« Desert Island Discs

Brian Greene

2021-05-16 | 🔗
Brian Greene is a theoretical physicist, mathematician and writer, whose area of research is string theory. His books and broadcasts distil the complexities of science for a general audience, leading one critic to say appreciatively “he speaks maths, physics and human.” Born in New York City, his father taught him the basics of arithmetic when he was a toddler and by the time he was five Brian was multiplying 30-digit numbers by 30-digit numbers - just for the pure joy of working things out by himself. At 11 Brian had exhausted everything his maths teacher could teach him but, thanks to his teacher’s resourcefulness, he managed to get extra tuition from a graduate student at Columbia University. After graduating from Harvard in 1984, Brian won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University to study gravity and quantum mechanics. At Oxford he became captivated by the idea of string theory which was causing much excitement among the physics community at the time. String theory was seen as having the potential to answer life’s big questions about space, time and the universe. Over the years Brian has been at the forefront of scientific discoveries including mirror symmetry and later proving that tears could happen in the fabric of space. Brian is currently professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University. DISC ONE: An extract from Icarus At the Edge of Time. Composed by Philip Glass, performed by the Orchestra of St Lukes, conducted by Brad Lubman, narrated by John Lithgow DISC TWO: Rockin’ in the Rockies by The Cappy Barra Boys Harmonica Quartet DISC THREE: Turn Around by Harry Belafonte DISC FOUR: An extract from Light Falls, composed by Jeff Beal, performed by Hollywood Chamber Orchestra DISC FIVE: Brahms Rhapsody in G minor, Op. 79 no 2, performed by Martha Argerich DISC SIX: Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland with the Victor Young Orchestra DISC SEVEN: A Million Dreams by Ziv Zaifman, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams DISC EIGHT: The Sound of Silence by Disturbed BOOK CHOICE: Philosophical Explanations by Robert Nozick LUXURY ITEM: A solar powered particle collider CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Turn Around by Harry Belafonte Presenter: Lauren Laverne Producer: Paula McGinley
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Pvc sounds music. Radio broadcasts, hallo unlearned event, and this is the desert island discs. Podcast. Every week I ask my guest to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island for rights reasons them It is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. My castaway this week is the scientist and also Brian Green he's, professor of physics and takes at columbia, university in new york and spent His career in search of einstein, stream, a unified theory of physics, tying the four fundamental forces that govern the universe together in a city.
Framework, if you're all right, Blinded by the science. Don't worry his best selling books broadcasts and lectures on string theory of brought them. And bending possibilities of theoretical physics to life in the public imagination as one journalist put it, he speaks mass physics and human great news for us today. The path that them to contemplate. The mysteries of the cosmic symphony was more direct. Then you might imagine he group anew city across the road from the Hayden planetarium, on rainy days, his parents would send a move that to entertain himself one. the corridors of what he calls the cap labyrinth, fine exploratorium, he was captivated and how being ever since asked whether he lived to see proof of the central thesis of string theory. He says find yourself momentarily gripped with fear that you spending
working lifetime on something and in the end, still couldn't know if it's right or wrong, but there's never been a theory and physics that has got remotely as far as this one that turned out to be wrong. Proof sir Brian Green, welcome to desert island discs. Thank you So, as I understand it, there's no experimental evidence to prove that strength theories right simply because the theory is so far ahead of our technology. We just contest it until the ideas contains a wild. I mean forget what is provable many of them, globally on the edge of the comprehensible ports. The attraction for you of a life spent at those kinds of our two extremes wells always been the big questions at captivated. May the questions that speak to the things that poets wondered about through the ages why we hear? How did we get here? What is the nature of reality and string? Theory at least has the potential to make headway.
