Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 30, 2012


Host: Ted Simons

Award-winning Physicist Lawrence Krauss


  • A discussion with ASU’s world renowned theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, who has been named as the recipient of the 2012 Public Service Award from the National Science Board for his efforts to improve the understanding of science.
Guests:
  • Lawrence Krauss - ASU Theoretical Physicist
Category: Science   |   Keywords: award, winners, phsicist, ASU, public, service, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: ASU PHYSICIST LAWRENCE KRAUSS WILL BE IN WASHINGTON, D.C. LATER THIS WEEK TO ACCEPT THE 2012 PUBLIC SERVICE AWARD FROM THE NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD, A POLICY ARM OF THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION. KRAUSS IS RECEIVING THE HONOR FOR HIS EFFORTS TO INCREASE THE PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF COMPLEX SCIENTIFIC IDEAS. JOINING ME NOW TO TALK ABOUT HIS WORK IS LAWRENCE KRAUSS, A FOUNDATION PROFESSOR IN THE SCHOOL OF EARTH AND SPACE EXPLORATION AND DEPARTMENT OF PHYSICS AT ASU. HE'S ALSO THE DIRECTOR OF ASU'S ORIGINS PROJECT. ALWAYS GOOD TO SEE YOU. THANKS FOR JOINING US.

Lawrence Krauss: ALWAYS GOOD TO BE BACK.

Ted Simons: THE NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD OF -- THIS SOUNDS LIKE A PRETTY BIG. HOW BIG OF A DEAL IS THIS?

Lawrence Krauss: IT'S A PRETTY NICE DEAL. IT'S THE STATE DEPARTMENT AND A BLACK TIE. I HAVE TO WEAR A TUXEDO, AND IT'S -- I'M TOLD THE CEREMONY WHICH WILL HAVE A MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT IS ACTUALLY IN THE ROOM WITH THOMAS JEFFERSON'S DESK AND PAUL REVERE'S SILVER WEAR SO IT SOUNDS GOOD.

Ted Simons: YEAH. GOOD COMPANY. I GOT TO ASK YOU. WHY DO YOU THINK YOU ARE BEING HONORED?

Lawrence Krauss: WENT THROUGH THE LIST AND EVENTUALLY GOT TO ME. I'M HAPPY, IT'S NICE, ACTUALLY, IT'S VERY NICE TO BE HONORED THIS WAY BECAUSE THEY OFTEN HONOR JOURNALISTS AND SO TO HONOR A SCIENTIST FOR REACHING OUT IS A GOOD MESSAGE. AND I GUESS THERE AREN'T THAT MANY, AND THEY PARTICULARLY APPARENTLY APPRECIATED THE VARIETY OF WORK FROM THE PUBLIC LECTURES TO THE WRITING OF BOOKS TO NEWSPAPERS AND THEN COMING OUT TO TALK TO PEOPLE LIKE YOU.

Ted Simons: OK. INCREASING THE PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF SCIENCE IS KIND OF THE DEFINITION HERE OF WHY YOU RECEIVED THE AWARD. WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC NOT UNDERSTAND ABOUT SCIENCE?

Lawrence Krauss: I THINK IT WOULD BE EASIER TO ANSWER THE OTHER QUESTION. WHAT DO YOU THIS UNDERSTAND? THE PUBLIC MISCONCEPTION, FIRST OF ALL, THE PUBLIC IS FASCINATED BY SCIENCE. PEOPLE DON'T REALIZE THAT. IT'S JUST THEY DON'T REALIZE WHAT SCIENCE IS MOST OF THE TIME. ONE OF THE THINGS I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN WHICH WE ARE TRYING TO DO AGAIN IS GET A PRESIDENTIAL SCIENCE DEBATE, DEBATE ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY BETWEEN THE TWO PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES. I STARTED AN ORGANIZATION FOUR YEARS AGO TO TRY AND DO THAT. WE ARE TRYING TO DO IT AGAIN AND ONE OF THE THINGS WE POLLED PEOPLE, WE DISCOVERED THAT EVEN PEOPLE WHO SEEM ANTISCIENCE SAY SCIENCE SHOULD BE THE BASIS OF PUBLIC POLICY. BUT THEY DON'T REALIZE WHAT SCIENCE IS. SO YOU KNOW, THERE'S THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION DOES A SURVEY OF SCIENTIFIC OR ATTITUDES TOWARDS SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC. AND IT'S PRETTY DEPRESSING. EVERY TIME THEY DO IT 50% OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC GETS IT WRONG WHEN ASKED TO ANSWER THE FOLLOWING TRUE OR FALSE. I WAS GOING TO PUT THE QUESTION.

