A Scientist Puts Things in Perspective
PHYSICS FOR POETS Brian Greene is to science as Michael Lewis is to the financial world: He distills mountains of complicated information to a manageable size without dumbing it down. His fifth book, “Until the End of Time,” just spent three weeks on the hardcover nonfiction list. It opens with a punch to the gut — “In the fullness of time all that lives will die” — but goes on to strike a chord that is equal parts factual, thought-provoking and reassuring.
“This book takes the reader on a journey from the very beginning — the Big Bang — all the way to the very end, or at least the closest science can take us to the very end,” says Greene, who is a theoretical physicist specializing in string theory as well as a professor at Columbia University and a co-founder of the World Science Festival. “It invites the reader on that journey and tries to give a new perspective on what it means to be human within that cosmological unfolding.”
Not a science junkie? Fear not. Greene will remind you of the brainiest kid in your physics class but one who also happens to be an excellent tutor. He says, “This book is meant to touch the heart and to give a visceral feel for how the insights of science can enrich one’s reality. The fact that people have been taking it as a scientific journey and also a poetic exploration is enormously gratifying.”
Greene takes a holistic approach to his research. First there’s the mathematical piece of it, then the visualization of why certain ideas matter to him and, finally, the idea of why they should matter to the species as a whole. He says, “I constantly think about the world in this multilayered sense.”
His perspective on the connectedness of all beings feels relevant and poignant right now. “I think we need to recognize that we are a hugely resourceful, incredibly innovative species, and we do find the way to survive,” Greene says. “It will be difficult and painful and, for some of us, tragic, but in the end we will come through.” As a veteran of working long stretches in isolation, he has a tip for those of us who are struggling with social distancing: “Even getting in the car, riding around and seeing that there are other living beings in the environment is vital. You need to maintain a recognition that you are still part of civilization.”
And, he adds, “If you’re trying to figure out true things out there in the world, science is the most powerful way of getting at them.”