On these questions, to realize that you mentioned the dream of albert einstein to put all of nature's forces all matter together in a unified framework that might tell us what spaces tell us. What time is tell us Why there is universe at all and others are big dreams and were not there yet, but you can see that those kinds of questions can certainly captain one and one nobody seems likely detested seeing you did one say that you'd be thrilled if we could prove string theory wrong. Why is that? Because I'm only after the truth, I'm not trying to push any one. Particular theory. If we approve the string theory is wrong. That would be spent. killer, because then we could put that theory to the side. We'd know it is not the right one focus our efforts on something that might be. The correct theory, of course, will be taken. You bet your work, but also your life today, and I know that you know no time off you're very good cook, but it seems that even when you putting a meal together, you
things a little bit differently from the rest of us. What what's cooking both for you? I do see the world as presenting us with all sorts of patterns thereof, patterns in everyday life, and your right when it comes to cooking. I am the cook in the family. It's all begin when I'm cooking, not everybody at home as thrilled about but putting to you, the colours in the shapes and flavors, is something that certainly fires me in a different way: dependence, drink area, quantum mechanics, but again finding the patterns in and finding the rhythms there, really make something more than it. Otherwise would be to me is the goal of life time he first stan Brien. What's it going to be and wisely chosen it, it's a piece called icarus at the edge of time it's based on on a story that I wrote about a boy who,
is in some sense of futuristic version of the original classic greek myth of icarus. He flies to a black hole and he suffers a consequence that is dictated by einstein general theory of relativity and philip glass run orchestral score. That is performed with a narrator who tells the story of a boy whose
want to challenge the might of a black hole. Everything was going on for enforcing laws. There was no wavering. You realize what was happening on more than one about it was working to complete. It was about to reach the black event perfectly executing and glancing trajectory momentarily hairs about the point of no return the run about perform exactly how easily pulling away from the one edge verses entire being with excitement striving for a second time the run about perform, just as he predicted for one is pass icarus attempted even with to navigate circle. The black holes horizon puckering the very edge of the gravitational I can do that. I can do an extract from icarus.
time composed by philip glass performed by the orchestra of Saint luke's, conducted by broad allotment and featuring the unmistakable voice of your friend, the actor john Lisco professor and green. Your passion for string theory is palpable, but over the years I know that you found not. Everyone gets why it matters matter He does like my mom, raise the one person that you couldn't convince. As you know, I had my first book on this call the elegant unit, I dedicated it to my parents, and my mom was fond of saying that she had read It's three gave me you never got to that education and end. She said the rest of it Had I mean she constantly told me my mom ass to age image, a costly, its enemy, hey, you want and should become a doctor and say well, I am doktor. She has no, no, no, not a phd like a real doktor medical dark, and that was still I was still occur in a jewish. That was stiller golfer, her son, sir Brian. I, who
You'll, forgive the a person's paraphrasing he had, but just to try and catch up with where we are as I understand it. String theory the wave combining einstein's theory of general relativity, and that covers the behaviour of the really big stuff like planets and galaxies with quantum mechanics it focuses on the infant testimony small and strings tiny vibrating pieces of energy that make up the subatomic particles comprising atoms within the universe, so they hold the key to unlocking all of its interacts and to guess of scale in an item the size of the universe. One string would be this of a single tree. How my doing! Well, you just do just got your phd pop up I see that as far as I can go, but contractually great you first became interested in string theory in the eighties. Why did appeal to you is a very exciting time for the future
already interested in and in the force of gravity that may sound strange. How does one get interested the force of gravity, but I've wanted when I was in college, understand einstein jam relativity was largely because I have to say stephen hawking came to harvard as an undergraduate and gave some lectures, and at that time he was still able to articulate some words. They were feeble, so a graduate student would his ear right next to stephen hawking mouth and would then translate from what's even it said to the rest of the audience, would slow down the lecture enough that even a slow undergraduate like me could follow what was going on. It was so incredibly exciting and then what Graduated went oxford, was an amazing moment when people are taken. The general theory of relativity one step further, possibly combining it with quantum mick annex it was an irresistible moment in the mid eighties
there is a possibility of the final theory, perhaps being at hand the excitement in the field was was so thoroughly. Palpable I mean I would get up. Six in the morning and race to the physics, department and oxford because wanted to see the new papers. It had arrived in the post that morning it was that kind of of nightmare amid work until two in the morning gradually I and at, and it was just. This was perhaps a baby. The final step in physics to take a moment. This amazing this is your second disk today, tell us what we can do here and why you taking it to your island with you. so this is a clip from a simple rocking in the rockies and there's the scene, and there were a harmonica ban. The copy barrow boys is playing a quartet, and my dad is one of the members of that court tat To see my dad in an earlier life, I think there's a tendency of kids to imagine that their parents lie.