Ted Simons: No, DON'T DO THAT.

Lawrence Krauss: DOES THE EARTH ORBIT THE SUN AND TAKE YEAR TO DO IT, TRUE OR FALSE?

Ted Simons: DOES THE EARTH ORBIT THE SUN AND TAKE A YEAR TO DO IT?

Lawrence Krauss: 50% OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC SAY IT DOESN'T.

Ted Simons: ISN'T THAT KIND OF LIKE WHO FOUGHT IN THE CIVIL WAR?

Lawrence Krauss: YOU WOULD THINK IT WOULD BE. IT'S AMAZING TO ME. SO THE LEVEL OF PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING IS VERY POOR. WHICH, BY THE WAY, THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS, THERE ARE A NUMBER OF REASONS WHY I LIKE TO WRITE AND REACH OUT. ONE IS I ENJOY IT, FRANKLY. ANOTHER IS AS A YOUNG PERSON WHAT GOT ME INTERESTED IN SCIENCE WAS READING BOOKS BY SCIENTISTS LIKE EINSTEIN. I LIKE TO RETURN THE FAVOR. WHEN A YOUNG KID COMES UP AND SAYS YOUR BOOK MADE ME A SCIENTIST, THAT'S GREAT. BUT THE OTHER IS THAT SCIENCE IS THE BASIS OF ALL THE IMPORTANT DECISIONS WE HAVE TO MAKE AS A SOCIETY IN THIS CENTURY. AND IF PEOPLE DON'T HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF IT, HOW CAN YOU HAVE A FULLY FUNCTIONING DEMOCRACY? IT SEEMS TO ME IT'S URGENT.

Ted Simons: IT'S URGENT AND PEOPLE DON'T KNOW A LOT OF. 50 PERCENT OF PEOPLE DON'T KNOW IT TAKES A YEAR?

Lawrence Krauss: I THOUGHT IT WAS A TRICK QUESTION. AND I LOOKED AT THIS SURVEY. THAT WAS THE QUESTION. IT WAS NOT A TRICK QUESTION. I KNOW WHO THEY WOULD VOTE FOR BUT --

Ted Simons: WHAT DO PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW ABOUT SCIENCE?

Lawrence Krauss: THAT'S, WHAT PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW IS THE SCIENCE THEY THINK IS IMPORTANT TO THEIR LIVES. AND IT'S INCUMBENT UPON PEOPLE LIKE ME TO CONVINCE THEM TO SEDUCE THEM. I OFTEN SAY TEACHING IS SEDUCING. TALKING ON TV, YOU GOT TO CONVINCE PEOPLE WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT IS IMPORTANT. I OFTEN TELL TEACHERS THE BIGGEST MISTAKE THEY MAKE IS ASSUMING THEIR STUDENTS ARE INTERESTED IN WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY. PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW THE SCIENCE IS RELEVANT TO THEIR LIVES BUT THEY MAY NOT REALIZE THAT, IN FACT, EVERYTHING FROM BEING AS ESOTERIC THAT YOU ARE STAR DUST, EVERY ATOM IN YOUR BODY WAS IN A STAR THAT EXPLODE AND EVERY ATOM HAS EXPERIENCED THE MOST VIOLENT EXPLOSION IN THE UNIVERSE AND PEOPLE DON'T UNDERSTAND THAT IT'S NOT SOME PREDICTION OF THE FUTURE, THAT IT'S AFFECTING THEM NOW, ARE THE THINGS THAT ARE RELEVANT TO ENERGY. BUT PEOPLE DON'T REALIZE THAT THE RELEVANT SCIENCE IS IMPORTANT FOR THEIR DAILY LIVES. EVEN THE MOST ESOTERIC SCIENCE. I REMEMBER I ONCE WROTE A PIECE WHEN I WAS STUCK IN TRAFFIC. I REALIZED MY GPS WAS FUNCTIONING BECAUSE WE USE GENERAL RELATIVELY. THE MOST EXOTIC THING IN PHYSICS IF YOU DIDN'T TAKE INTO CORRECTION THE CURVE SURE OF SPACE YOUR GPS WOULD STOP WORKING IN EIGHT SECONDS.

