Dr. Brian Keating — Losing the Nobel Prize (SCIENCE SALON # 70)

hello and thank you everyone for tuning into the science salon podcast I'm your host Michael Shermer and I bring you this show from California once a week as part of the larger mission of the skeptic society to promote science and reason and to ensure that sound scientific viewpoints are heard worldwide as a 501c3 nonprofit we rely heavily on the ongoing and generous patronage of listeners like you to pledge your support please visit our website at skeptic comm / donate thank you my guest today is dr. Brian Keating he is the author of losing the Nobel Prize a story of cosmology ambition and the perils of Sciences highest honor Brian is a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego a fellow of the American Physical Society a commercially rated pilot and the director of the Symons Observatory he received the 2007 presidential Early Career Award for scientists and engineers for his work on biceps bicep and he lives with his family in La Jolla California so we get into all of his details of all of his work with the bicep observatory at the South Pole which along with another experiment basically confirmed inflation theory of immediately after the Big Bang I mean just like microseconds after the Big Bang what happened to the universe that way and as he explains in my conversation with them why do they have to be at the South Pole has to do with how much moisture is in the air for collecting the data that's coming from very very far away anyway Brian came onto my radar because ben shapiro had mentioned him when i did ben show last year and then I noticed he did a Prager you video for Dennis Prager so I wondered why is this experimental physicist getting praise from ben shapiro and dennis prager well first of all he is Jewish as is are they but is he a theist that's what I was curious about because there's usually a reason why other theists lean on certain scientists rather than others for scientific research that appears to support their religious belief so you will find out in this tour in the last third of this podcast exactly what that means turns out actually not nearly as much as they think it means interestingly I found Brian to be incredibly honest and open with his ideas about these this particular subject science and religion and to what extent science can support religion not much but not entirely null either so we get into that and but also he you know the nature of the competitive nature of science the shortcomings of the Nobel Prize and how unjust it is to so many people not just the all the people that work on an experiment and only three can get recognized but the dearth of women in the history of the prize and so on so we we get into all that as well and I read a short portion from an issue we did of skeptic and the cover story is why is there something rather than nothing which I wrote now I'm not a physicist or philosopher but I'm kind of compiling in this article all the different answers people have come up with clusters scientists is so on about nothing and this in particular there's a good book that I was working from by John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn called the mystery of existence why is there anything at all and so I start off by quoting Stephen Hawking from his a brief history of time who so eloquently outlines the problem what is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe the usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe why does the universe go to all the bother of existing okay so that kind of cuts to the core of this question why is there something rather than nothing so I read a quote from Robert Lawrence Coon let me read it again this is the first of half a dozen different answers to the question why is there something rather than nothing the first is nothing is inconceivable first as suggested above it is impossible to conceptualize nothing no space time matter light darkness or even any conscious beings to perceive the nothingness as Robert Kuhn conceives it quote not just emptiness not just blankness and not just emptiness and blankness forever but not even the existence of emptiness not even the meaning of blankness and no forever close quote that's inconceivable the second answer something is nothing I'm sorry nothing is something this I did not read in the podcast it's short here I'll read it here just to suggest to set the stage for this conversation the analytical philosopher Quentin Smith pointed out to Kuhn that it is a logical fallacy to talk about nothing as if it were something that is to suggest that there might have been nothing implies it is possible that there is nothing as Kuhn articulates Smith's argument there is means something is so there is nothing means something is nothing which is a logical contradiction his suggestion is to remove nothing and replace it by not something or not anything since no one can talk about what we mean by nothing by referring to something or anything of which there are no instances in other words the concept of something has the property of not being instantiated the common-sense way to talk about nothing is to talk about something and negate it to deny that there is something so here we're bumping up against the problem of defining what we mean by nothing and the restrictions that language imposes on the problem the very act of talking about nothing makes it as something or else what are we talking about finally nothing would include God's non-existence what in Koons taxonomy of nothings he lists what categories of things might be included in something that would be negated by nothing and here's the list physical mental platonic spiritual and God physical includes all matter energy space and time and all the laws and principles that govern them known and unknown mental all kinds of consciousness and awareness known and unknown platonic all forms of abstract objects numbers logic forms propositions possibilities known and unknown spiritual and God anything that could possibly fit in this non-physical category that is all forms of religious and spiritual belief if by nothing is met no physical objects or matter of any kind for example there can still be energy from which matter may arise by natural forces guided by the laws of nature physicists for example talk about empty space as seething with virtual particles from which particle-antiparticle pairs come into existence as a consequence of the uncertainty principle of quantum physics from this nothingness universes may pop into existence but and finally if by nothing is meant there is no physical mental platonic or non-physical entity of any kind then there can be no god or gods which means that there cannot be anything outside of nothing out of which to create something if God is proposed to be outside of or pre-existing than nothing from which the something was created then why can't the laws of nature that give rise to some things like universes be outside of or pre-existing nothing ok this is just the first page of this long article I wrote this is a pretty deep subject and Brian and I get into that toward the end of this podcast so with that I give you Brian Keating enjoy well let's get started thanks for coming on yeah I really appreciate it I first heard about your work through ben shapiro when he mentioned you on when i did a show a couple maybe last year or so and that's about when your book came out it's called losing the nobel prize a summary of cosmology ambition and the perils of Sciences highest honor so I have to tell you I just to come at this from various ways when I do with my guests is in the 1980s I was a bike racer and I got involved in the human powered vehicle is an international human powered vehicle Association these are these fully faired streamlined bikes that go you know two to three times the speed of a regular road bike because they cut through there and all that stuff and there I met Paul MacCready it would just won the Kramer prize for the first human powered airplane to do I think he had to do a figure eight at an airfield and then he won the second Kramer prize for the human powered airplane over the English Channel and when I met him and got to know him and I asked him what was your motivation to do this and he said well I had a house payment to make yeah you know he had a mortgage in the knee and he started his business aerovironment and he needed the prize money for that and and that's what kind of introduced me to the idea of prize money as an incentive for scientific technological research and of course I read Davis Opel's famous book on longitude and the prize money that drove that and I've always been a big supporter of that the XPrize I think is great and so on but after your reading your book I have to say it's it's not that simple of just throwing money and a big prize at somebody it gets complicated when you have something as prestigious as the Nobel Prize why don't we start there before we get into your research you were tasked by the Nobel Committee to make a nomination of somebody and so walk us through how does it work how does one get nominated and then win and so forth yeah I mean I described the Nobel Prize as kind of this the most kind of friendly gentle likeable mafia or or monopoly that there is in the world it's it's sort of a a cabal in the sense that it's very restrictive if there's only a few hundred people that that make these decisions that have just the most far-reaching impacts all over the world and you know no disrespect to your friend but you know I've never heard of the Kramer prize until you mentioned it but but I'm sure there's many prizes Peter diamond as you know is a he wrote a blurb on the back of my book and he he wrote you know and and and great deal about about the desire to fund innovation via prizes which I think was part of the motivation behind Alfred Nobel back in the 1800s when he equates this will to be money to be given away for the betterment of mankind as I point out in the book the book is mainly a memoir it's it's only there's only three chapters about the Nobel Prize specifically but it was a very strong animating impulse for me and I know you know you and I've talked a little bit about TMT and the you know terror management theory and now I'm no longer a believer in that after after reading after reading your books but but I feel like there is in the know for example this morning every day I read a book about business and that sounds strange because I'm studying I'm a practicing cosmologists what is it his business have to do with me so I'm reading a raid on Leo's book right now principles and and in the book he and he divides into many different sections and at the end of the first section when he after he's bequeathed all his knowledge about the business world now he's going to turn to his principles for life you know da Leo's 10 commandments I call it and this page I'm reading today and I do this because I think you know you need as a scientific manager which is what I am and part of my career is I'm managing 250 people to build a telescope and then one of the world's highest most forbidding locations and to do so I wanted to learn from the best minds in business how do they lead organization so every time I hear he says the word startup I changed that to CMB experiment in a cosmology experiment but today he was saying like at the end the very last sentence when he's inspiring you to go on and achieve your dreams he says you know think of whatever your dreams are you know in life to make a ton of money or to win an Oscar and and those are the two only two examples he gave you know making money and winning an Oscar and whatever your field may be and it's sure the Nobel Prize is really the highest accolade that there is I claim in all of humanity not not just in science not just in in arts and not just in peace but really there's no close second in that it confers you know the ultimate capital the intellectual you know fu capital that really sets people apart and I've known dozens I had