begin when they were born right and for me to see I dead out there in the world. You know in his white dinner jacket, tuxedo Why, in this peace being slapstick, like his lip in one moment, gets caught in a harmonica and one of the other members of the bank and its maximum, the back of the head to get his lip, free and so forth? There's just joy and simplicity of see my dad in the world in that way. What
broken in the rockies, the copy, our boys harmonica quartet, from the soundtrack to the film rocking in the rockies and featuring your father? Professor brown and green, so you're born in new york city, and you described the joy of senior doug perform that, but you have described him is quite a melancholy person. Why? Well, my dad was a composer. He was a vulcan coach, he was himself a singer, but his heart was right: the in the music that he created, unlocked being a composer is difficult right. I mean few composers really move the world my dad, wrote, wonderful, music, wonderful pieces, but very little of it, saw the light of day very little that got out there in the world in a significant way and that definitely as a source of sadness from my father that permeated his being
He was an avid red, though an auto died act. I think I d dropped out of high school, but was very keen to expand your intellectual horizons when you were growing up. How did fire. Your imagination at about four for five years old. He taught me the basics of arithmetic and got mixed. I do about it and ongoing ask him to set me multiplication problem? Sometimes I spend a say Are they afternoon multiplying, like thirty digit numbers by thirty digit number Zeit pieced together these big pieces of construction paper? I take them together. spend the day just multiplying these numbers together, just for the fun. You can trust him doing something that no one had done before. Of course, wasn't interesting? That's when one had done most people but but me there is a sense of going in, the unknown by virtue of this little piece, mathematics at my dad, had taught me so that to me was really the beginning. Lazy said that, would you
down to stage lectures as a wave popularizing science that you kind of thought of it is doing what he didn't. Why was that potent tee well, I felt inside. him, this urge to connect with the world and bring people to a different place, and I would feel still feel that one, I'm onstage and and and lecturing to audiences are being part of sort of science presentation that carrying on that that jury Carrying on on on that wish that urged that desire, I know that your mother, Rita was real contrast to yoda. Does we ve heard she was the one person you could never quite convinced of the joys of science and in your dad had a tough time in the music business. She was a businesswoman. She worked a veterinarian. When I was quite young and fell a way to move into his real estate business in a way that allowed her to feel so grounded I mean between them. They span the gamut from them.
Concrete to the most fearful it's time for your neck, disk by a number three. What have you got for us and wisely chosen it today? So this is a song called turn around, that my dad compose the music for with harry faulty and Melina Reynolds, and it's a song that when I was growing up, I would here radio, I would see on and it was part of a codec commercial. Remember when I was quite young to me really captures my childhood and captures my dad in a way that really speak to me of of an earlier simpler time and that's in some sense what the song is about my little one, my my
turn on your turn around europe, and here I turn and harry bellerophon tee with lyrics by your father, professor brain green. Boy. Then you lived across the street from the Hayden planetarium, so is very quick work, and I know that you are a frequent visitor on rainy days. What do you verbatim images tar, and moody and- and often times there weren't many people there. In a week day in the afternoon, we just wander the corridors. Come upon you, this media, or are you come apply? No, this exhibit of the planets were the galaxies and to me it was like going in her space? You describe
up in the city as an education in itself and have been part of that kind of rough and tumble. How did it should be very much so you and I grew up. The upper west side of manhattan was not the and your fide domain that it is today and I can t the number of times I was mugged- number fights the that I would have you took up. Judo is kids polly, presumably because if the environment that you are in now totally because this list scrawny kid when he flipped some big kid who has trying to steal as lunch money. You know the other kids, they stood up unnoticed now. On the other hand, it also inspired some kids to challenge may six hundred, notably in net, if I had morph, sir fewer because of it, but I think I came on the other end little less scarred. I think you about eleven when you start getting some extra teaching at columbia university. Thanks to you, you mats teacher. How did you manage to make that happen flee? Well,