Ted Simons: HOW DO YOU MAKE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN A GPS AND GENERAL RELATIVELY? HOW DO YOU MAKE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN STAR TREK AND SOME COMPLEX SCIENTIFIC IDEA? HOW DO YOU DO THAT AND KEEP EYELIDS OPEN?

Lawrence Krauss: BECAUSE YOU USE STAR TREK OR GPS BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE FASCINATED BY THEIR GPS'S. THEIR LIVES DEPEND ON THEM. IF I CAN USE STAR TREK AS A HOOK, IF I WROTE ABOUT SOME ASPECT OF GENERAL RELATIVITY IT WOULD BE ONE THING BUT IF I TALK ABOUT WARP DRIVES AND TIME TRAVEL IN THE CONTEXT OF STAR TREK PEOPLE WILL LISTEN. I CAN SNEAK IN THINGS I COULDN'T BEFORE. MY NEW BOOK, WHY IS THERE SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING, WHILE IT'S AN IMPORTANT QUESTION IT'S ALSO A HOOK BECAUSE IT'S A QUESTION THAT LOTS OF PEOPLE HAVE ASKED THEMSELVES IN A RELIGIOUS CONTEXT. ANY WAY I CAN USE QUESTIONS THAT PEOPLE ALREADY ASK THEMSELVES, WHERE ARE WE GOING? HOW WILL THE WORLD END? ARE WE ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE? CAN I GO BACK IN TIME? WOULDN'T YOU WANT TOWEL BACK IN TIME AND CORRECT THE ERRORS OF YOUR YOUTH OR REVISIT THEM?

Ted Simons: THAT'S ALWAYS BEEN A QUESTION OF MINE. IF YOU CAN TIME TRAVEL I WOULD SAY NO BECAUSE NO ONE FROM THE FUTURE HAS EVER COME BACK AND SAID HELLO.

Lawrence Krauss: STEVEN HAWKING SAID THAT BEFORE HE WROTE THE FORWARD FOR MY LAST BOOK AND I COUNTERED THEY ALL WENT BACK TO THE 1960s AND NO ONE NOTICED.

Ted Simons: ALL RIGHT. BROAD EXPLANATIONS, POP CULTURE IS A STARTING POINT. CAN IT BE TOO BROAD? CAN YOU GET -- CAN WE BE LED DOWN THE WRONG PATH BECAUSE IT'S TOO EASY TO FIGURE OUT?