lunch last week with a Nobel laureate who's a good friend of mine and and and the thing that's so interesting to me is when people either asked and he asked me Adam riess who won the 2011 Nobel Prize for discovering dark energy with us and he asked me well what if you did win the Nobel Prize you know what would you have done with your life and I said in exactly what I'm doing now and and so to take back to the beginning of your question you know what what really prompted this book was I created an experiment in part as I admit very candidly in the book to win a Nobel Prize I mean part of it was to understand most of it was to understand how did the Big Bang evolve and I want to talk to you about that how does the early universe as constituents determine what its future evolution might be and the deep future has his past determined you know what the features that we see today but there was an Austin there was an ulterior motive for me personally my father was a great scientist mathematician very famous and he cast a huge shadow in my life and I knew that one way to sort of emerge from his lengthening shadow would be to win something that could not be denied as the most greatest scientific achievement that was winning the Nobel Prize so for me it became you know a source just like it is for many actors and actresses to win you know the accolades in their field and then later once I created an experiment which did capture what was claimed to be the most important signal ever measured up until that point and rumors of Nobel Prizes abounded by that time through a series of events I was no longer in a position to win the Nobel Prize for the experiment that I created in kind of an ironic twist of fate that that actually has a lot in common with a lot of Silicon Valley or no startups you know kind of intrigue and interest that describe but but I came to see the Nobel Prize as as an idol of sorts so something to pursue for the pursuing it not not the which to have this kind of ever laughing immortality not not not too dissimilar from from you know Becker's do not death Theory and I thought that you so eloquently opine on yeah carry so much cash it's it's yeah it's hard to describe it but you know everybody that wins just sort of the doors open up for them they're allowed to ride on pretty much anything they want to ride on it has nothing to do with their feeling you know Nobel Prizes talks about economics politics I always I would love here every exactly every every four years we're told you know which Democrat to vote for you know five by seventy Nobel Prize winners about GMOs and Iran deals etc from my condensed matter physicist so it's another prize has that caches you say is the breakthrough prize bigger yeah the Templeton Prize wasn't down specifically by Sir John Templeton to always be worth more than the Nobel Prize I think it's kind of foolish it it's kind of like saying you know don't fly over my house and take pictures Barbra Streisand say and then everyone is run over the so calls more attention to the Nobel Prize and the breakthrough prizes can be worth millions of time millions of dollars you know ten times as much as you might win if you're a winner of you know and share it two ways or three ways yeah so but you know year before you know the greatest contribution to humanity or something like that obviously this is no longer the case I mean sometimes these brownies are given thirty years after twenty years after the work was originally done so why did they stick to some of these other rules like the rule of three only three people can win and you have to be alive no posthumous Awards how do you change that yeah well I think yeah so the the three main rules that identifies the three broken lenses I call them of the prize a date back to what Alfred Nobel originally stipulated which was to award a prize for the discovery or invention that had the greatest benefit to mankind made during the preceding year by a single person and since then and actually not too long after they changed the rules dramatically and opened it up to three people which seems you know pretty munificent but don't forget the alfred endowed this in 1890 when he died either the will and into the fact in 1896 and the first winner was William Rankin who invented the X ray so a single guy you know working alone in a lab discovered something and within two weeks it was worldwide headlines that you could see bones in your hand and you could see the ring on his wife's finger and the bones in her hand very starkly and that was used for the benefit of mankind instantaneously and he was sort of the paradigm in my opinion for what Alfred Nobel who was an inventor after all and famously invented dynamite was accused of being responsible for the deaths of more people than any other person the merchants of death they used to call him and he want to rehabilitate His image and part of that was to you know confer beneficence on mankind and so you know I joke in the book about certain things that are of questionable beneficence you know like the lobotomy and and and and other things and especially you know the Peace Prize given to the terrorists or to you know entire continents of militaries of entire continents and and because of that think the question is to you know how far it strayed from his original intent is an important one I would prefer it as I argue in the book you know that and I've engaged the first time to my knowledge I wrote an article in this online magazine called the conversation I'm not sure you're familiar with it but yeah so I wrote an article and it was a you know original thing and for the first time that I'm aware of the secretary-general Goran Hansen actually started responding to it so the first thing he said to me he said because I joked you know in the in the book there's a there's the Nobel Prize in 1912 which was around the time when Einstein had already become famous for special relativity not yet for general relativity but in the book I describe how this guy gustav delenn I was a Swedish guy and if you want to increase your chances of winning a Nobel Prize be born Swedish be born white and male and and you too will have a three times higher likely chance than a you know black woman in America but but the question of what that was awarded for is awarded for a ghasts regulation system for use in lighthouses and buoys and I always joke you know I got to you know my my house this morning by you know by way of a navigating buoy and that was very important to me the lighthouse was out there you know so obviously it didn't have this eternal but the stoma so this guy Hansen the second four Nobel Academy he writes online responsive to my to my piece and he's right what he want us to do track down all of his heirs and take back the money and and blah blah and I said well but no of course not your and then he said the same thing about rosalind Franklin because I put in there she certainly did tremendous amount of work that resulted in the Nobel Prize for Watson and Crick and Wilkins and they basically stole some of her data and in recent years Watson's gone off the deep end and gotten into eugenics and all these other arguments and so he said well what do you want us to do take away their and give it to Roslin I kept saying why are you upset usually you sweet accuse us Americans of being materialistic and venal and you're just saying every all the importance of the Nobel Prizes derives from the monetary control and I said as you just asked your prizes were ten times as much as then well price so it's not about that at all no prize with the prestige and and that's the most important thing Nobel Academy and it was clear to me when asked me the year after I was sort of eligible and possibly potentially a winner of the Nobel Prize they asked me to nominate winners and in it they didn't really mention anything to do with the beneficence or the imputed benefit to mankind and they just said you can give it to many people up to three and it could have been done decades earlier and it's got me on a quest as I'm sure it would with any scholar undertaking this project treating it as a scholastic endeavor what did the dead man want cuz you know as well as anybody once you're gone you're gone at least in this mortal coil right so so there's an actually in Judaism there's no greater MIT's vote there's no greater good deed that one can do then to take care of someone who's deceased because in doing so you're doing something purely selflessly there's no they're never gonna repay you they're never gonna you know take care of your body after you died and so conversely I believe that the worst thing you can do is when someone writes down the most famous will in history and then it's completely disavowed within minutes you know almost minutes after his death and pursues to this day in ways that he certainly wouldn't approve of so I felt that my duty as an executor of the will to make this clear in those three chapters in the book of the prize and he was I looked into a little bit seem like he has a case and the problem was it only goes to three why not expanded to four or ten or whatever I mean right and in the case of like yeah like oh which one in you know two years ago now in the 20 2017 prize you know this question there was a third person who created the the LIGO system and made it work and this is the laser interferometer gravitational-wave Observatory that detected the in spiraling cascade pod to do of two black holes in the death embrace and detected gravitational waves directly for the first time huge discovery and there was this guy Ron driver and he ended up dying about eleven days too late in other words he would have been eligible according to the laws of the Nobel Prize if they had announced their discovery eleven days earlier than they actually did now I went down the book these black holes were orbiting around each other probably fifty million years there the collision took place 1.3 billion light years away from Earth and the gravitational waves travel at the speed of light so traveling at the speed of life for 1.3 billion years they entered the detector at the press-conference unfold let's just say the whole history would have carried out as it did and they just announced happening to do their data analysis a little bit faster Koscheck's columbia they announced it on january 31st they would have been eligible this guy would have won and that would have kicked out the third person very bearish who was universally regarded as sort of the firth fourth most worthy but but this and so it's really capricious and in the Nobel Citation they actually write out this guy Ron drebber they say you know he left the project and I'm like they all left the problem they're all in their 80s now and that's a big problem two Nobel Prize but but the fundamental thing that I keep getting back to and I must say I find it in your books too and and it's not a criticism but but the Nobel Prize in Dawkins books etc when he wants to like come down on Islam and he'll say you know you could fit all the Muslim winners of the Nobel Prize in a single room in a Cambridge College and to me it's it's it's offensive but but it also points out the fact that the Nobel Prize is really the closest thing I think that that physicists might have to you know tonight idol worship and I can't you know I call myself and I say I was guilty of it as well and it's ironic that you know some of the most secular friends that I've ever known you know are some of the most devout practitioners of then I was told to get tenure I might need to be on the fast track to win a Nobel Prize and that's outrageous how outsized and importance become yeah do you think they'll ever change that rule to to accommodate the way science is done now if you talk about the book you know large teams I was at a talk yesterday at UC Santa Barbara the guy had a slide with it was just like a comparative animal behavior study 56 authors it's like wow okay so that's 257 co-authors that I'm you know honored to be able to lead on the Simons