yeah by this, this wonderful math teacher. I still remember his name dannyco talk and I had pretty much exhausted everything that intermediate school forty four in manhattan, had to offer in the way of math, so he he wrote a little letter. A little note I didn't at the time notice says he said: look just go up to columbia university with this note and try to hand it to buddy find somebody. So I up there with my older sister and we just started knocking on doors and on one door. The gentlemen who answered it, we gave him the note any read it and and that should amend the note in retrospect may learns had hey. This is a smart kid. Can you teach him and so this graduate student, math department, colombia, said yes and I started to me with him three or four times a week. Over the summer we couldn't payment, have any money what he was doing it just for the the joy of teaching and earning an, and that was a power, four rhythm for me to be able to explore the world in ways that otherwise would simply not have been available to me. Scanty your forth
today, professor brain green. What have you got for us and why you take me with you, So this is an excerpt from a peace that I wrote. A stage were called light falls space. I'm an obsession of einstein and traces albert einstein's journey towards general theory of relativity his own trajectory toward those ideas and if people can feel the excitement. That journey. The drama of human discovery think their association with signs with completely change, and that's what this this pieces,
about an extract from light fools composed by just veal and performed by the house
Were chamber orchestra, professor green over the years you ve made discoveries of your own merits, symmetry being one and later you worked out that tat could happen in the fabric of space. You describe what it feels like when you ve made a major scientific breakthrough, there's nothing like it. it. Gives you choose it gives you a sense of communion with the cosmos that perhaps nobody else munich in that way before, but I should also say, There's anxiety that comes with it. They discovered You mentioned about the tears in the fabric of space, now with colleagues. This is back in the nineties and we submitted the paper electronically it about midnight, so excited we started and we drove away and were chatting in them hang on a second did we double check that am I going ahead, so we ran back through drove
to the office. We retracted the paper from the electronic archive. We did because it was correct right, but that kind of anxiety, suffuses, these kinds of results I think it was an incident with a pizza that played a rather unexpected part in setting you on your chosen career path. Tell me a little bit more about that. That unfortunate moment strive for greater came home from was hungry, so I put a piece of pizza that was left out in the fridge put in the oven. I turned it on ten minutes later go back in the pizza still called. I realize I forgot to light the oven, An old style emory have delighted each time that wasn't a pilot there, so I lit the man That's my parents do before, and the oven of course exploded. Sir doff my eyebrows second third degree burns on my face. I can still see the wall of fire just coming right at my face an interesting moment where the laws of physics were triumphing over human error
and and understandably in future, you a little bit wary of experiments in the lab. Oh, I ve stayed away from expense. And that was it. That is the very last time I am so thin radical all through and through, even in college, when you're supposed to do an experimental course in order. To finish the degree I found a way to slip rule and not take that experimental corso? For me, it's all in about calculations, the numbers that match was in some since the last piece of equipment that I've ever touched you made it in physics at harvard university and graduated in nineteen. Eighty, four on I read that in your final year you made it into the yo book for having the messy ist room yeah. I was just so focused on on undoing work on on trying to figure things out
I paid no attention to wear my clothes when I paid no attention to where the bedding went, and I remember there was one night: there is no noise in the car door, so I took my mattress and I used it as sort of a buffer. I put it against the door to try to block out the noise and then I never moved it so The room was just as if you know it, a war zone inside of their we ve got. cat, sometimes the music Brian. What are we going to do next? I encountered a perfect. Of this. When I was in college, it was a student performance, it wasn't a profession performance it, sir, struck me added deep level, the sort of brooding each year the longing nature of the peace that every so often would like burst forth into the light and then find its way back to the darkness, and when I heard that peace, I said to myself, I've gotta one day be able to play this nigh, couldn't even play the scale and am I
steered us all away from music, because the life for him was so difficult. So I wasn't a kid who took up piano. Is he as a youngster? But when I heard this rhapsody this brahms rapidly, I decided tat. I was gonna, and at least enough piano to be able to play that peace one day