Lawrence Krauss: WELL, I THINK, I THINK THE – WE CAN DEFINITELY BE LED DOWN THE WRONG PATH. AND THE REAL PROBLEM IS HAVING A FILTER. ONE OF THE THINGS I WANT TO DO, PEOPLE TEND TO THINK SCIENCE IS JUST A BUNCH OF FACTS. BUT IT'S NOT. IT'S A PROCESS. IT'S A PROCESS OF TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE UNIVERSE ASK & SEPARATE THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF. IT'S THAT PROS WE WANT TO TEACH KIDS AND THE PUBLIC. NORMALLY ONE OF MY FAVORITE MENTOR I USE HERE CAME FROM THE PUBLISHER IN THE "NEW YORK TIMES" WHO SAID I LIKE TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND BUT NOT SO OPEN MY BRAINS WILL FALL OUT. THE IDEA BASICALLY IF YOU READ SOMETHING IN THE NEWSPAPER OR HEAR SOMETHING, HEAVEN FOR BID ON THIS PROGRAM THAT SOUNDS SO CRAZY THAT IT CONTRADICTS THE EVIDENCE OF YOUR EXPERIENCE, IT'S PROBABLY WRONG. YOU JUST GOT TO BE SKEPTICAL. AND THE INTERNET IS FULL OF INFORMATION BUT IT'S FULL OF FALSE INFORMATION AS WELL AS TRUE INFORMATION. AND WHAT PEOPLE NEED IS A FILTER. AND WE HAVE THAT FILTER. IF I CAME ON THIS PROGRAM AND SAID THE HOLOCAUST NEVER HAPPENED, NO ONE WOULD BUY IT BECAUSE WE HAVE THIS BASIC HISTORICAL FILTER. BUT I CAN COME TO THIS PROGRAM AND SAY, YOU SEE THIS? INSIDE PROTONS ARE LITTLE PINK ELEPHANTS AND IF I SAID WITH IT A STRAIGHT FACE, PEOPLE WOULD BELIEVE IT. AND THEREFORE, I HAVE A TREMENDOUS RESPONSIBILITY AS A SCIENTIST WHO DOES TALK TO THE PUBLIC TO MAKE SURE I DON'T KNOWINGLY MISLEAD. THAT'S PROBABLY ONE OF THE THINGS I DO THE MOST TO TRY TO MAKE SURE I DON'T KNOWINGLY MISLEAD. CERTAINLY I DO AT TIMES BUT WE HAVE TO BE VERY CAREFUL BECAUSE THE PUBLIC DOESN'T HAVE THAT FILTER. AND THE OTHER THING I NEED TO DO, IT SEEMS TO ME IS CONVINCE PEOPLE THAT IT'S IMPORTANT FOR THEIR LIVES OR INTEREST INTERESTING. IT'S NOT JUST THAT IT'S TECHNOLOGY. THESE IDEAS, TIME TRAVEL, THESE ARE SOME OF THE MOST FASCINATING IDEAS HUMANS HAVE EVER COME UP WITH. FOR SOME REASON WHEN IT COMES TO ART OR MUSIC, PEOPLE CAN SAY, WELL, I ENJOY MUSIC BUT I DON'T PLAY ANYTHING. I ENJOY GOING TO THE MUSEUM BUT I CAN'T DRAW. FOR SOME REASON YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ENJOY SCIENCE UNLESS YOU CAN DO SCIENCE. IT SHOULDN'T BE THAT WAY.

Ted Simons: IT'S THAT INTIMIDATION FACTOR AND YET ON YOUTUBE, THE BASIS FOR THIS BUICK, IF YOU GET DOWN TO IT 1.3 MILLION HITS, THE "NEW YORK TIMES," YOU REMEMBER ON THIS PROGRAM WHEN YOU FOUND OUT YOU WERE IN THE TOP 10 "NEW YORK TIMES" BESTSELLER LIST, SO PEOPLE ARE EAGER AND INTERESTED OUT THERE.