Observatory this a high mountain Observatory in Chile I'm sure we'll get to and you know but the thing is for me I'm sort of beyond the Nobel Prize in the sense that it's it's revealed have so many flaws in my mind and then the reason that it's so important really persist so I know we have a mutual you know contact Lawrence Krauss and and he writes these books and and almost every single book and he's you know one of the most militant atheists as you know is he one of the horsemen is he he wanted beer horseman fella unofficially so he and he and his most recent book you know why is there something other than our the most recent book is called Muir greatest story yeah why are we here so all of his books have lie in them but they never answer the why question but anyway he uses the phrase Nobel Prize is you know or know are quotes Nobel Prize winners more often I keep then in my book which is about a prize and so it's it's it's just quite startling that the Nobel Prize still has this cat this these caches you saying and I feel sorry for this guy who took you know this ad it's it's like the Crouch or March mark and like who would want to be I mean it's real 400 white guys in Sweden and that are the dominant people that are allowed to nominate then if you're also permanently endowed with the part with the rides to Nam winters if you won the Nobel Prize so what happens there you get the Matthew effect you get the rich get richer you know if you work for me and I want to know about prize you're five times more likely to win a Nobel Prize or if you know I work for you you know etc so so you have all these biases built into this prize and then I'll the ultimate bias that comes out is Authority bias you know we're people again like yourself but with respect you know you'll quote so-and-so and then you win a Nobel Prize for this if you can discover this and it's become just the shorthand for you know humanity's greatest and best and so forth but really if people knew how the sausage is made I think they'd have a different view yeah no scientist has ever won a Nobel Prize in Literature and that's another shortcoming of the prize because why not nonfiction science books right yeah it's a free monavie you know wrote this book called the periodic table and that's been called the greatest science book a grey's popular science book of all time I think the Royal Society called it that well you know it's funny because everyone every once in a while I'm sure you've heard this like I just missed out on winning the Nobel Prize in math or you know so-and-so almost won the Nobel Prize and I and you always know they're lying because there is no Nobel Prize math and there's all sorts of apocryphal stories why that's the case but but now if somebody says I won the you know twenty eighteen Nobel Prize in Literature you know in 2018 they're lying because it was cancelled last year because of this egregious sex scandal involving the the woman who was president which basically presiding secretary and her husband who was having affairs with women allegedly etc who were hoping to either win the prize or learn who the prize winners were and the King of Sweden basically stepped in to to intervene and say we have to do a gut check on this prize and I I make the case that all the prizes need that not hopefully not for sexual harassment can happen but hopefully for a revaluation I mean it's it's a hundred and eighteen year old thing that has only had in my mind some negative modifications over those past you know century plots literature was like what I mean I love but I've said none enough committees to know how slow they move so I doubt there's gonna be major changes like that but it would be nice if there were and I do hope I'm sorry I've heard from members that you know so I'll get you know clandestine emails you know from people on the committee so first of all you're automatically entitled to nominate if you're a Swedish academician or Norwegian academia nor in Scandinavia so you get the scientists you know like I said 400 scientists from Sweden Scandinavia not the most diverse collection of people you're ever gonna meet and and just the same you know some of them write to me and say I agree with everything you say in your book just they can't come out publicly and say it because what's the monopoly right Michael so what do all monopolies care about first and foremost preserving their monopoly it's like well what do you think apples gonna do just give away all of its technology yeah no they're not gonna do that they're monopoly they want to keep their monopoly yeah now one last point on the gender bias of the obvious gender bias do you I mean given given how much our moral seer is expanded and we've all become to women's rights and so on are they still biased that way or is it that the ship is going to take a long time to turn because the pipeline doesn't have as many women in it still coming up and it takes decades to win a Nobel Prize and it may just be another 20 30 years before we have equity yeah that's a that's a very good point so one thing I point out in the book is that there's nothing in Nobles stipulations that say that the you know women like Vera Rubin or or currently Jocelyn Bell Burnell who just won the breakthrough prize there's nothing that says they can't give the next year's Nobel Prizes to them their advisers won Nobel prizes there are other men won Nobel Prizes for doing you know equal work and there's nothing in the press so that goes retro actively to some of the greatest including one of my colleagues here at UC San Diego Margaret burbage who's pushing a hundred now so if they want to adhere to their own arbitrary stipulation only added in 1974 by the way that they can't give it out posthumously they've done that three times they're giving away posthumously and two of them are white White's white Swedish white guys won the Nobel Prize posthumously so it's convenient for them they can change it and rosalind Franklin same thing they could give back go back in history and use the prestige of the Nobel Prize to burnish and reform just like you know the Academy Awards and politics is now doing and bending that moral arc is I quote in the book the same quotes from Martin Luther King and etc that we're gonna you know it'll take a long time but they could do it and I don't even have to monkey around with their own rules as they're as they're already keen to do right all right let's talk about your research it's super important because you're pushing that back time to as close to the beginning as you can get through this bicep and bicep – and in other experiments so let's just talk a little bit about the geography of the universe so the further back further out you look the further back in time you go and we know 13.8 billion years as far as we could see or whatever but so I'm just one of these weird topic topological type questions so you have this expanding sphere the universe that 13.8 billion is just the radius right it's just as far as we could see to the edge but there is no edge or whatever it's really like double that or even more because it's expanding and so on so just walk us through what how big is the universe yeah yeah that's a point that most people don't appreciate that the actual distance from which we can observe the so-called horizon the farthest thing that you can see is actually not the speed of light times the age of the observable universe and I hope we'll get into the distinction between the beginning of time the Big Bang inflation because those are three different things that sometimes are conflated ironically and in this case what we see with the universe that is expanding and that's been known since Lemaitre and Hubble's observations back in the 1920s that the universe was dynamic so first of all big picture step back for millennia people thought the universe was static unchanging and even those that were religiously inclined to believe the you know biblical description of creation which I hope we can get into Sir Isaac Newton he had to contend with why the universe seemed to be so static I mean there's only you know five naked eye things that you can see you know that that appeared to have motion those are the planets which in Greek the word planet means you wanderer and so those were varying across the night sky you know there's the annual modulation there's a daily modulation but it wasn't clear that anything else was moving in the universe until the observations of high velocity stars in the in the 1800s and then later high velocity galaxies by Hubble and others and the the implication if you ran a movie backwards in time was that there was a point in time when all the galaxies that were currently rushing away from each other would have been back closer and closer and therefore the universe has been denser and denser and therefore hotter and hotter and that point could eventually if left unchecked reached a singularity a point of infinite density temperature and and minimum infinitesimal size and this is when it's still a hundred years later an incredibly hotly debated phenomenon but but just taking the dynamics of what we know since since the evolution of the universe the point in the evolution of the universe that we have the the first moment of confidence in which you know sir Martin Rees talked about a couple weeks ago a couple of months ago now in your show is really about a nanosecond after the Big Bang that's when we start or after the what we call the hot Big Bang which will get into these distinctions later but a nanosecond if you like after the beginning of time and that nanosecond is most mysterious and it's important it's not just well what's the difference between a nanosecond after the Big Bang and zero well physicists it's an infinite amount it's the logarithm of that ratio a logarithm of zero is a pretty small number you know- of infinity right so we're so in the case of what we're trying to discover is that the universe has been expanding and cooling off since that nanosecond after the Big Bang making elements eventually making galaxies eventually making planets people etc and and that movie if run backwards suggests the universe began 13.8 billion years ago but because the universe is also expanding the distance traversed from us to the horizon is it's greater by a factor of three times the speed of light times the age of the universe so actually the diameter of the universe which is roughly what you're asking is about a hundred billion light years so from one edge of the universe to the other edge currently the current property between those two points which could never have been in communication with each other which never will be in communication with each other they're spent expanding with respect to each other faster than the speed of light that that distance is is just this incomprehensible size and yet it's not clear if there's something a hundred billion and one light years away from those two points right so it could be expanding into something it could be another universe it's just adjacent to ours and we won't find out for another year or our or billion years and because of that I think it's it's very important you know to make these distinctions between these different epochs in the history of the universe and what my research does is tries to push that nanosecond back to a trillionth of a second to a trillionth of a trillionth of a second and eventually to a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang so 10 to the minus 36 seconds and that's when this period of what's called inflation would have began and and we'll get into the reasons why but short one-sentence summary we know that the Big Bang occurred that a Big Bang occurred and that we the universe is expanding but to a physicist there's two different properties that are necessary to solve the equations that describe any physical system it's called the boundary conditions what is you know the system adjacent to you what is imposing different forces fields energies from the outside and then the initial condition what