is rhapsody in gmo performed by Martha, augur rich and you did manage to learn to perform it yourself bridegroom Did you get on well performing in airports? I guess and it was such that such a sense of compliment, but also a cent to being able to feel the music in a different way than I had when I was listening to another kid in college playing it into me. That was one of those sparkling moments. Brian in your more recent work. Q wrestled with concepts, including the big bang consciousness, religion and the idea of free will, which you say, doesn't exist. Why not? When you realise that accorded to fundamental physics, we are all just collections of particles, big bags of stuff and those particles are fully governed by the laws of physics without any opportunity? For many of us to intercede and how those particles move
and then, when you realise that our decisions and our actions are just emotion of particles inside of our brains, inside of our bodies. While we can't control that by what force would we control that it is the laws of physics act in themselves out on body and brain that determines what we do and the decisions that we make you view of yourself must be very affected by these concern. so that you go cogitate thing upon a mean, seeing yourself as the collection of particles coming together to yield. A predictable outcome must be quite good for the ego, for example, it would stop began to big vehemence. Yes, well can go both ways, I think, but when I, do something that I am pleased with. I dont look to myself as some abstract I that accomplished at I, rather I say: hey particle
Nice! Really, I'm I'm really. I'm really glad that the laws of physics conspired so that these particles called Brian. This did this or that thing and when they do something less than happy with us and too bad tarn, the laws of physics cause my particles. You do that and unless then, please with that outcome, but that's how the laws of physics operated in this particular case. So it does a lie to pull back from this deep sense of the personal to recognize that we are. part of this unfolding reality and unlike rocks and like trees and like clouds we are made of this. Stuff governed by the same laws, the only differences we have greater in organization that comes to us through the odds and ends of evolution by natural selection, but in the end, were just particles governed by laws. The time for some music by ongoing what's next, and why so? The next is
somewhere over the rainbow Judy garland, the lyricist yep harburg had a great impact, me. He won't. He once had a long time ago said something like a probably get it wrong, but he said words make you think a thought music makes. You feel a feeling, but songs he said make you feel a thought and he said to feel a thought is an artistic process. An end that had such an impact on me because it permits It is my whole perspective on how to be in the world. That I
someone the rainbow Judy garland with the victor young christian, from the soundtrack to the wizard of oz, composed by Harold Alan, with lyrics by your pocketbook. aye, sir Brian Green, when you were young, I know you were raised in the jewish faith and you went to a hebrew school at weekends, but you didn't groping take any religious households. However, unlike some scientists, you are interested in listening to those who have a spiritual perspective. What you get out of india with their fees. Will I like many of my colleagues, are not set, China wipe religion off of the face of the earth? Rather, I see religion as one of the valid and vital human stories is not a story to tell us about the external world, of course, for that we do need physics, but as a story that helps us
understand our own inner sensibility, our own inner cells. For many, the religious approach is valuable and vital, and I think it's one that is part of our human heritage of profound way in your professional life. You ve spent so much time. Looking out, Juno to the farthest, reaches of the possibilities of physics, mathematics and out a scientific understanding of the universe, but you recent book was a completely different journey, one that turkey within the set remaining. How close did you get to finding it? It's a jury. Let's take me to a place, it's not particularly original, but Look: I've gotten there on a novel trajectory mindfulness just philosopher, sages across ages have all said: hey you need to focus on the moment, and I've come back to that. I vote you realizing that when you look at the far future of the universe, every thing that we value it all goes away. The sycamore thermodynamic
the increase of entropy shows us stars. Ultimately, they dissolve planets dissolve matter itself, will likely dissolve into a spray of particles that will just walked through the cosmos it focuses you on this moment and it gives at least me a sense of of gratitude, a sense of r, prince for being part of creation at all it's time to hear your next disk today. What is it wisely chosen it so a million dreams, the soundtrack from the greatest showman- and you know I don't want to like a hallmark card here, but with all that we have gone through over the last year with this pernicious virus with my mom, I lost my mom to the virus, and I look at my kids and I just don't them to lose the ability to dream to dream of a better time to dream of a mom, when they will be out in the world living life fully,