Lawrence Krauss: THEY ARE EAGER AND THEY ARE INTERESTED. YOU HAVE TO FIND A WAY TO CULTIVATE THAT INTEREST. AND UNFORTUNATELY, THE MEDIA DOESN'T REALLY REALIZE THAT. I DO A LOT OF TV IN DIFFERENT WAYS BUT TO TRY AND GET NETWORK TV TO PUT SCIENCE ON, THEY THINK IT'S BORING. AND THE PUBLIC HAS BEEN TOLD IT'S BORING. BUT IT'S NOT. WHEN YOU INTRODUCE IT, AND PEOPLE EAT IT UP. THEY REALLY DO. BECAUSE EVERYONE IS A SCIENTIST. EVERYONE IS BORN A SCIENTIST. WHEN WE ARE KIDS, WE ARE BORN PLAYING WITH THINGS. WHAT WE DO UNFORTUNATELY IS WE DRILL THAT OFF THE CHILDREN IN SCHOOL. WE CONVINCE THEM THAT SCIENCE ISN'T FUN. IT'S JUST A SET OF BORING FACTS THEY HAVE TO MEMORIZE. AND SO WHAT WE NEED TO DO IS HOOK INTO THE NATURAL SCIENTIST. I WILL GIVE YOU A POLITICAL EXAMPLE BUT THAT, I REMEMBER IN WAY BACK WHEN, PRESIDENT BUSH WAS TALKING ABOUT INTELLIGENT DESIGN VERSUS EVOLUTION. HE SAID BOTH SIDES SHOULD BE TAUGHT. WHICH WASN'T INTRINSICALLY STUPID. THERE WERE TWO SIDES TO THE STORY. BUT THE SAME WEEK, HE CAME OUT, THE AVIAN FLU WAS A BIG DEAL AND HE SAID, WE GOT TO FIND HOW FAST THE AVIAN FLU IS MUTATING FROM BIRDS TO HUMANS. NOT A SINGLE PERSONAL CAME OUT AND SAID, IT'S BEEN DESIGNED TO KILL US. FORGET ABOUT IT. EVERYONE KNOWS SCIENCE, THEY CAN TURN TO SCIENCE AND IT'S THE SOLUTION TO OUR PROBLEMS. AND IT'S FASCINATING. SO WE GOT TO TAP INTO THAT INNER SCIENTISTS.

Ted Simons: THE INNER SCIENTIST, FOR A LOT OF FOLKS IS AN INNER THEOLOGIAN IN THERE, AN INNER CRITIC, I HAVE ASKED WHAT PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW WHAT THEY DON'T KNOW. DO WHAT DO PEOPLE NOT WANT TO KNOW ABOUT SCIENCE?

Lawrence Krauss: THAT'S A REALLY GOOD QUESTION. I THINK SOME PEOPLE SEE SCIENCE AS A THREAT. THAT'S BIG PROBLEM FOR US. THEY SEE SCIENCE AS A THREAT TO THEIR FAITH. AND THEREFORE THEY WOULD RATHER THEIR CHILDREN NOT LEARN SCIENCE IN SCHOOL, NOT LEARN ABOUT EVOLUTION THAN HEAVEN FORBID THEIR FAITH MIGHT BE SHAKEN. THEY MAY NOT WANT TO KNOW THAT THERE MAY NOT BE ANY PURPOSE FOR THE UNIVERSE. THEY, THERE ARE THINGS THAT ARE TERRIFYING IN SOME SENSE, AND IT IS TRUE THAT KNOWLEDGE IS NOT JUST FOR COMFORT. AND IN SOME SENSE I HAVE EVEN SAID IT RECENTLY IN AN INTERVIEW SCIENCE IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE US UNCOMFORTABLE A LITTLE BIT BECAUSE IT'S ONLY WHEN OUR UNCOMFORTABLE WE OPEN OUR MINDS UP. YET AT THE SAME TIME, I THINK IF PEOPLE REALIZE THAT IF THEY NEED FAIRY TALES TO HAVE SOLACE, THERE'S A PROBLEM. THAT, IN FACT, YOU CAN LIVE IN THE UNIVERSE AND THE REAL UNIVERSE AND FIND IT SPIRITUALLY FULFILLING. I CERTAINLY FIND WHEN I LOOK UP AT THE NIGHT SKY OR LOOK AT A HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE PICTURE, IT FILLS MY MIND WITH AWE AND I FIND THE FACT THAT I MAY BE A SMALL INSIGNIFICANT INDIVIDUAL ON A SMALL INSIGNIFICANT PLANET IN A SMALL INSIGNIFICANT GALAXY AMAZINGLY LUCKY WE CAN TALK ABOUT IT.

Ted Simons: I WISH WE COULD TALK ABOUT IT MORE BUT WE HAVE RUN OUT OF TIME. CONGRATULATIONS ON THE HONOR.

Lawrence Krauss: THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

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