started the system in motion a pendulum held out like this in the beginning we'll have a very different dynamical future than one held you know very close to its minimum and so I'm trying to recover physical evidence for that first initial condition yeah a mistaken question people often ask so I'm gonna ask you why is this a mistaken question what's the universe expanding into ah so I would like to describe that question they out into if you go out into you know interstellar space you know between stars all the galaxies etc and you're in intergalactic space there are on average inside of any cubic centimeter there are about 420 photons this makes my friends in Colorado really excited there's 420 photons from the Big Bang and every cubic centimeter now cubic centimeters pretty big compared to the size of a photon of this particular wavelength and so so if you ask what's in between those photons that's what the universe is expanding into it's really nothing in a sense that there's there's no like boundary there's no sign there's no place but you know through which you can throw a spear because what's happening is the universe creating time at the speed of light if you will so so there's no there's no availability there's no sense to act you know to answer the question of what is it expanding into we think of a meta you know space sort of what's being expanded into and the difficulty comes when you when you start thinking using your you know our brains are really 3-dimensional equipped objects but really our retinas are two-dimensional as you know and we synthesize a 3d image a stereo graph from two two-dimensional images well it's very hard to visualize a forward dimensional thing certainly for two-dimensional images in our retina and so yeah that the best thing I can say is what it is expanding into the same stuff that's between all the stuff in our local intergalactic medium basically it is empty space yeah before we get to the religious connotations of the beginning how do you get information from so as you point out earlier you know because light travels at a finite speed that you can only access information from points in the past and those points in the past can be pushed back to the point that a light began to be present in the universe which is roughly 380,000 years after the Big Bang and that the most ancient light that there is is called the cosmic microwave background radiation or CMB the famous three Kelvin or radiation signal discovered by Penzias and Wilson serendipitously in 1965 and I'm sure we'll get into that and because of the the limitation the II that this light source is a plasma the CMB was formed when the plasma the primordial soup cooled off over 380,000 years allowing eventually allowing an electron and a proton to condense in a process just like condensation of vapor into liquid water and that condensation allowed microwaves or eventual microwaves at that time like light rays or ultraviolet light to then propagate throughout the universe and then that freedom of the microwaves to propagate became the CMB the cosmic background that I that I study so in order to go earlier in time you have to find a way to see through that surface that plasma and that was that plasma is really completely completely opaque to light and radio waves and gamma rays and any other form of wavelength so I always make the analogy if a plane is flying you know today is it is insurance Santa Barbara we have made grey so it's a layer of overcast that that pervades and and gives you know some hope for people that live outside of California that we don't always have perfect weather but you've heard many times there's a plane flying overhead into Santa Barbara or wherever and you can hear the plane but you can't see it so that's a different form of radiation and it's not light you can't see it but you can hear it and so it's sound radiation in our case we're using a different kind of sound not really sound but it's the vibrations of space-time itself these are waves of gravity not dissimilar to the waves of gravity that LIGO discovered and you know eventually Rob drowned Reaver of his Nobel Prize and so these these waves of gravity also travel at the speed of light they have no mass and they don't interact with anything very strongly gravity is the weakest of all the forces so they can go right through the entire the primordial soup that is the plasma that's opaque to photons so we're using we're using to get farther away we have to use a different source of radiation in our case we're using the radiation called the gravitational wave radiation of gravitational radiation and by doing that the actual plasma will retain a fingerprint an imprimatur of the presence of these gravitational waves and so of the the kind of logic that you have to keep in mind here is if we detect these waves of gravity via their imprint on these waves of light it's kind of like the old-fashioned darkroom right so you had a piece of film and then what we're using as the film we're trying to expose not waves of light but waves of gravity but what makes the analogy so complex is that the film is actually made of light it's actually waves of light which will get kind of per muted and twisted and curled and and modified modulated by waves of gravity and if we see that there is extremely strong belief that the process called inflation we'll have taken place in order to produce this cosmic gravitational wave background it's not enough to see it from a pair of black holes over there or a neutron star explosion over here we have to see it over the entire sky just like we see these microwaves over the whole sky and if we did then it would be very strong evidence not quite direct you know proof of inflation direct evidence but since that inflation took place and if inflation took place our going to get into presumably a discussion of the multi-verse which is concomitant inflationary theory San Diego for months at a time yeah so the bicep instrument so bicep is an acronym tortured one that I created standing for background cosmic background imager of cosmic of cosmic extragalactic polarization and it was meant to be a play on words for the muscle that does curls because the signal that we're looking for is a curling twisting pattern of light waves and light waves in the in the microwave regime Barb's or by water vapor are sorry or absorbed by water vapor and that's exactly how we make you know coffee here you heat up the coffee I shouldn't use this because actually the glass gets a little hotter than this here's a ceramic mug so the ceramic mug filled with vodka now filled with coffee if I were to take this put in the microwave you maybe have done this for God about a put in there for five minutes or something like that the water will actually be superheated will be above the boiling 100 Celsius and then the mug is cool to the touch because the mug is bone-dry so microwaves of this wavelength caused water molecules to rotate agitate and vibrate and cause basically frictional heating that boils water or super heats water but something that's bone-dry like China or porcelain won't have any moisture and won't absorb it at all so the lesson from this brief diversion is that water absorbs microwaves now the signal from the Big Bang is in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum so these micro been traveling for 13.8 billion years across interstellar intergalactic space we don't want them to be absorbed in a water molecule in the Earth's atmosphere so Hawaii would be one of the worst places you know from a microwave perspective of course one of the best places from even of not just a vacation on perspective but from a from an optical Astronomy optical photons are very transpose fear fairly transparent although it does produce the scintillation the twinkle twinkle little star that you see but for microwaves you want to go somewhere really dry well what's the driest place on earth that you can go well not on earth you want to go to space but a spacecraft caught us about a hundred maybe a thousand times more expensive than equivalent ground-based mission so we decide to put it on a poor scientists satellite and that was the South Pole which is about ten thousand feet above sea level it's funny you go there and they have a sign you know it's like welcome to the South Pole we've got you know ten thousand foot base of snow no no down everything that you know green circles or whatever you know ski runs there's easiest ski run possible cuz completely flat high dry and oftentimes you you're basically a California boy but I grew up in the East Coast and sometimes it'd be too cold to snow and that would always piss me off as a kid you know waiting to hear the the cancellation for school that morning but you know it's too cold to snow and that's when water gets super cooled it basically precipitates out and you get this darkest possible as your skies just a few degrees above the horizon and then certainly it's also dark more more than six months of the year it's it's it's extremely dark the Sun is down below what we would consider you know evening for three straight months at the South Pole so it's an incredible place to be that's a very difficult place to get to it can take weeks to get there and but it's it's one of the most stable dry high psychics that there is on earth interesting and so you know fortunately professors you know have more control over our schedule we do have scientists there that we that we hire these are members of the general public you can apply for it if you're interested in and I always joke you get about $80,000 you're outside the long arm of not the IRS you actually get taxed on it's one of the only out of country locations where your salary paid taxed but you get you know you can get away from the from the credit card companies and the mafia I don't know which one's worse but you can get away from both of those and you only have to work for one night and so that's pretty good I always joke about that it's a long night but it's only one nights worth of work for 80 grand well yeah much of the your book is a memoir about what that was like including that phone call you've got about your father dying you know that was pretty dramatic now a long ways to be away from bad news yeah but now your new telescope you're working on but they had it out of calm but doesn't no I'm not saying that right 'they had a comma a comma I've been there I went to those telescopes there's oh yeah which array it is they got on my Alma the Alma tells the guy designed to be up there when I was there for 2009 for the Darwin bicentennial course it did oh wow yeah no is great and yeah it's just such an incredible environment in fact that structure is featured in the James Bond movie Quantum Quantum of Solace that the structure were the astronomers sleek that's in the movie so that's where we were yeah really dramatic so you're up in that area because that's also dry and high above water molecules yeah so that's above half the atmospheric so that's at 17,000 five feet where you were in the where the astronomer stays only only 9,000 feet and atmospheric attenuation of of air pressure and wall paper and some extent yeah piece is exponentially so I always joke you know if you've ever been to Hawaii you know I've got out of breath you know walking up a flight of stairs in Hawaii it's about 14,000 feet at the summit of Mauna Kea where some of our projects located but I'll get out of breath walking down the flight of stairs at 18,000 feet I mean it's incredibly draining I mean you're much more fit you do your biking and everything and so I've often thought about you know we should do hyperbaric training and and you know it's kind of a pregame and you you really feel like an astronaut when you're there not not to mention you know the volcanic extinct or dormant or not dormant volcanoes that surround us that look like the surface of Mars but also you're wearing an oxygen tank on your back you're completely covered from head to toe it's freezing up there all year round even in the summer and