would suggest the book to everyone interested in knowing more about the nature of the universe and life in it.

You can follow up on this and similar topics on the 13.7 blog site, where professor Gleiser is one of the four contributors.