this song in particular. I think just captures that spirit beautifully. right now, the world. A million dreams. Zeb statement from the soundtrack to the greatest schuman, professor brain green, you have a farm, upstate new york, where you spent much of your time these days. How important is it for you to connect with nature? I think it's utterly
sancho you know when I grew up in manhattan. A clear night full of stars would mean that there were five point of light that he could see her. it right and an end. Now out there in the country, look up, and you see what our forebears saw and it feels to me have any data on this, but intuitively. It feels to me that if every single person on planet earth were to experience that dark night, full of stars we would be able to transcend the everyday. We be able to deal with problems in it in it in a different way. I'm not saying that's the the silver bullet That would solve everything, but that sense of connection to the earth that sense of connect into the wider universe. Would allow us to put things in context, and I think that the tremendous loss that so many
people live in cities and dont. Have the connection to nature? Don't have the connection to the stars acoustic sky full of stars to enjoy on your desert islands, and I am about to cast you away there. I know many years ago, universal practice run on a company expedition. wondering how you got on there Oh, my god, I'm not not well, that was that was torture. The I had three days of a solo, on on an outward bound course- and I was a kid and and look those three days have stuck, me more than any other, so I deeply value them but being up there in the woods as a city, kid never having slept in a bed outside of a city in there. I was on the ground with you know, a sleeping bag and carpet was tough, but it certainly made me appreciate The power of nature to change the way we think about yourself in the world. So how are you about our island, then I'm looking forward to
my one more disk before we send you they're your final truck today. What is it and why the chosen it? I was right. A peace a couple years ago that was exploring onstage the journey from the big bang until the end, when all there are particles wafting through the darkness, and the question was what performance These will resonate with the ending of the universe, and so my wife suggested Tracy day suggested the sound of silence, but the salmon garfunkel randy, she felt too sweet to lyrical for, for this ending and another producer suggested the performance by David dream and disturbed, and when I heard that as this is it, this is perfect. because these are railing against the darkness- is a railing against the silence in his performance descent.
Ability of. We do not want to go into the place of darkness with particles walking through the void descent the silence composed by poor simon performed by disturbed superman, Brian Green, I'm going to send you away to the islands, I'm giving you the bible on the complaint works if shakespeare to take with you, you can also have another book
your own choosing? What let me I'm gonna, take philosophical explanations by robert nosek. He was my philosophy, professor, in college. If I have the bible and I've got shakespeare got the human condition cover, but I want to have an answer This argument and discussion about the big problems of free will and morality, and all that important better and having that conversation with robert knows it would be a oh sir. a powerful way to spend the time yeah he'd, be going on the island. You can also have a luxury item. Tomato stay low, but more enjoyable vote will not be lost The two slippers, because I hate the feeling of sand on my feet, but I felt that was not maximum use the opportunity. So instead I'm going to take the world's largest particle collider This would have to be solar powered Fine, you other person to say rather fear,
sickly. That would be possible. I fear ethically gaily and finally, which one of the eight tracks that you share with us today. Would you saved from the waves if he had to rescue just one view discs nervous, azure, easy for me, I'm in a choose turn around. You know my dad song. They connection to to my dad would be a powerful element to take with me, so I was certainly say that professor buying green. Thank you very much for letting us here. You design the disks my pleasure. Thank you. So much.
I hope enjoyed my conversation with Brian. It is a shame he couldn't take his slippers, but I'm sure the particles collided will keep him happy enough with castaway many scientists to our island, including fellow physicists, collar valley, brine, coax, joslyn, bell, banal and gmo Clearly, you can find their episodes in a desert island discs programme archive I'm three BBC sands. Next time my guest will be the comedian maxie sale. I do hope Join us
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Transcript generated on 2022-06-05.