the reason we go there is one of the things I pointed out just a couple minutes ago to get to the South Pole at six hi dry and cold but it's also dark three months of the year completely dark three months of the year and there's no aviation allowed in or out six months of the year for the simple fact that aviation fuel and hydraulic fluid freezes and actually will expand and blow up this military cargo plane 150 million dollares cargo plane they don't want that to happen so a couple of times you know women a woman a female doctor Jerry Nielsen she diagnosed herself with breast cancer and they couldn't evacuate her in the middle of winter so they dropped her biopsy kid and and chemotherapy and she actually went on to live on for she she died not too long ago but she lived in under five to seven years after coming home from the South Pole so it could take a month to get there for some of my students I only go for a couple weeks so if I would missed a month took a month to go there would be completely disruptive for my teaching etc but puppies you know my grad students go for a few months but but chilly you can be there tomorrow you could literally get there you know in twenty five hours from San Diego to 18,000 feet and and are acclimating to that that most a stirrer a steer you never place in the universe yeah so bicep was able to push back we thought to the very beginning of time to this trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second and but in doing we sort of fell victim to one of the oldest sort of prejudices or biases if you will or cognitive biases that you're all together much more familiar with than I am but the confirmation bias that we really wanted to see that the signal and my case I say you know as I said earlier I want to help rise at all cost and it was very important to me that we see this signal and even when I started to get Inklings that we might be misinterpreting our data or overextending the interpretation it became clear that we were going down a road at least you know I was going down a road that it would be very hard to retract and come come back from and so bicep ended up basically having to disconfirm what was considered the greatest discovery you know in scientific history up until that point by and by many people including Lawrence Krauss I said and this was you know more than a little bit embarrassing but but it wasn't a blunder it wasn't that you know we we you know kept the lens cap on the telescope or we we forgot to connect this coax cable that imputed faster than light speed travel for neutrinos as other experiments and we made one of the most fantastic phenomenal discoveries of all time in terms of its technological significance we did something that Penzias and Wilson back in 1965 if you just took the rate of Moore's law improvement in technology it would have been orders of magnitude worse than what bicep achieved you know in the same 40 50 year period post Penzias and Wilson so we made an exquisite measurement of dust so spoiler alert you know this is I don't win the Nobel Prize the book cover kind of shows this this beautiful image of bicep looking up at the words Nobel Prize and it's looking through this cloudy dust cloud called the Milky Way galaxy and as I point out that that dust is very essential to our existence and and as you say in one of your books and you talk about star dust and being golden etc and we are literally made of the guts of an exploded star about 5 billion years ago but that dust as mercurial and wonderful as it is also contaminates astronomical measurements the same way a water molecule absorbs light waves a dust molecule can not only absorb light waves microwaves it can polarize them and it can actually trick you into thinking you saw something that you didn't see in our case the birth pangs of the Big Bang and so what the bicep project has now done is and I'm still very tangentially involved with the bicep team although after the book came out you know it wasn't really their number-one fan my number-one fans but but in any case the that team has gone on to do upgrades and improvements to the detection system and and I say the only way that we can really improve upon these measurements of biceps are so exquisite is to build an experiment that really only looks at dust and tries to get rid of dust all by itself just like going to space would get rid of any concern about water vapor so I joke we're building an enormous space vacuum cleaner buster you know this is a fear that the dust buster has been created 1979 you as a parent know it it's utility as well as I do that it sucks up da spoke instead of looking up dust we can't actually do that but we can measure only and then we can measure this be this cosmic signal dust and then we can subtract no alone from the CMOS dust and we'll be left we hope is the pristine signal from the Big Bang's inflationary epoch if indeed it took place so biceps working on that still at the South Pole I joked my next book is you know it's gonna be about me leaving bicep I'm gonna call it a farewell to arms but but that title has been taken apparently by some Nobel Prize winner and and but what I'm doing now is the project called the Simons Observatory which is very similar in terms of technological approach but it's three copies of the bicep telescope all with different frequencies to measure dust the CMB the galaxy water etc and then synthesize that with theoretical models which is what we do we model build and we test the models input assumptions and then deduce what we can from the data that present themselves in our case we're building this Observatory up in the Atacama Desert and we're also building by suppose a small telescope about you know my height your height but but these telescopes will be joined by an enormous six meter 29:24 of mirrors in a dish in a telescope called the large aperture telescope which will kind of be a sentinel scanning over the same fields as these small telescopes and removing contaminants that get in the way of the signals we're trying to measure most particularly called gravitational lensing which we can get into if you're interested yeah well this is a good place to transition to the ultimate creation question the cosmological return question me asked which is what bad you know the Big Bang created all you know space and time and matter and so on what was there that it bang what do cosmologists think about that how did they think about that more likely well so the first thing and you mentioned this and I was surprised you know Lord Martin my good buddy Martin Rees who was my book but he said I just wish you didn't mention that Nobel Prize and because he actually doesn't like the Nobel Prize very much either I don't know you guys got into that no he doesn't care for it now he actually wrote us I think he wrote a scientific American op-ed about it or Guardian or something two years ago when the LIGO won the Nobel Prize but he's very much opposed to some of the way that distorts scientific history same things that I do I mean none of what I said is original you know to me it's just I synthesize that in a way that most people tend to agree with the whole package and I was and be I was a nominator of people and possibly close to being a nominee myself so a little different than most people have presented so what bang well first of all the big bang and you know Sean Carroll's and another friend of ours in common and you know he eloquently says really the Big Bang is the marks either depending on which way you're looking at it going backwards in time or forwards in time other marks the beginning of our ignorance or the end of our ignorance in that as I said you know we really understand things very well using the laws of ordinary physics quantum mechanics statistical mechanics all the laws that you teach to your undergraduate physics majors we understand those properties in the universe in the aggregate you know we don't know what every single proton was doing just like even an a you know the most brilliant that statistical mechanical physicist doesn't know every air molecule in this room what it's doing right it could only predict on aggregate so we know the laws of physics back to in time from thirteen point seven nine nine billion years ago today back to about a nanosecond but theoretically anything goes at that point because we really have no description of nature that allows us to proceed farther back in time than that nanosecond if we were to be successful if bicep you know and the counterfactual universe bicep was correct confirmed verified dust was not a problem as we originally thought then then we would have the first evidence for the physical conditions of the universe immediately after the beginning of the universe now I want to make a clear distinction the Big Bang is sort of what you can think of the Big Bang is what Hubble discovered it's not what you know Stephen Hawking was looking for you know where you're really looking at what happened at time equals zero so you know famously to Stephen Hawking was pursuing the singularity actually what happens at a singularity but really what Hubble discovered and what was later called in an aperture or ative sense you probably know this by Fred Hoyle who was a you know first-degree colleague of mine in San Diego he died before I got here but his close colleague Jeff Burbidge whose office I know have at UCSD they were proponents of the steady-state model for four decades now what is steady-state model it's basically an extension of what people have believed since Newton and and and even up until the time is tine was was shunt own data from Hubble they believed the universe was static and eternal and basically unchanging when they showed that the universe is actually evolving and galaxies are being expanding away they had to tweak their steady-state because it wasn't steady anymore it wasn't so steady they had to add epicycles to do it they literally added epicycles to it and became called the quasi steady state cosmology and that held sway until 1960 Ivor so when Penzias and Wilson started to come in with physical data about what the conditions of that nanosecond were like or for that nanosecond going back in time we don't know if there is anything to bang and we don't know what with the description the laws of nature were and I just thought point out two things if it's indeed so whenever I say Big Bang in the future I hope you'll interrupt the speaker even if it's Lord Reese and say do you mean the evolution of the universe like what what's called the hot Big Bang the production of protons neutrons croutons you know I always get fix it in the croutons a reduction of material or do you mean that first instant of the origin of the universe and that's very critical because what the inflation subject explains to us is how the hot break bang could have been sparked it doesn't say anything about how the universe itself could have come into existence so what I like people to contemplate is a if there was a singular beginning of time as hawking famously said you know asking what happened before the Big Bang is like asking what's north of the North Pole although I always say it's Santa Claus everybody knows that but but but what's north of the North Pole's Ananse it's a coordinate singularity so it's the origin of a coordinate system so in that sense if he's right time didn't exist before the Big Bang now think about this how does time pass when there's no time one question to ponder does time even flow and I don't even mean like Zeno's paradoxes but but then there is something related to Zeno's paradox which is if the universe did begin in a singularity it was infinitely hot infinitely dense and it had this infinitesimal size now today we know the laws of nature very cool comfy and cozy right we're existing in a roughly 300 Kelvin room temperature earth right now most of the time and it's getting warmer but but anyway the the universe is as is roughly consistent incompatible with life but how do you go and there's never been an example of this infinite how does something transition from being truly infinite to finite there's no example where you can actually demonstrate that that takes place and yet every physicist that I know has faith that that process could actually take place so the answer is we don't know we do not know and what I love about Sean I disagree a lot on his theology I think his cosmology is so much stronger but but I certainly I do enjoy that he said his theology well but he I'm saying well and he speculates on theism and theology I think he he gets a little bit off-track and we can talk about that but but he says he says when somebody tells you you know about something before the first nanosecond basically with the most honest thing to say is we don't know yeah well I agree and I think here we're hitting a conceptual well a transition from a scientific question to a conceptual question how do you how do you go from something to nothing and in here I sent you this you know issue we did on why is there something rather people thought about this I mean just this whole idea of nothing is inconceivable not just yet not just emptiness not just blankness and not just emptiness and blankness forever but not even the existence of emptiness not even the meaning of blackness and no forever you know I mean it's literally inconceivable it's alright it seems like we just hit an epistemological wall our brains are just not wired to to even conceive of this and you're not going to get any information from before the Big Bang from any telescope no matter where you are because right there's no way for me well well so that was the one thing I didn't have yet a chance to really get into and I think it is the most important thing that I study it influences me philosophically maybe even theologically etc and that's the notion and and and certainly in terms of what it means to be a scientist and that there is an alternative to the to the Big Bang and that's called that's another version of the cyclic universe and it's been postulated by none other than one of the three founding fathers of the inflationary theory who I Joe Paul Steinhardt who's the Einstein professor of theoretical physics at Princeton University and I joke you know he's kind of denying paternity for his for his the child that he sired and that is that he postulates as did many many people before him but but for the first time with with some interesting and and theoretical even well motivated concerns about how the singular Big Bang the inflation multiverse that has concomitant with inflation how those can be completely superseded and replaced by a very well posed question answer to the question of what happened on the Tuesday before the Big Bang and that's that there was a hellish fiery death scape of the collapse of appreciating universe and there's been tremendous amount of work in the nineteen years since he first proposed this model and then Sir Roger Penrose has a competing model these are all alternatives to inflation now you might ask why do you need an alternative to inflation it seems to be accepted by all these cosmologists and there was a letter written last year to the editors of Scientific American I'm sure you might remember this Paul Steinhardt and another colleague from Perimeter Institute another colleague from Harvard wrote an article basically you know claiming that inflation was not only wrong but it was bad for science that it actually invalid a scientific method and then further and talked about their own MA cyclic on cosmology the bouncing model and in that they then got sponza you know it's kind of like the Roman Empire responsive Prudential you know you'd write something and then you know it said there's a later you get a response was assigned by 33 cosmologists including Alan Guth is credited with creating inflation theory and five Nobel laureates there they are again you know they're signing a letter a petition you know mad at Scientific American for publishing this article and they're they're basically you know appealing to Authority and and and these are many of them are my good friends so the article the original article is called pop goes the universe by these three scientists including Paul Steinhardt saying that inflation has basically irreconcilable problems that make it fundamentally untestable and that it violates the the the mores of the scientific methods that have been used for 400 years and then there was a response to that published letter published from signed by 33 cosmologists including four or five Nobel laureates and contributing editor a contributing author was Alan Guth at MIT and David Kaiser all of whom were friends of mine I mean I know every single person on that list and it was just surprising to me because you know if I write an article and let's say it's wrong okay so then I have to retract it but if you just disagree with it and the the the kind of controversy over this was so hot I mean it's thousands of shares and hits and and people are so interested in this and it made me feel like this is not a part the scientific argument there's something else at work here and these people I doubted and was quite skeptical actually as to the motivations why are these people writing a letter instead of an hour article writer response write your own model up and submit that the scientific Amanda didn't happen but anyway to get back there is a very well posed and better yet it's actually testable using the laws of the scientific method to that postulates the universe didn't to begin with inflation and that there was an answer as I said to what happened not Tuesday before the Big Bang and that's this collapse in a previous cycle and it has a lot of other virtues that we can get into as well but the form well what would be the information that would come through yeah so it's actually the absence of gravitational waves which is so interesting so it predicts the same formation of structure the formation of the elements the nation of vast clusters of galaxies and and tremendous cosmic scales it predicts all those features but what it doesn't predict is the one kind of unique syn synack wa nan of inflation which are waves of gravity so that is exciting because that means if you measure waves of gravity you not only prove inflation or that you know inflation itself is very well motivated for in in some sense beyond a reasonable doubt but you falsify an entire class of models we've been around for three thousand years perhaps which which suggests that the universe is cyclic or you know it's kind of infinite cosmological Karma coming back into and out of existence so from that perspective it has to match all the observations that the inflationary model matches and it does but what's interesting to me is that it does not have nearly the attention the cachet that doesn't tell the story and I think that that's almost a religious statement you know that that the reason the Big Bang is is so popular it as Hoyle said it really taps into people's you know creation myths that's a greatest story ever told so the quest they answer the question what was there before the Big Bang so we have we don't know we have the cyclically universe and a creator right how do we determine which of these is the correct one and how would the a Creator who created the Big Bang or whatever how is that a scientific answer or is that just a faith-based and a gap-filler as it were why not just stick with I don't know yeah I you know it's interesting because a couple weeks ago on Twitter I think you described me as a theist and and and you know that's I'm sorry I'm probably more theologically inclined than you are but actually I consider myself a devout practicing agnostic and I think used to call yourself yeah so but but it's very important because I think you know used to call yourself a militant agnostic I thought was cute I don't know you don't either but you no longer do that the word atheist used to be pretty negative so I avoided it now it's become a little more acceptable so here's the distinction I make between ontological and epistemological ontologically I think agnostic is the right word in terms of how thomas actually men at when he coined the word in 1869 not knowable there's no experiment we're gonna run this gonna ultimately determine whether there's a god or not now when you're walking around in life you know you're not you're not a perfect diagnostic in that sense you you act as if there is or isn't a god so I'm an atheist in that sense but you made that video that preggers you video in which you said that you know believing in the multiverses two takes just as much faith is believing in God so how do you now how do you square that circle with what you just said about we don't know really and this cyclically universe might might be a testable hypothesis yeah so for me I am you know my predisposition is towards something like the psychic universe for a variety of reasons that are some scientific and some kind of punch you know based on you know it's interesting you've had on these wonderful eminent colleagues and friends of mine and they're all theoretical physicists they're all cosmologists I don't think you've ever had on an experimental cosmologists you know Sony's building telescopes and maybe you have but I haven't been able to follow and they write great books you know they write you know brief history of time they write you know Shawn's big picture and you know I was joking it's it's pretty hard or wormhole books in the Kip Thorne you've had on he's another three years you know he wrote a book about wormholes and black holes and time you know it's pretty hard to put a wormhole on the cover of your book it's gonna eat up your audience but for me as an imperious you know I think it's a different perspective in terms of how we actually use data that we collect and we know the warts of the data much better you know I love my friends that have won Nobel Prize winners the theorist it's very hard to communicate to them the limitations of data I'll give you one example this is a counter example to my you know he's actually believes in a cyclic universe Sir Roger Penrose so Sir Roger Penrose and I are friendly he endorsed my book and I spent time with him done podcast with him and he has this almost religious conviction in the in the cyclic model of cosmology so much that he was willing take as evidence for the veracity of his model which he calls like Hawking points and black holes permeating through he was willing to take an image that our team had made basically purely for publicity reasons and that publicity image it had no scientific content it's like the black hole image you probably saw a couple of weeks that has no scientific content and it's very interesting it's beautiful and that's why I was shared by billing the people but it has no sign so if somebody is using that to prove the existence of black holes that's a misuse of scientific data that any experimentalist would know but the theoretician or someone who wants to confirm his or her model might not be are they're aware of or maybe intellectually honest enough to to display so when I say I'm an agnostic first of all I want to get to what my definition what I am is the way that I differ maybe from the agnostic aspects of you or just somebody who says like martin rees says he you know or I'll say Freeman Dyson Freeman Dyson Zinn agnostic and he's another friend and what he says is you know the origin of the universe is a great mystery and the laws of physics are a great mystery it doesn't mean by any chance that you know two mysteries equal each other right that's not ways but he's saying what could be more fun than solving these puzzles as to the existence or lack of existence or the existence or lack of existence of God and for me you know I talk about in the book somewhat um tongue-in-cheek I set off as an experimentalist to disprove the Bible because actually it's kind of a pain to observe the Torah as in my cases as a practicing Jew it's a real pain you know I can't work twenty five hours a week you know I have all these holidays I have to you know to spend special food and do all this other stuff so I actually don't know right so my feeling is I act in the way that a theist does in other words I go to Temple every week I you know I speak Hebrew I understand the classical arguments in the Talmud I've read that most of the Talmud I don't understand it but I understand it better you know then then Lawrence Krauss does and I understand it much better than Richard Dawkins and I understand you know cosmology much better than my rabbi does and what I see is my unique role as being able to give give self-help advice or give actual criticism like to critique both sides I critique my Orthodox rabbi I talked to him about with the serious lacunae that he has in his understanding of science I say we're rabbi if you care so much about God and the and you so fervently in belief of God I say this is my Muslim friends as well and my Christian friends certainly I say you should learn science if there's any hope of getting to you know there's not gonna be some message transmitted from you know from the beyond and it's gonna be in Hebrew or Aramaic or Latin or whatever it's gonna be in the language of science and if you want to understand that God if you truly believed in God I say to people like my rabbi etc you need to learn more science and I always get this result I hate you know it's like oh I'm not good in science well imagine if I said I couldn't English me don't speak good words you know me stupid like I mean you would have no respect for me as an intellectual and these are intellectual people and you've interviewed them and you know they're not dumb people ben shapiro i think you can put him up on a list with anybody in terms of his raw intellectual horsepower he believes in the literal six-day creation story i don't so he believes in and and you know certain miracles etc that took place and he admits he has pure faith in it i am more in the camp of i am fascinated I love getting experimental data so one of my friends is Richard Friedman dick Friedman he wrote a book called who wrote the Bible right he was a professor yeah that's how I know yeah yeah yeah oh yeah there was a anyway why is Dennis Prager and Ben Shapiro praising your your work is it maybe because you're just not a militant atheist you're more willing to just say I don't know but you don't believe that there is a deity reaching into the world stirring the particles to cure cancers or whatever no I actually don't believe it's yeah it's act kind of yeah I mean I think the theodicy question I think the prompt I think that there is there's no way to falsify the existence of God as you know there's no way to directly subject it you know subject and this is where I have problems with Sean Carroll and another examples recites sort of like the extravagance of the universe he says look at the Hubble Deep Field like what are all these galaxies doing here are and I say you know he's like creator that I know would create so many galaxies that have no effect on life on earth I say Sean you know like 80 years ago we didn't know about the existence of barium you know radioactive barium we say oh like something what's the point of milk watiam element number 114 now it would have no point but wait till it does have a have a meaning in habit I think those are kind of simplistic arguments and my problem with I mean look if we could solve this question the existence of God then everybody would believe it and then nobody would believe it by the way one of the things I like most about Judaism and and to a lesser extent you know you pointed out that I'm you know I'm practicing Jewish but I was an altar boy in the Catholic Church for many years I have a kind of a torturous I'm a member of a very big big club you know a club of Orthodox you know boards of directors of synagogues who were once altar boy you know thousands of us all around the world but in my case you know there's a there's just complete you know undeniable benefits of practicing religious life and and and the community and the culture and I actually see this in my friends that have started this organization which I don't know if you've spoken to called Sunday assembly the Sunday assembly so what do they do they get together every Sunday or every month on a Sunday and they sing songs and they are not hymns they're not they read from Woody Allen or you know Phil Roth yeah and most emerges but they're likely anyway like the Universalist Unitarian and so this to me taps into the the social nature of our species we need to get together social capital we need community and so on most of my Jewish friends are atheist or agnostics but they that many of them practice so it's the culture it's the community that has value and and yes definitely religion does a lot of that kind of thing whether there's a God or not is kind of irrelevant that's just kind of a social and human behavioral aspect of it but still let's let's just think for over this for a moment of of what do you do when we don't know you know the ultimate answer to this question you know where did we all come from where the universe come from or so on and there is no there's no answer at the moment so why not just say I don't know and leave it at that and I think there's a problem in it as much that most of us going through life want to have some kind of an answer and if it can't if you can't decide either way why not choose the god quiz the God answer if that then sort of tags on to all the other things about religion that aren't useful and I think this is one way one reason why people do that you don't quite do that though or do you well in some sense I do I mean as Jesus said you know you judge them by their fruits and by their deeds you shall know them in other words what when you see a religion you can appraise it you know but based on its you know and its claims or you can say well what is its practitioners what is its life like what are the people who practice it like and and it says something you want to emulate so you know for example in the in the case of of Judaism where you know people believe and and I don't this is why I brought up Friedman so what's interesting about Friedman is he is an extremely scholastic scholar he wanted to be a rabbi you know and it's too bad he would have had a good career no he has a great career and the very distinguished professor working on a huge film series for Netflix or something now about his book who wrote the Bible and in it you know in his most recent book called Exodus he actually makes a scientific and cultural and archaeal linguistic argument that the exodus from Egypt actually happened and it would be fascinating for you to have him back on it's not at all the way the Torah the Old Testament described said but he has you know really almost unimpeachable description of what the evidence is and yet I asked him will so do you believe now because he obviously is a he claims he is he's an atheist now he sent his kids to Orthodox day schools and and some of them I think are still very religious and and practicing and so you know so I was like well how did you square that circle how do you reconcile your your doubt and he's not a scientist but he has you know archaeological and otherwise evidence for it and it comes down to you know the fruit what is religion producing a value and and you can ask you know if there's no value and if it does harm obviously I think that that's a negative that has negative consequences for me in a practical standpoint I find the the fruits that I've benefited from from practicing as an agnostic that means I'm looking for errors I'm looking for flaws I take issue there are all these biblical apologists that are Jewish scientist I won't name them so I don't embarrass them but they put and this is stuff Ben eats up ben shapiro eats it up he loves to hear it and I find that Scot he's just subject to confirmation bias and I'm I talked to him about that because when you hear this but people make their living off this Michael and sin Street I like your Christian apologist Jewish apologist etc and I find that intellectually dishonest and that and that you should be but you should also be been on the other side you should be intellectually on the other side so when Richard consult Testament and he literally distort in language I mean he changed and then this Richard dick Elliot dick Friedman brings this up you know he'll go out of his way to distort the language to make it seem like Jews and the are currently and used to be very chauvinistic elitist and using language and archeo linguistics in a way it's not meant to be so I I do view myself as sort of a rare person and in that and Dennis Prager is relatively similar to me I mean us about the video I I do think that there is a certain a certain amount of religious faith that it takes to be an atheist and to be a scientist as well and I think it's just it's almost laughable and you outlined this beautifully in believing brain you know you take the greatest scientist history Galileo you really dissect you know what he did wrong and why he did why he did these things wrong and I talk about in my book too I mean he had this theory of the tides on earth because the earth is rotating and sloshing ocean water around on a surface but what was it rotating around the Sun and that was to bolster the Copernican theory completely wrong we don't have tides because the earth isn't motion around the Sun so nowadays what's the modern equivalent of that it's inflation it's the multi-verse it's the explanation of fine-tuning via and because we have to somehow as a physicist explain the fine-tuning the difference between the amount of inflationary energy density that we would measure you know in the early universe versus the late universe we have to understand that we have to understand you know this pre cosmos existence and we have to understand if indeed the universe is accelerating the way we see it why is it so exquisitely fine-tuned and and are all sorts of anthropic arguments and the very term multi yeah go ahead so the multiverse is different than this cyclic old universe your job yes you're diametrically opposed basically opposed and would you say the same thing we don't know because we have no evidence for it but it's not a crazy idea or something along those lines right and in fact I say you know in my in my next you know kind of works in them that I'm going into in the future I don't know if I have energy to write another book but you know what's so exciting why if you prove the cyclic model was correct you'd basically be falsifying the Torah I mean you would it's the only way I know that you could say that there's Molly that there's multiple universes in time you can't show that there's multiple universes in space unless we're lucky enough to collide with another universe like why couldn't the Torah just be describing this particular cyclic compound and it just doesn't go back any further and God could be you know eight cycles back or whatever well I guess it would depend on what the meaning of beginning is right so gracious Elohim you know brace in the beginning so it's be beginning it seemed prom I have with Alfred Nobel the person who did the work you know did he mean one person did he mean multiple people maybe now the Torah by the way they don't have my rabbi oh I love and he'll start saying well the toward the Talmud now now look go to the Talmud and that's always you know kind of like the footnotes and you got to be careful it's it's the second most holy book but but in some sense it contains a lot of you know kind of apocryphal stories and so forth but anyway in the Talmud it says apparently somewhere that God created the universe 80 times before it's this universe started and all sorts of other things but you know I think the big picture things that no one ever talks about in the in the Atheist community who seem to have rebranded themselves as humanists now now Shawn calls himself a humanist research is not I do that too the reason for that is because we don't want to define ourselves by what we don't believe humanism we believe science and reason and logic and empiricism and rights and civil liberties and justice and fairness and you know there's you know positive attribute but let me go back one second here and I have a heart unfortunately in a few minutes so let's let's kind of try to drill down and get to the bottom of this my friend Martin Gardner the Lake Martin Gardner one of the founding members of the movement yes I do big American and so on he called himself a fattiest now this used to drive atheist crazy he said you know when it comes down to certain big questions God and free will being the two big ones where we can't decide one way or the other if it makes a big difference on how you lead your life and that has positive implications for you in society and so on it's okay to just make the lead point where the other whatever works for you so this is William James pragmatism the deism is a branch of pragmatism so Martin believed in that there's a God he said now look I can't prove it I think the atheists have slightly better arguments and the Theia is only slightly better he could go either way I just assume that there is a God there is an afterlife prayer works and so on and you know people like Dawkins are like oh my god Martin how can you do this well you can't prove betrayal the other way yeah so I always respected him a lot so it's like okay I get this and so I could kind of see how someone like Jordan Peterson who everyone's tried to pin down well what is it exactly you believe about God and religion you know I think he recently said I I act as if the Christian God is real and Jesus was crucified now when you ask about the crucifixion you know a lot of the you know the metaphor we all have to bear our own cross and that sort of thing which okay fine I get that as a metaphor but was it really a guy named Jesus who was crucified and then resurrected and so on there he's harder to pin down but if you take it back to Martin's Martin Gardner's idea acting as if you know there is a cross to bear there is a God there is you know there is purpose to life does change your life therefore it's a pragmatic way to lead your life whether there is really ontological II speaking a God or not mmm-hmm yeah I mean it sounds to me and then thank you for referring it to me but it sounds to me like a kind of modern version of Pascal's wager in the sense that you know if you do act in a way that comports with any of the great Abrahamic traditions the only ones I'm familiar with I'm sure another other faces it's similar yeah I mean what is there gonna be if is a God then is he gonna punish you no you're really supposed to eat chicken with milk but you didn't because you know of course not they're not gonna God would not if this being has any of the attributes attributed to him now in the case of you know acting in a certain way I like to bring up that you know the Ten Commandments and the fifth commandment says you shall honor your father and your mother and I use this in the book as my father's dying and I had a very difficult relationship with my father and it wasn't easy at all to honor him to be honest with you towards the end of his life because he had essentially abandoned me as a child and my and my brother as well and that caused a tremendous amount of pain in my life and and he gave me a lot of great great gifts and and wonderful things too but it wasn't easy for me especially at that time when I was launching this experiment that could win me the Nobel Prize and take me back you know I felt like oh he's sabotaging me again you know and he had had very difficult kind of relationship growing up but because I felt this was a commandment and because there was a reward in the commandment it's the only commandment that has a reward actually there's two I don't know if you know this there's two Commandments that have rewards I only talked about though one in the actual Ten Commandments but you know there's 613 Jewish Commandments and and 10 of them are in the Decalogue to thank them well and the fifth one says honor your father and your mother so that the day your days on earth will be long and the other one in the Torah that promises long life is if you see a mother bird in a nest and she has her eggs there you shall shoo her away from her nest before you take the eggs and I'm like what the heck honoring your parents that makes sense but like honoring a parent of a bird egg you know okay but the Torah is saying something a that you can't really divine the reason if you will for why these things have rewards and it's the metaphor that you shouldn't try to see if a given you know if a given midst of our commandment has a reward you should not necessarily think that you can necessarily understand it but you should practice it and in this case it's easy to practice shooing away the mother but it's very hard I mean you know you're not commanded to love your parents and I think that's very wise your commands have to honor them and why because they kind of acted like it got to you they actually brought you in you know assuming they didn't abuse you and thankfully that's pretty rare but in my father like physically sexually anything like that but in the case of it's a very difficult thing to do and I would not have done it if I didn't feel like there was some source of wisdom divine or not that was compelling me to do so and in the end I do feel like it did add days to my to my life or maybe less life to my days and I think that that's something beautiful about that so I'm a pragmatist in that same sense that it sounds like Martin was and I don't you know what when I say in and I try to give permission to people in in the you know and it disturbs me sometimes when people will take that say oh see disaster physicist proves it guy I don't say anything of the sort the title of the of the Prager you video which Dennis selected not me the title is what's a bigger leap of faith God or the multiverse and it's very important my original title it's not like he and that was the only thing he changed by the way it's not like he's going through and editing the physics and he only changed that and my original title was when scientists worship idols but if he didn't like that and you know I want to hide it you know what you know what that should be the title of your next book I think this is a space that has by scientist I mean you have the scientists that are blatant theists and their arguments are pretty weak and people like Dawkins take them apart someone like Francis Collins for example who I know in like very much you know but yeah he seems to have sort of this logic tight compartments Jesus is over here and science is over here you're doing something different I think that that would be book worthy you're carving out a space well people can exist in a pragmatic way without violating either the traditions of science or religion yeah and ultimately you know kind of stumble upon happiness in their own way and well that means a lot to me Michael for you to to tell me that I always like to think your name you know what your name means in Hebrew don't you so L is the Hebrew name for God like L oh he knew and me means who and ki means is like so your name means who is like God so your name in Hebrew it means your god you're like god that's right I made you believe it well Brian I got a heart out I got childcare duties here today so we'll pick up the conversation again and continue on with this because this is a long way these long discussions that really never ends you know science and religion to take it up with yeah thank you so thank you so much for coming on the show all right bye-bye my pleasure bye Michael

Tags: , , , , , ,


  • Regarding losing the Nobel Prize, perhaps more skepticism is in order. Here is the quote rom the Nobel Prize web page: The Committee does not itself announce the names of nominees, neither to the media nor to the candidates themselves. In so far as certain names crop up in the advance speculations as to who will be awarded any given year’s Prize, this is either sheer guesswork or information put out by the person or persons behind the nomination. Information in the Nobel Committee’s nomination database is not made public until after fifty years.

  • Hey, can You make an anti-circumsion video? I mean, You blessed us with your opinion in such "important" subjecs like trans in the female olympics and recomended one of the dumbest articles I read about the Gillette Ad. You should at least be anti-circumcision.

  • Any guesses as to the possibility that differential energy charge region layers may have been an initial presence shortly after the big bang, which in essence setup a type of preconditioned wave separating normal matter creation zones as the core and a naturally preconditioned antimatter bounded exterior creation zone which now extends to non detectable regions beyond the CMB horizon and therefore accounts for the assumed missing antimatter?

  • Great conversation to be sure. In my view the most significant part, though, was on Keating's… Let's call it tentative theism. Obviously there are two parts of the equation – belief vs non-belief and the cost of each. When evaluating the cost there are two further parts, the subjective costs to you and the greater costs to humanity (or, even broader, conscious minds) at large. The decision on whether to take Pascal's wager or not reveals either the biases of the participant or their relative valuation of their utility vs the utility of others. The later being further influence by the popularity of the participant as that magnifies their choices' impact on others.

    Focusing just on the latter issue (i.e. your biases are such that Pascal's wager is convincing and you're unconcerned about the possibility of a god that eternally punishes theists) I can easily see that, for some, it's reasonable to "act as if you believe in God" as that can certainly confer benefits in our society where theism is the majority stance. If you're not bothered by the incongruity of practicing religion while remaining unconvinced of it's claim to absolute truth, go for it. Maybe you're already the sort to enjoy weekly social gatherings to the point that you're not bothered by the potential social castigation resulting in missing a few – maybe the social rewards and/or exploiting the unjustified trust that people place in others in their religious group is worth the cost of pretending that you're Jewish/Muslim/Christian/whatever. If that's the case, go for it…unless you give a shit about other people.

    In my view, if you're well known enough to be getting cited by Ben Shapiro, the humanist thing to do is to renounce belief in a deity as it is hopelessly unlikely and results in untold suffering in others that justify their belief, in part, by referencing yours.

    In short, Keating's continuing to practice Judaism shows that he either underestimates his own influence or he devalues to an inconceivable extent the utility experienced by other people.

    The higher goal here, in my view, is to seek to support the creation of better systems – those that don't confer advantage on those that subscribe to (or act as though they subscribe to) absurd ideas. Someone like Keating can make great strides here – they can either take the advantages of pretending to be a Jew/Christian/Muslim/Scientologist/etc or they can be relatively anonymous among the masses of atheist cosmologists and physicists. It may be relatively thankless, but it seems to me to be the right thing to do to note that the
    God hypothesis is vanishingly unlikely.

  • A.Plosky says:

    Man… what a great conversation, and so enlightening.
    I was shocked to hear that Keating made a video for Prageru. I despise that hoax of a creationist organization. I think that really is a blemish on Keating's rep.

  • I loved conversation about the Multiverse, the Nobel Prize, science & atheism with world famous skeptic Michael Shermer on this SCIENCE SALON podcast!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *