Lex Fridman Podcast - #257 - Brian Keating: Cosmology, Astrophysics, Aliens & Losing the Nobel Prize

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The following is a conversation with Brian Keating,

experimental physicist at USCSD

and author of Losing the Nobel Prize

and Into the Impossible.

Plus, he’s a host of the amazing podcast of the same name

called Into the Impossible.

This is the Lex Friedman podcast.

To support it, please check out our sponsors

in the description.

And now, here’s my conversation with Brian Keating.

As an experimental physicist,

what do you think is the most amazing

or maybe the coolest measurement device

you’ve ever worked with or humans have ever built?

Maybe for now, let’s exclude the background imaging

of cosmic extragalactic polarization instruments.

Yeah, I’m slightly biased

towards that particular instrument.

Talk about that in a little bit.

But certainly the telescope, to me,

is a lever that has literally moved the Earth

throughout history.

So the OG telescope?

The OG telescope, yeah.

The one invented not by Galileo, as most people think,

but by this guy Hans Lippershey in the Netherlands.

And it was kind of interesting

because in the 1600s, 14, 1500, 1600s,

there was the beginning of movable type.

And so people, for the first time in history,

had a standard by which they could appraise their eyesight.

So looking at a printed word now,

we just take it for granted, 12 point font, whatever,

and that’s what the eye charts are based on.

They’re just fixed height.

But back then, there was no way to adjust your eyesight

if you didn’t have perfect vision.

And there was no way to even tell if you had perfect vision

or not until the Gutenberg Bible and movable type.

And at that time, people realized,

hey, wait, I can’t read this.

My priest or my friend over here, he can read it,

she can read it.

I can’t read it.

What’s going on?

And that’s when these people in Venice and in the Netherlands

saw that they could take this kind of glass material

and hold it up and maybe put another piece

of glass material and it would make it clearer.

And what was so interesting is that nobody thought

to take that exact same device, two lenses,

and go like, hmm, let me go like this

and look at that bright thing in the sky over there,

until Galileo.

So Galileo didn’t invent it,

but he did something kind of amazing.

He improved on it by a factor of 10.

So he 10X’d it, which is almost as good

as going from zero to one, as going from one to 10.

And when he did that, he really transformed

both how we look at the universe and think about it,

but also who we are as a species,

because we’re using tools not to get food faster

or to preserve our legacy for future generations,

but actually to increase the benefit to the human mind.

Somebody mentioned this idea that if humans

weren’t able to see the stars,

maybe there was some kind of makeup of the atmosphere,

which for the early humans made it impossible

to see the stars, that we would never develop

human civilization, or at least raising the question

of how important is it to look up to the sky

and wonder what’s out there, as opposed to,

maybe this is an over romanticized notion,

but like looking at the ground,

it feels like a little bit too much focused on survival,

not being eaten by a bear slash lion.

If you look up to the stars, you start to wonder

what is my place in the universe?

You think that’s modern humans romanticizing?

It’s a little romantic, because they also took the same.

They took the same two lenses and they looked inward.

They looked at bacteria, they looked at hairs,

and in other words, they made the microscope,

and we’re still doing that.

And so to have a telescope, it serves a dual purpose.

It’s not only a way of looking out, it’s looking in,

but it’s also looking back in time.

In other words, you didn’t see a microscope,

you don’t think, oh, I’m seeing this thing

as it was one nanosecond ago,

light travels one foot per nanosecond.

I’m seeing it, no, you don’t think about it like that.

But when you see something that’s happening on Jupiter,

the moon, Andromeda galaxy, you’re seeing things

back when Lucy was walking around the Serengeti Plains.

And for that, I think that took then the knowledge

of relativity and time travel and so forth.

It took that before we could really say,

oh, we really unlocked some cheat codes in the human brain.

So I think that might be a little too much,

but nevertheless, I mean,

what’s better than having a time machine?

We can look back in time,

we see things as they were, not as they are.

And that allows us to do many things,

including speculate about that.

But one of the coolest things,

I don’t know if you’re familiar with,

so I’m a radio astronomer.

I don’t actually look through telescopes very often,

except on rare occasions when I take one out

to show the kids, but a radio telescope

is even more sort of visceral.

I mean, it’s much less cool because you look at it,

you’re like, all right, it looks cool,

it’s kind of weird shaped thing,

looks like it belongs in sci fi,

it’s gonna blast the Death Star or whatever.

But when you realize that when you point a radio telescope

at a distant object,

if that object fills up what’s called the beam,

which is basically the field of view of a radio telescope,

it’s called its beam.

If you fill up the beam and you put a resistor,

just a simple absorbing piece of material

at the focus of the radio telescope,

that resistor will come to the exact same temperature

as the object that’s looking at, which is pretty amazing.

It means you’re actually remotely measuring,

you’re taking the temperature of Jupiter

or whatever in effect.

And so it’s allowing you to basically teleport

and there’s no other science

that you can really do that, right?

If you’re an archeologist, you can’t,

let me get into my time machine

and go back and see what was Lucy really like,

it’s not possible.

So the same thing happens,

this is where I’ve learned about this

from March of the Penguins,

when the penguins huddled together,

the body temperature arrives to the same place.

So you’re doing this remotely,

the March of the Penguins, but remote.

We do it from Antarctica too,

so there are some penguins around when we do it.

Okay, excellent.

You mentioned time machine,

I think in your book, Losing the Nobel Prize,

you talk about time machines.

So let me ask you the question of,

take us back in time,

what happened at the beginning of our universe?

Ah, okay, usually people preface this

by saying I have a simple question.

So what happened before the universe began, what happened?

Brian Keating teaching me about comedy.

I have a simple question for you, let’s take two.

I have a simple question,

what happened at the beginning of our universe?

There you go.

All right, good.

So when we think about what happened,

it’s more correct, it’s more logical,

it’s more practical to go back in time starting from today.

So if you go back 13.874 billion years from today,

that’s some day, right?

I mean, you could translate into some day, right?

So on that day, something happened.

Earlier than the moment exactly now,

let’s say we’re talking around one o clock.

So at some point during that day,

the universe started to become a fusion reactor.

It started to fuse light elements and isotopes

into heavier elements and isotopes

of those heavier elements.

After that period of time,

going forward back closer to today,

less 10 minutes earlier, 10 minutes earlier,

or later rather coming towards us today,

we know more and more about what the universe was like.

And in fact, all the hydrogen,

it’s a very good approximation in the water molecules

in this bottle, almost all of them were produced

during that first 20 minute period.

So I would say, the actual fusion and production

of the lightest elements on the periodic table

occurred in a time period shorter than the TV show,

The Big Bang Theory.

Well done, sir.

You know, most of those light elements besides hydrogen

aren’t really used in your encounter, right?

You don’t encounter helium that often,

unless you go to a lot of birthday parties

or pilot a blimp.

You don’t need lithium, hopefully, you know,

but other than that,

those are the kinds of things

that were produced during that moment.

The question became, how did the heavier things

like iron, carbon, nickel, we can get to that later.

And I brought some samples for us to discuss

and how those came from a very different type of process

called a different type of fusion reactor

and a different type of process explosion as well

called a supernova.

However, if you go back beyond those first three minutes,

we really have to say almost nothing

because we are not capable.

In other words, going backwards

from the first three minutes,

as famous Steven Weinberg titled his book,

we actually marks a point where ignorance takes over.

In other words, we can’t speculate on what happened

three minutes before the preponderance of hydrogen

was formed in our universe.

We just don’t know enough about that epoch.

There are many people, most people,

most practicing card carrying cosmologists

believe the universe began in what’s called the singularity.

And we can certainly talk about that.

However, singularity is so far removed

from anything we can ever hope to prove,

hope to confront or hope to observe with evidence.

And really only occurs in two instantiations,

the big bang and the core of a black hole,

neither of which is observable.

And so for that reason,

there are now flourishing alternatives that say,

you can actually for the first time ask the question

that day, Tuesday in the first moments of our universe,

there was a Tuesday a week before that,

24 hours times seven days before that.

That has a perfectly well understood meaning

in models of cosmology promoted by some of the more eminent

of cosmologists working today.

When I was in grad school over 25 years ago,

no one really considered anything besides that big bang

that there was a singularity.

And people would have to say, as I said, we just don’t know.

But they would say some future incarnation

of some experiment will tell us the answer.

But now there are people that are saying

there is an alternative to the big bang.

And it’s not really fringe science

as it once was 50, 80 years ago when these models…

By the way, the first cosmology in history

was not a singular universe.

The first cosmology in history goes back to Akhenaten Ra

and the temples of Egypt in the third millennium BC.

And in that, they talked about cyclical universes.

So I always joke, that guy Akhenaten’s court,

he’d have a pretty high H index right about now

because people have been using that cyclical model

from Penrose to Paul Steinhardt and Aegis

and right up until this very moment.

Can you maybe explore the possible alternatives

to the big bang theory?

So there are many alternatives starting with…

So the singularity quantum cosmologically demanding

singular origin of the universe, that stands in contrast

to these other models in which time does not have

a beginning and many of them feature cycles,

at least one cycle, possibly infinite number of cycles,

called by Sir Roger Penrose.

And they all have things in common, these alternatives,

as does the dominant paradigm of cosmogenesis,

which is inflation.

Inflation can be thought of as this spark

that ignites the hot big bang that I said we understood.

So it’s an earlier condition,

but it’s still not an initial condition.

In physics, imagine I show you a grandfather clock

or a pendulum swinging back and forth.

You look away for a second, you come into the room,

pendulum swinging back and forth.

Alex, tell me, where did it start?

How many cycles is it gonna make before the era?

You can’t answer that question

without knowing the initial conditions.

In a very simple system, like a one dimensional,

simple harmonic oscillator, like a pendulum,

think about understanding the whole universe

without understanding the initial conditions.

It’s a tremendous lacuna, a gap that we have as scientists

that we may not be able to, in the inflationary cosmology,

determine the quantitative physical properties

of the universe prior to what’s called

the inflationary epoch.

So you’re saying for the pendulum in that epoch,

we can’t, because you can infer things about the pendulum

before you show up to the room in our current epoch,

correct? Right.

Yeah, so if you look at it right now,

but if I said, well, when will it stop oscillating?

So that depends on how much energy it got initially.

And you can measure its dissipation, its air resistance,

you had infrared camera,

you could see it’s getting hotter maybe,

and you could do some calculations.

But to know the two things in physics

to solve a partial differential equation

are the initial conditions and the boundary conditions.

Boundary conditions, we’re here on earth,

it has gravitational field, it’s not gonna excurs,

or make excursions wildly beyond the length of the pendulum.

It’s not, it has simple properties.

So, but this is like, in other words,

you can’t tell me when did the solar system start orbiting

in the way that it does now.

In other words, when did the moon acquire

the exact angular momentum that it has now?

Now, that’s a pretty pedestrian example.

But what I’m telling you is that the inflationary epoch

purports and is successful at providing

a lot of explanations for how the universe evolved

after inflation took place and ended,

but it says nothing about how it itself took place.

And that’s really what you’re asking me.

I mean, you don’t really, look,

what you care about like big bang nucleosynthesis

and the elements got made and these fusion reactors

and the whole universe was a fusion reactor,

but like, don’t you really care about what happened

at the beginning of time, at the first moment of time?

And the problem is we can’t really answer that

in the context of the big bang.

We can answer that in the context of these alternatives.

So you asked me about some of the alternatives.

So one is Aon theory,

the conformal cyclic cosmology of Sir Roger Penrose.

Another one that was really popular in the 60s and 70s

until the discovery of the primary component

of my research field,

the cosmic microwave background radiation or CMB,

the three Kelvin all pervasive signal

that astronomers detected in 1965.

That kind of spelled the death knell in some sense

to what was called the quasi steady state universe.

And then there was another model

that kind of came out of that.

You hear the word quasi, so it’s not steady state.

Steady state means always existed.

That was a cosmology Einstein believed until Hubble

showed him evidence for the expansion of the universe.

And most scientists believed in that for millennia basically.

The universe was eternal, static, unchanging.

They couldn’t believe that after Hubble.

So they had to append onto it,

concatenate this new feature that it wasn’t steady,

it was quasi steady.

So the universe was making a certain amount of hydrogen

every century in a given volume of space.

And that amount of hydrogen that was produced was constant.

But because it was producing more and more every century,

as centuries pile up and the volume piles up,

the universe could expand.

And so that’s how they developed it.

That’s slowly.

Very slowly.

And it doesn’t match observational evidence.

But that is an alternative.

By the way, did Einstein think

the steady state universe is infinite or finite?

Do you know?

I would assume that he thought it was infinite

because there was really,

if something had a no beginning in time,

then it would be very unlikely we’re in the center of it

or it’s bounded or it has, in that case, a finite edge to it.

I wonder what he thought about infinity

because that’s such an uncomfortable.

Yeah, it’s a silly joke.

I’m sure you’re familiar with this silly joke, right?

The silly joke was that there are only two things

that are infinite, the universe and human stupidity,

and I’m not sure about the universe.

Well, me saying I’m not aware of the joke

is a good example of the joke.

It’s very meta.

Okay, so, all right, sorry.

You were saying about quasi.

All the alternatives.

All the alternatives in the quasi steady state.

And the most kind of promising,

although I hate to say that,

people say, well, that’s your favorite alternative, right?

This is not investment advice.

Inflation is not transitory.

It is quasi permanent.

So, a very prominent.

Sorry to interrupt.

We’re talking about cosmic inflation,

so calm down, cryptocurrency folks.

That’s right.

Although the first Nobel Prize,

and one of the first Nobel Prizes in economics

was awarded for inflation, not of the cosmological kind.

So, most people don’t know

that inflation has already won a Nobel Prize.

It’s a good topic to work on if you won a Nobel Prize.

Doesn’t matter the field.

Exactly, it’s time translation invariant.

So, when we look at the alternative

that’s called the bouncing or cyclic cosmologies,

these have serious virtues, according to some.

One of the virtues to me, just as a human,

I’m just speaking as a human,

one of the founders of the new version

of the cyclic cosmology called the bouncing cosmology

is Paul Steinhardt.

He’s the Einstein Professor of Natural Sciences

at Princeton University.

You may have heard of it.

And he was one of the originators

of what was called new inflation.

In other words, he was one of the founding fathers

of inflation, who now not only has no belief

or support for inflation,

he actively claims that inflation is baroque, pernicious,

dangerous, malevolent, not to science,

not just to cosmology, but to society.

So, here’s a man who created a theory

that’s captivated the world or universe of cosmologists,

such as it is.

It’s not a huge universe,

but there are more podcasters than cosmologists.

Some do both.

But this man created this theory with collaborators.

And now he’s like, I’m like, Paul, you’re denying paternity.

You’re like a deadbeat dad.

Now you’re saying like, inflation is bogus.

But he doesn’t just attack.

See, this is what’s very important

about approaching things as an experimentalist.

You got a lot of theorists on, and that’s wonderful.

And I think that’s a huge service.

An experimentalist has to say no.

He or she has to be confident to say like,

I don’t care if I prove you right

or I prove your enemy wrong or whatever.

We have to be like exterminators.

And nobody likes the exterminator

until they need one, right?

Or the garbage collectors, right?

But it’s vital that we be completely kind of unpersuaded

by the beauty and the magnificence and the symmetry

and the simplicity of some idea.

Like inflation is a beautiful idea,

but it also has consequences.

And what Paul claims,

I don’t agree with him fully on this point,

is that those consequences are dangerous

because they lead to things like the multiverse,

which is outside the purview of science.

And in that sense, I can see support for what he does,

but none of that detracts from my respect for a man.

You know, imagine like, you know,

Elon comes up with this like really great idea,

you know, space, and then he’s like,

oh, actually it’s not gonna work.

But like, here’s this better idea.

And he’s like, SpaceX is not gonna work,

but he’s now creating an alternative to it.

It’s extremely hard to do what Paul has done.

Doesn’t mean he’s right.

Doesn’t mean I’m gonna like have more

and more attention paid to it because he’s my friend

or because I respect the idea

or I respect the man and his colleague,

Anna Aegis, who works really hard with him.

But nevertheless, this has certain attractions to it.

And what it does most foremost is that it removes

the quantum gravity aspect from cosmology.

So it takes away 50% of the motivation

for a theory of quantum gravity.

You’ve talked a lot about quantum gravity.

You talk to people, eminent people on the show.

Always latent in those conversations

is sort of the teleological expectation

that there is a theory of everything.

There is a theory of quantum gravity.

But there’s no law that says

we have to have a theory of quantum gravity.

So that kind of implicit expectation

has to do ultimately with the inflationary theory.

So in cosmic inflation, so is that at the core?

So okay, maybe you can speak to what is the negative impacts

on society from believing in cosmic inflation.

So one of the more kind of robust predictions of inflation,

according to its other two patriarchs,

considered to be its patriarchs, Alan Guth at MIT

and Andrei Linde at Stanford,

although he was in the USSR when he came up with these ideas,

along with Paul Steinhardt, was that the universe

has to eventually get into a quantum state,

has to exist in this Hilbert space,

and the Hilbert space has certain features,

and those features are quantum mechanical,

endowed with quantum mechanical properties.

And then it becomes very difficult to turn inflation off.

So inflation can get started,

but then it’s like one of, you know, SpaceX rockets.

It’s hard to turn off a solid rocket booster, right?

It continues the thrusting.

You need another mechanism to douse the flames

of the inflationary expansion,

which means that if inflation kicks off somewhere,

it will kick off potentially everywhere at all times,

including now, spawning an ever increasing set of universes.

Some will die stillborn, some will continue and flourish,

and this is known as the multiverse paradigm.

It’s a robust, seemingly robust consequence,

not only of inflationary cosmology,

but more and more, we’re seeing it

in string theory as well.

So that, you know, sometimes two, you know,

branches coming to the same conclusion

is, you know, taken as evidence for its reality.

So one of the negative consequences

is it creates phenomena that we can’t,

that are outside the reach of experimental science,

or is it that the multiverse somehow

has a philosophical negative effect on humanity?

Like it makes us,

maybe it makes life seem more meaningless?

Is that where he’s getting at a little bit,

or is it not reaching that far?

Well, no, I think those are both kind of perceptive.

The answer is a little of both,

because in one sense, it’s meant kind of to explain

this fine tuning problem,

that we find ourselves in a universe

that’s particularly facund, that has features,

you know, consistent with our existence,

and how could we be otherwise?

You know, this sort of weak anthropic principle.

On the other hand, a theory that predicts everything,

literally everything, can be said to predict nothing.

Like if I say, Lex, you know, you’ve been working out,

you look like, you know, yeah, you haven’t,

yeah, that’s great.

You look like you’re, you know,

about somewhere under 10,000 kilograms.

Like, all right, yeah, you’re right,

but that’s horribly imprecise.

So what good is that?

That’s meaningless.

You don’t contribute any what’s called surprise,

or reduction in entropy,

or reduction of your ignorance about the system,

or you know exactly how much you weigh.

So me telling you that tells you nothing.

In this case, it’s basically saying

that we’re living in a universe

because the overwhelming odds of our existence

dictate that we would exist.

There has to be at least one place that we exist.

But the problem is it’s a manifestation of infinity.

So humans, and I’m sure you know this

from your work with AI and ML and everything else,

that humans, as far as we know,

really are the only entities capable

of contemplating infinity,

but we do so very imperfectly, right?

So if I say to you, like, what’s bigger,

the number of, you know, water molecules in this thing,

or the number of real numbers?

Or if I say, what’s bigger,

the number of real numbers or rational numbers?

They’re all different classifications

of the amount of infinities that there could be.

Infinity to the infinity power.

You know, when you have kids someday,

they’ll tell you, I love you, infinity.

You have to come back, I love you, infinity plus one, right?

So, but the human brain can’t really contemplate infinity.

Let me illustrate that.

They say in the singularity,

the universe had an infinite temperature, right?

So let me ask you a question.

Is there anything that you can contemplate

in the, you know, Einstein’s little quip aside,

that’s infinite, like a physical property,

density, pressure, temperature, energy, that’s infinite.

And if you can think of such thing, I’d like to know it.

But if you can, how does it go to infinity minus one?

You know, the opposite direction I go with my kids.

How does it go from like to half of infinity?

Because that’s still infinity.

How did it cool down?

How did it get more and more tenuous and rarefied?

So now it’s only infinity over two,

in terms of pascals.

Less infinite to more infinite.

Yeah, I mean, it’s,

that’s one of the biggest troubling things to me

about infinity is you can’t truly hold it inside our minds.

It’s a mathematical construct that doesn’t,

it feels like intuition fails.

But nevertheless, we use it nonchalantly

and then use, like physicists,

they’re incredible intuition machines.

And then they’ll play with this infinity

as if they can play with it on the level of intuition

as opposed to on the level of math.

You know, yeah, maybe it’s something cyclical

you can imagine in infinity,

just going around the same,

kind of like a Mobius strip situation.

But then the question then arises,

how do you make it more or less infinite?

Yeah, all of that intuition fails completely.

And I mean, how do you represent it in a computer, right?

It’s either some placeholder for infinity

or it’s one divided by a very,

the smallest possible real number

that you can represent in the memory.

Well, that’s basically my undergraduate study

in computer science is how to represent

a floating point in a computer.

I think I took 17 courses on this topic.

It was very useful.

I came to the right place.

But in terms of what a physicist will mean,

and you’re right, I mean, physicists will blithely,

nonchalantly subtract infinity, renormalization,

and do things to get finite answers.

And it’s miraculous.

But at a certain point, you have to ask,

well, what are the consequences for the real world?

So one of them, you ask, what’s the problem?

Does it make us more meaningless?

They purport, many of the people that support it,

like Andrei Linde.

In fact, Andrei Linde says, you have a bias.

You, Lex, me, Brian.

You have a bias that you believe in a universe.

But shouldn’t you believe in a multiverse?

What evidence do you have that there’s not a multiverse?

So he turns it around.

Whereas Paul Steinhardt will say, no, if anything can happen,

then there’s no predictive power within the theory.

Because you can always say, well,

this value of the inflationary field

did not produce sufficient gravitational wave energy

for us to detect it with BICEP or Simon’s Observatory

or whatever.

But that doesn’t mean that inflation didn’t happen.

It’s logically 100% correct.

But it’s like kind of chewing Wonder Bread.

Apologize if they’re one of your sponsors, but you know.

Wonderbread slash lex.com.

Type in code Klebb, right?


That’s my favorite Russian word is like,

would you like a piece of Klebb?

By the way, even that word, Klebb,

which means bread in Russian, as you say it,

like you’re jokingly saying it now,

it made me hungry because it made

me remember how much I loved bread

when I was in the Soviet Union.

When you were hungry, that was the things you dreamed about.

I don’t know.

You know, what’s amazing is how many of the Soviet scientists

contributed to so much of what we understand today.

And they were completely in hiding.

There was no Google.

They couldn’t look up on Scholar.

They had nothing.

They had to wait for journals to get

approved by the Communist Party to get approved.

And only then, if they weren’t a member of some class,

I’m sure you know, like Jewish scientists,

you had a passport that said Jew on your passport.

And Zeldovich, the famous Yakov Borisovich Zeldovich,

he was the advisor, one of my advisors, Alexander Polnareff.

And he had to, only because he was like at a Nobel level

and was one of the fathers of the Soviet atomic bomb program,

could he even get his Jewish student, he was Jewish too,

but only by virtue of his standing

of his intellectual accomplishments,

would they give him the dispensation

to let his student travel to Georgia or something.

And it makes what we complain about,

and I complain about academia.

And it’s like, oh, well, what can I talk about?

We have no idea of how good it is

and that they were able to create things like inflation,

completely isolated from the West.

I mean, some of these people didn’t

meet people like Stephen Hawking until he was almost dead.

And they just learned this thing through smuggled in.

It’s a work of heroism, especially in cosmology.

There’s so many cosmologists that worked incredibly hard,

probably because they were working the,

they could pass off as, well, we’re doing stuff

for the atomic bomb program as well, which they were.

At the same time, there is interesting incentives

in the Soviet system that,

maybe we can take this tangent for a brief moment,

that because there’s a dictatorship, authoritarian regime

throughout the history of the 20th century

for the Soviet Union, science was prioritized.

And because the state prioritized it

through the propaganda machines and the news and so on,

it actually was really cool to be a scientist.

Like you were highly valued in society.

Maybe that’s a better way to say it.

And I would say, you’re saying like, we have it easy now.

In that sense, it was kind of beneficial

to be a scientist in that society

because you were seen as a hero, as there’s famous.

Yes, the most famous hero of the Soviet Republic.

And that, you know, there’s positives to that.

I mean, I’m not saying I would take the negatives

or the positives, but it is interesting to see a world

in which science was highly prized.

In the capitalist system, or maybe not capitalist,

let’s just say the American system,

the celebrities are the athletes, the actors and actresses,

maybe business leaders, musicians.

And, you know, the people we elect are sort of lawyers

and lawyers, so it’s interesting to think of a world

where science was highly prized,

but they had to do that science within the constraints

of always having big brother watching.

Yeah, the same in Germany.

Germany had, you know, highly prized science.

I mean, one of the most famous tragic to me cases

is Fritz Haber who invented the Haber Bosch process

that allowed us to, I don’t know, have you eaten yet?

You look, I mean, I know you fast, intermittent fast

every day and you do that.

You know, I said chleb and you got, it’s a little drool,

but he says I’m lifting and I look slim.

This is amazing.

I’m gonna clip this out and put it on Tinder.

I think that’s a website.

You gotta swipe left or right for that, I don’t know.

But when you think about like, you know, what he did

and created the fertilizer process that we all enjoy

and we eat from every day, he was a German nationalist,

first and foremost, even though he was a Jew.

And he personally went to witness the application

of ammonia, chlorine gas applied during trench warfare

in 1916 in battles in Brussels and whatever.

And he was, they had a whole conjure of Nobel laureates

in chemistry and physics, you know,

that would go and witness these atrocities.

But that was also, they were almost putting science

above, I don’t wanna say human dignity,

but of like the fact that he would later be suppressed.

And actually some of his relatives would die in Auschwitz

because of the chemical that he invented also

called Zyklon B.

And so it’s just unbelievable.

So I feel like that does have resonance today

in this worship of science, you know,

and listen to science and follow the science,

which is more like scientism.

And there is still a danger.

You know, I always say, just cause you’re an atheist

doesn’t mean you don’t have a religion.

You know, just because you, you know,

in my case, in my books, I talk a lot about the Nobel prize.

It’s kind of like a kosher idol.

It’s something that you can worship, you know,

it doesn’t do any harm.

And we want those people that are so significant

in their intellectual accomplishments.

Cause there is a core of America

and the Western world in general

that does worship and really look at science predominantly

cause it gives us technology,

but there’s something really cool about that.

And so for me, it’s hard to find that balance point

between looking to science for wisdom,

which I don’t think it has, they’re two different words,

but also recognizing how much good and transformative power

maybe our only hope comes from science.

You opened so many doors

cause you also bring up our Ernest Becker in that book.

So there’s a lot of elements of religiosity to science

and to the Nobel prize.

It’s fascinating to explore and we will.

And we still haven’t finished the discussion

of the beginning of the universe, which we’ll return to.

But now since you opened the book, wow,

pun unintended of losing the Nobel prize,

can you tell me the story of BICEP,

the background imaging

of cosmic extragalactic polarization experiment,

BICEP one and BICEP two,

and then maybe you can talk about BICEP three,

but the thing that you cover in your book,

the human story of it, what happened?

Yeah, that book is in contradistinction of the second book.

That’s like a memoir.

It’s really a description of what it’s like to feel,

what it feels like to be a scientist

and to come up with the ignorance, uncertainty,

imposter syndrome, which I cover in the later book

in more detail, but to really feel like

you’re doing something and it’s all you think about.

It is all consuming.

And it’s something I couldn’t have done now

cause I have too many other,

wonderful, delightful demands of my time.

But to go back to that moment

when I was first captivated by the night sky

who has a 12 year old, 13 year old,

and really mixed together throughout my scientific story

has always been wanting to approach

the greatest mystery of all,

which I think is the existence or non existence of God.

So I call myself a practicing agnostic.

In other words, I do things that religious people do

and I don’t do things that atheist people do.

And I once had this conversation,

with my first podcast guest actually,

I shouldn’t say, oh, I was just having a conversation

with Freeman Dyson, but he was actually my first guest.

And I miss him.

Name drop.

Name drop, yes.

I’m sure there’s gonna be plenty of comments about that.

In case people don’t know, Brian Keating is the host

of Into the Impossible podcast,

where he’s talked to some of the greatest scientists

in history of science, physicists,

especially in the history of science.

So when I talked to Freeman, I said,

Freeman, you call yourself an agnostic too.

Can you tell me something like what do you do on Saturday,

on Sundays, do you go to church?

He’s like, no, I don’t go to church.

And I’m like, well, imagine there was

like an intelligent alien and he was looking down

or she, I don’t know, thing was looking down

and it saw Freeman and on Sundays,

like a group of people go to church,

but Freeman doesn’t go to church.

And then there’s another group of people

that don’t go to church and those are called atheists,

but Freeman calls himself an agnostic,

but he does the things that the Richard Dawkins,

he doesn’t go to the same church

that Richard Dawkins doesn’t go to, right?

So I said, how would you distinguish yourself

if not practice?

So I’m a behaviorist.

I believe you can change your mentality.

You can influence your mind,

view your bodily physical actions.

So when I was a 12 year old, I got my first telescope.

I was actually an altar boy in a Catholic church,

which is kind of strange for a Jewish kid

who grew up in New York.

Maybe we’ll get into that, maybe not.

But I was just fascinated by these, these.

Can we get into it for a second?

Okay, yeah, all right, let’s go.

All right, let’s go there.

All right.

Let’s go to a baby Brian or young.

Young Brian.

The new sitcom on CBS.

Young Brian, born to two Jewish parents.

My father was a professor at SUNY Stony Brook.

He was a mathematician, eminent mathematician.

And my mother was an eminent mom

and a brilliant English major, et cetera.

And they raised it, but they were secular.

They, you know, we’d go to, I always joke,

we’d go to synagogue, you know, two times a year,

on Christmas and Easter.

No, no, we would go, yeah, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah,

right, that’s the typical two day a year Jews.

And you know, we’d have, we’d have matzahs

once a year on Palm Passover.

And that was about it.

And for years, I was like that

until my parents got divorced.

My mother remarried and she married an Irish Catholic man

by the name of Ray Keating.

My father’s name is James X.

So when she remarried Ray Keating,

I was immediately adopted.

I’m actually adopted into the Keating family.

And he had nine brothers and sisters

and just warm and gregarious.

They, you know, did Christmas and Easter.

It was one of the most wonderful experiences I had.

And I do things with great gusto.

Whatever I do, I want to take it all the way.

So to me, that meant really learning about Christianity,

in this case, Catholicism.

So I was baptized, confirmed,

and I said, I want to go all the way.

I became an altar boy in the Catholic church.

And you’re going to be the best altar boy there ever was.

I had like serious skills.

You passed that collection basket.

I could push people and get them to 2x their contributions.

But in this case, I was 13.

I don’t know if you remember when you were 13.

But if you extrapolate the next level up,

it’s like you go graduate student, postdoc, professor.

The next level up from confirmation, altar boy,

is priest.

And I don’t know if you’re aware of this,

but priests are not entitled to have relations with women.

And as a 13 year old boy, kind of like future casting

what life’s going to be like for myself

if I continue on my path, I found that maybe I…

The math is not up.

That’s right.

There was a serious gap in that future.

And instead, when I should have been preparing

for my Bar Mitzvah, as most Jewish boys would be,

a 12, 13 year old boy, I actually got a telescope

and became infatuated with all the things

you could see with it.

It wasn’t bigger than that one over there

that your hedgehog’s looking through.

Is that a hedgehog?

It’s a hedgehog in the fog.

I should mention, and we’ll go one by one, these things,

you’ve given me some incredible gifts.

Maybe this is a good place to ask about the telescope

that puts some clamps on and let the hedgehogs look.

And using…

Now you’re officially an experimental astrophysicist.

Why experimentalist versus an engineer?

Because you assembled this telescope,

you gave it a mount, and you connected it to a very powerful…

Yeah, but there’s no experiment going on.

It’s just engineering for show.

It’s very shallow.

Experiment is taking it to the next level

and actually achieving something.

Here, I just built a thing for show.

Well, that’s always a joke.

People say, oh, you’re an experimental cosmologist.

I’m like, yeah, I build a lot of universes.

Actually, most of my time is putting clamps on things,

soldering things.

It’s not actually doing the stroking

of my non existent beard, contemplating the cyclic

versus the bouncing cosmological monitor.

Just like most of robotics is just using Velcro for things.

Right, yeah, it’s not like having dancing dogs

and whatever, right?

So telescope.

Yes, this telescope.

What’s the story of this little telescope?

This telescope’s a very precious thing in some ways,

a symbol of what got me into…

What brought me all the blessings I have in my life

came from a telescope.

And I always advise parents or even people for themselves.

You right here, wherever we are,

a biggest city on earth, Manhattan,

where I was growing up as a 12 year old

outside of Manhattan.

You can see the exact same craters on the moon,

the same rings of Saturn, the same moons of Jupiter,

the same phases of the…

You can see the Andromeda galaxy,

Lex, two and a half million light years away from earth.

You can do that with that little thing over there.

One that’s a little more expensive.

Get one that has a mount and you could attach now

your smartphone.

What the hell is that?

I wouldn’t have known what that was in 1994.

And with that, you can do something that no other science

to my knowledge can really replicate,

maybe biology in some sense,

but you can experience the physical sensation

that Galileo experienced when he turned a telescope

like that to Jupiter and saw these four dots around it.

Or that Saturn had ears as he called it.

Or that the moon was not crystalline polished smooth

and made of this heavenly substance,

the quintessence substance, right?

So where else can you be viscerally connected

with the first person to ever make that discovery?

Try doing that with the Higgs boson.

Get yourself an LHC and smash together high luminosity,

call up Harry Cliffe and say, I want to replicate.

How did you feel?

He didn’t feel anything.

None of them felt anything.

It took years to go, you can’t do it.

But with this, you can feel the exact same emotions.

That’s fascinating.

It’s almost like maybe there’s another one like that

is fire.

Like when you build a bonfire, can you actually get it?

See, if you use a lighter, I think if you actually

by rubbing sticks together or however you do it

without any of the modern tools,

that’s probably what that’s like.

And then you get to experience the magic of it,

of what like early humans homo sapiens felt.

You feel what Aug felt when he did it that first time.

By the way, is this a gift?

This is a gift, of course.

You need a little bit of a swag upgrade,

so I got you some gifts.

Yeah, this is a, I’m pulling a Putin,

like ask if this is a gift,

making it very uncomfortable for you to say.

Not really.

This is actually my childhood telescope here, you know.

But now I’m keeping it.

That’s right.

So looking through this telescope.

Was when your love for science was first born.

Changed my life.

Because not only was I doing that,

I was replicating what Galileo did,

but I was, and I’m 100% not comparing myself

to Galileo, Galileo, okay,

if there’s any confusion out there.

But I did replicate exactly what he did,

and I was like, holy crap, this is weird.

Let me write it down.

So it had another effect, which all good scientists,

budding scientists should do, and all parents should do,

get your kid a book, a little notebook,

tape a pencil to it.

Write down what you see, what you hypothesize,

what you think it’s gonna be.

Not like in the high school, you know,

like hypothesis, thesis, but just like,

wow, how did I feel?

Better yet, astronomy is a visual science.

Sketch what you see.

The Lagoon Nebula, the Pleiades Seven Sisters.

You can see them anywhere on Earth.

And when you do that, again,

you’re connecting two different hemispheres of your brain,

as I understand it,

and you’re connecting them through your fingertips.

You literally have the knowledge in your fingertips.

In your connection between what you see,

what you observe, and what you write down.

Then you do research, right?

The goal of science is not to just replicate

what other people did, is do something new.

And that’s why we call it research,

and not just like studying, you know, Wikipedia.

And in so doing, you start to train a kid

at age 12 or 13 for 50 bucks.

It’s unbelievable.

And now we can do even better,

because you can share it on Instagram or whatever,

and you can, by doing so, have an entree

into the world of what does it really mean

to be a scientist, and do so viscerally.

You know, I often say, I was taught this

by my English teacher, Mrs. Tompkins, in ninth grade,

that the word educate, it doesn’t mean to pour into.

Let me pour in some facts and intellects,

and you know, it’s not like machine learning

that you’re just showing like billions of cats,

or you know, you’re not like forcing it in,

you’re bringing it out.

It means to pour out of, in Latin, educare.

And what more could a teacher want

than to have something, the kid is just like gushing.

No, you’re not gonna see like.

To inspire the kid.



Shout out to Mrs. Tompkins.

Yeah, Mrs. Tompkins, she’s watching, yeah.

She’s a big fan.

Me, she doesn’t care for it, but you.

Yeah, excellent.

We take those we love for granted.

This is in Manhattan.

This is in Westchester County, New York.

Okay, got it.

So okay, but then that’s where the dream is born.

But then there is the pragmatic journey of a scientist.

So going to university, graduate school,

postdoc, all the way to where you are today.

What’s that, what are some notable moments in that journey?

So I call that the academic hunger games.

Because it’s like you’re competing against

like these people who are just getting smarter all the time

as you’re getting smarter all the time.

They wanna get into a fewer and fewer number of slots.

Like there’s fewer slots to get into college

than in high school.

There’s fewer slots in graduate school.

There’s fewer, very fewer slots to be a postdoc.

And many, many, maybe infinitesimal number.

We just did a faculty search at UC San Diego,

400 applicants for one position.

It’s almost getting impossible.

Like I almost can’t conceive of doing

what these new brilliant young people applying

to become an assistant professor at a state university

that they’re doing.

It takes so much courage to do that.

So I went from this kid in New York,

thinking I would never be a professional astronomer.

A, because I didn’t know any, I’d never seen any.

I didn’t even know that they existed.

And I thought, who the hell’s gonna pay me

to look at the stars?

Like, won’t they pay me to be like an ice cream taster?

Like, it’s just not something I could conceive

of getting paid to do.

Even if I had the brilliance to do it,

which I didn’t feel I did.

And then I went to graduate school.

And during graduate school, I had this kind of

on again, off again relationship with my father.

And I knew that he was a mathematician.

He had left and gotten remarried himself

and moved across the country.

I didn’t see him for 15 years.

And in that time, I learned a lot about him.

And I learned that he had gotten very interested

not in pure mathematics,

which he had been a number theorist

and contributed seminal work on the offending equations,

which play a role in Turing’s work that you may have seen.

But anyway, he had become interested,

turned completely away from that into the foundations

of quantum mechanics and relativity, which is physics.

And by that time I was at Brown University

and I was thinking, oh, maybe I’ll be condensed matter

physicist or experimentalist.

I never thought I’d be a theorist and I’m not a theorist.

So it was pretty prescient.

But it always appealed to me,

why not do what made me happy as a 12 year old?

We often forget about those primitive things about us

are probably the most sustainable, durable

and resilient attributes of our character.

So with my own kids,

what are they interested in now when they’re young?

And it doesn’t mean that’s what they’re gonna do.

Some of them wanna play Fortnite,

like professional Fortnite play, which there are,

but the odds of that is less

than the odds of being a professor.

Can I ask you, is your father still with us?


Just in a small tangent.


Do you miss him?

Do you think about him?

Does his mathematical journey reverberate

through who you are?

Oh yeah, absolutely.

I mean, it did in very many ways

and he’s been gone for a long time now.

Thinking back to that time with him,

he must’ve instilled some capacity for me

to only wanna spend my time,

which is a limited quantity.

I don’t think it’s the most limited quantity.

Maybe we’ll talk about that later,

but to go into only the most challenging,

interesting things with the limited time that we have

while we’re alive.

And for him, it was the foundations of quantum mechanics.

For me, it was the foundations of the universe

and how did it come to be?

And I felt like, well, people have been trying

since Einstein to outdo Einstein,

really have made great progress

in the foundations of quantum mechanics,

but this is an exciting time.

The COBE satellite had just released its data

that the universe had this anisotropy pattern.

Stephen Hawking called it like looking at the face of God

and so forth.

And so it seemed like this is a good golden age

for what I’m gonna do and what I’m most interested in.

But always throughout that, I wanted to understand,

I didn’t wanna be a wrench monkey,

no offense to people that just do experiment.

And no offense to monkeys.

No offense to monkeys, that’s right.

This little guy, sorry, man.

But thinking back to what animates me,

it’s not doing the engineering

as much as it is getting the data,

but there’s a lot of steps.

I wanna be the guy understanding

what made the universe produce the signal that we saw.

So I always joke with my theorist friends,

call me a closeted theorist.

Like I wanna be, you know what they call

a guy who hangs out with musicians, a drummer.

So I wanna be like that for physics,

for theoretical physics.

I wanna be like the guy doesn’t do new theory,

but understands the theory that the new theorists are doing.

I love that formulation of a theorist

is understanding the source of the signal you’re getting.

Like signal is primary.

Like the thing you measure is primary

and theory is just the search of explaining

how that signal originated, but it’s all about the signal.

I mean, I see the same search for the human mind

and like neuroscience in that same kind of way.

It’s ultimately about the signal,

but you kind of hope to understand

how that signal originated.

That’s fascinating.

That’s such a beautiful way to explain experimental physics

because it ultimately at the end of the day

is all about the signal.


Yeah, and maybe those two things,

the neuroscience and the cosmos,

not getting too romantic, but yeah,

maybe they’re linked in some fundamental way,

some fundamental cosmic consciousness,


We’re gonna get to that.

Yeah, yeah.

No, we definitely have to get back to that.

But getting back to, yeah, so my origins.

So I always say like, and I wanna try this on you.

You said you wouldn’t answer any of my questions,

but I’m gonna ask you some questions.

What’s the most important day on the calendar?

Don’t tell me the date, but to you,

what’s the most important day to you every year?

Do I have to answer or do I have to think about it?

No, no, answer.

Like, you don’t have to tell me the exact date

of the calendar.

It could be like your mistress’s birthday or whatever, but.

I have so many I lose track, even though I’m single.

How does that even make sense?

I know.

Okay, I’m sorry.

So a day, like a month and a day, yeah.

I mean, for me, it would be December 31st.

Yeah, so I was gonna say New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day.

Some people say birthday, anniversary, kid’s birth.

They’re usually signifying beginnings and ends, right?

January means the portal between,

the God was the portal between the beginning and the end.

So you’re looking back, maybe because you’re Russian,

like the death side, the light side,

looking forward into January, the beginning, right?

So everybody’s most important day is usually some beginning

or something significant.

For me, it was studying the most significant thing of all.

It’s like, when did the universe get born,

as I said before?

And I didn’t think there, again, I didn’t,

I just, there was some mental obstruction

that I didn’t realize that I could get past

because I didn’t think like anybody does it.

Like I knew astronomers knew these answers,

like the universe at that time, between 10 and 20 billion

years old.

Now we know it’s 13.872 billion years old.

It’s incredible the five digit, you know,

per significant five.

What is it again? 13.872 billion years.

872 million.

So is there a lot of plus or minus on that?

Is it, what are the error bars on that?

So for me, I’m 50.

So it would be the equivalent of you looking at me

and telling me within 12 hours how old I am.


It’s a half a percent, percent level accuracy.

There’s a confidence behind that?

Oh yeah. I mean, there’s a significance.

Yeah. No, it’s extremely well measured.

I mean, it’s one of the most precise things that we have.

In contrast to, again, 25 years ago,

we didn’t know if the universe was 10 billion

or 20 billion years old,

but there were stars in our galaxy that were believed to be

as they are about 12 billion years old

or in the universe that were 12 billion.

So that would be like you being older than your father.

It was embarrassing.

Can we actually take a tangent on a tangent,

on a tangent, on a tangent?

How old is the universe?

Can you dig in onto this number?

How do we know currently with those,

I guess you said four or five significant digits?

So we can come about it from two different ways.

One, basically they rely on the most important number

in cosmology, which is called the Hubble constant.

The Hubble constant is this weird number

that has the following units.

It has the units of kilometers per second per megaparsec.

So it’s a speed per distance,

which means you multiply it by distance and you get a speed.

And what is the speed you’re measuring?

Well, you’re measuring the speed of a distant galaxy

at many megaparsecs away.

So a galaxy at one megaparsec away,

this isn’t actually strictly true

because of local gravitational effects.

But if you go out, say one megaparsec away,

I would say that that galaxy is moving 72 kilometers

per second away from you.

And every galaxy, except for the local,

very most local group surrounding us,

maybe a half a dozen galaxies,

out of 500 billion galaxies to perhaps a trillion galaxies.

So 12 out of that number are moving towards us,

the rest are moving away from us.

So that number, if you invert it,

if you say, well, when did those things last touch each other,

all those galaxies, now they’re really far apart,

we know how fast they’re moving away.

It’s a very simple algebra problem to solve.

When were they touching?

That’s where you get that number from.

So there’s the local 12 and then the rest.

Ignore the 12, yeah.

And then ignore the 12 and then look at the others

and yeah, then solve the algebra problem.

How does the stuff in the beginning,

the mystery of that beginning epoch

change this calculation of?

Very little, because actually we understand

how there’s some other ingredients that go into it,

namely how much dark energy there is in the universe,

how much dark matter there is in the universe,

how much radiation, light, neutrinos, et cetera there are,

and how much ordinary matter,

like we’re made up of neutrons, protons, croutons.

Okay, so let me, morons.

It appears that the universe is bigger than it is older.

How does that make sense?

Oh, oh, yeah, so you’re talking about the fact

that we can actually see stuff in our observable universe

that’s located at a distance that is farther

than the speed of light times the age of the universe.

Naively you would say that,

so you’re right, if the universe were static,

if the universe came into existence,

and you can conceive of this,

the universe came into a big bang in a fixed universe,

so the universe just started off,

those galaxies were, they could be moving

towards us, away from us, who knows,

that you could say I can see a galaxy

that’s at a distance of only 13.8 billion years

times the speed of light, that would be true.

But the fact that the light is expanding

along with the expansion of the universe,

so imagine there was some very distant past,

we were near a galaxy, it’s gonna produce some light,

and that galaxy’s going to be moving away from us,

the light’s gonna be getting more and more red shifted

as it’s called, and it’s gonna be moving

farther and farther away from us as time goes on,

there’ll be some acceleration

as we get into the era of dark energy.

The light signals, there’ll be some cone of acceptance,

if you will, from which, which represents all the events

that we could have received information from.

We can’t currently communicate with that galaxy.

It sent us some light, and now it’s moving away,

and it sent us some light, and because the space

is also dragging the photons with it, if you like,

the photons are participating

in the expansion of the universe,

that’s why they’re red shifting,

that we can see things out to where the universe

first began expanding, not just when it began existing.

And because the universe has been expanding

for 13.8 billion years, with no sign of slowing down yet,

which is a huge surprise, serendipitous surprise,

that we can see things approximately three times

the age of the universe away from us.

So we can see, it’s called the age of the universe,

15 billion years, just to make the math simple.

We see things at 45 billion light years distance

in that direction, and we see things at 45 billion

light years in that direction,

just turning our telescopes 180 degrees away.

So that means we see things that themselves

are 90 billion light years away from each other.

That’s sort of the diameter of the observable universe.

Is there another universe beyond that?

We don’t know.

So in conjecture, there’s not only one,

there’s an infinite number of them.

How are you emotionally okay with the fact

that our universe is expanding?

So like…

It’s gonna be like Annie Hall, like with Alvy Singer.

I grew up in the Soviet Union.

We watched propaganda films.

I realized that you did, yes.

So there’s a famous… Annie Hall, is that some kind of…

What is the…

It’s a comedy, it’s a propaganda movie with Woody Allen.

Certainly canceled, but nevertheless,

back when he was not canceled yet,

he made a movie called Annie Hall,

in which as a self depiction, he’s like a Larry David

before Larry David was Larry David,

neurotic, typical neurotic young Jew.

He’s in Brooklyn and he all of a sudden tells his mother

he’s not doing his homework anymore.

He refuses to do his homework.

Mother says, why?

Goes, because the universe is expanding

and it keeps on expanding.

Everything will rip apart

and then we’ll never have anything in contact

and everything is meaningless.

I assume these are some of the topics we’re gonna get to.

And she goes, what are you talking about?

We’re in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is not expanding.

And that’s true, Brooklyn is not expanding.

The solar system is not expanding.

Often times they get asked,

what is the universe expanding into?

That’s one of my favorite questions.

What is it expanding into?

And I say, it’s actually an easy question

if you think about it.

You’ve seen your friend Elon, he goes out into space,

he’s got a rocket, right?

What’s outside of the rocket?

If you take this bottle, empty out this bottle,

take the cap off it, go outside the rocket,

sip in some Tang, screw on the cover of it,

what’s in there?

Is it empty?

That’s just semantics, I guess, yeah.

No, it’s definitely not empty.

So you step outside the rocket.

Yeah, you’re in the vacuum of space,

the quote unquote vacuum of space.

And there’s no more liquid in it.

There’s no more liquid in it.

No, it’s just a container.

One cubic centimeter, let’s make it simple.

One cubic centimeter of a box

and you take it out into space,

outside of a Falcon, whatever, right?

What’s inside that box?

It’s not empty.

There’s actually, I’m gonna say,

this is gonna set your friends up.

There’s 420 photons from the fusion of the light elements

that we call the cosmic microwave background

inside that box at any second.

Okay, all right, hold on a second.

What, 420, I’ve heard of that number before.

All right, let’s.

It used to be 69, but then they changed it.

Wow, physics works in mysterious ways.

In a millimeter box, it’s 69.

What are we talking about here?

What’s inside, what’s in the box?

I’m gonna get, that’s right.

Let’s think outside the box.

No, we’re thinking inside the box.

So if you have, every cubic centimeter

of our observable universe is suffused with heat

left over from the Big Bang, dark matter particles.

There’s a little ordinary matter in the universe.

And every cubic centimeter,

there’s some probability to find a proton,

a cosmic ray, an electron, et cetera.

There’s actually an awful lot of neutrinos

inside of that cubic centimeter.

Now just imagine how many cubic centimeters

are in the universe, it’s enormous.

That’s why there’s enormous numbers of particles

in our universe, it’s a very rich universe.

But now let’s zoom in on that box.

So now inside that box, there might be one,

let’s say there might be one ordinary matter,

like a proton or an electron, a baryon, a lepton.

There might be a couple hundred neutrinos

and there’ll be a couple hundred photons, as I said, 420.

What’s between those guys?

What’s between the protons and the neutrinos

and the photons?

Like just zoom into a cubic micron now.

Like imagine 420 things inside a box this big.

It’s actually pretty empty.

Like they’re just zipping around in there, right?

So between them, there’s a lot of empty space.

And this is outside the kind of physics based models

of fields and all those kinds of things,

just like asking the question of like,

what is this emptiness?

What’s the particle content in the universe

in every cubic centimeter of the universe?

Outside of the 420.

So you have the 420, they have some mass.

Well, they have energy, they don’t have mass.

Photons don’t have mass.

That’s why they don’t bring suitcases.

You know, that’s true, right?

Photons never bring suitcases with them

because they’re traveling light.

See, I don’t even get to laugh at you.

That’s corny dad jokes.

Okay, you’ll appreciate some.

No, this is pretty good.

I’m laughing on the insides.

What’s in the box?

What’s the 420?

What’s between the photons?

That’s what space is.

That’s what the universe is expanding into.

Okay, so that’s the notebook

on which the photons are written.

That’s beautiful.

But still, thank you.

Still, I understand this, but it’s still uncomfortable

that if the universe is expanding,

that this thing is expanding, the canvas is expanding.

It’s very strange.

Because like if we were just sitting there still,

I guess if we’re in Brooklyn, nothing’s expanding.

So our cognition, our intuition about the world

is based on this local fact

that we don’t get to experience this kind of expansion.

Yeah, and that intuition leads us astray.

But you know that gravity is the weakest

of the so called four fundamental forces.

And yet it has the longest range pervasiveness.

Gravity is, you know, we’re being pulled

towards the Andromeda galaxy at some enormous rate of speed

because of its massive counter gravitational force

to the force we exert on it.

So gravity is enormously long range, but incredibly weak.

And because of that, we can think about these effects

of expansion as the relationship between the,

as you said, the grid lines on the notebook, right?

Gravity is a manifestation of the interrelationship

between those points, how far they are from each other.

And those can change, those point distances can change

over time because of the force of gravity.

So it’s weak and what we experience as gravity

is the changing of those trajectories

from being rectilinear to curvilinear.

That’s what we experience as gravity.

You had this analogy when you talked to Barry Barish

about bowling ball and a trampoline.

That’s almost right because it’s actually,

you have to visualize that now in four dimensions,

like wrapping a trampoline at every point

around the object, including on the sides,

and it becomes very hard to visualize.

So a lot of people use that.

It’s also a fraught analogy because you’re using gravity,

like the notion of gravity pulling something down

to explain the notion of gravity.

So it’s a little overburdening, the analogy.

But okay, so you mentioned Barry Barish

wrote the forward to your book.

How do gravitational waves fit into all of this?

How do they, on the emotional level,

how do they make you feel that they’re just

moving space time?

Yeah, so gravitational waves were,

the Nobel Prize for gravitational waves discovery

the first time, it was discovered twice,

indirectly by two men named Halcyon Taylor,

and that was given my first year of graduate school.

The day I entered graduate school almost,

they announced these two guys won it,

and the guy who won it did the work

that would later win him the Nobel Prize

when he was my age.

Is this in the 40s?

This was, no, this is 19.

That was a joke.

Yeah, that was good, that was good.

I got it, I got it.

You know, to a cosmologist, age means nothing.

And to a tennis player.

Not on Tinder.

That’s right.

All right, sorry.

Gravitational waves do fit in

because what we’re trying to do now

is use the properties of gravitational waves,

the analogous properties that they have to photons,

that they travel at the speed of light,

that they go through everything,

they can go through everything,

and that they’re directly detectable.

We’re using them to try to confirm

if or if not inflation occurred.

So did inflation, the spark that ignited

the fusion of the elements in the early part of the universe

and the initial expansion of the universe,

did that take place?

There’s only one way that cosmologists believe

we could ever see that.

Through the imprint

of these primordial gravitational waves,

not these old newcomers that Barry studies,

the ones that occurred a billion light years away from us,

a billion years ago,

but we’re seeing things that happened 13.82 billion years ago

during the inflationary epoch.

However, those, we cannot build a LIGO

and put it at the Big Bang.

So if you want to measure,

let’s say you have the old time firecracker,

let’s say there’s a firecracker,

and you want to see if it went off

in the building next door to you,

you can’t see it.

So you can’t see the imprint of it, but you can hear it.

And what we’re trying to do is hear

the effect of gravitational waves from the Big Bang,

not by using a camera or even an interferometer

like Barry used and his colleagues,

but instead using the CMB, the light,

the primordial ancient fossils of the universe,

the oldest light in the universe.

We’re gonna use that as a film, quote unquote,

onto which gravitational waves get exposed.

And hope you can, so what are the challenges there

to get enough accuracy for the exposure?

So the signal, as I said,

so there’s 420 of these photons per cubic centimeter,

and there’s a lot of cubic centimeters in the universe.

However, what we’re looking for

is not the brightness of the photon, how intense it is.

We’re not looking for its color, what wavelength it is.

We’re looking for what its polarization is.

And we’ll go, let me just ask,

are you serious about the per cubic millimeter,

420 is the number?


Yes, cubic centimeter, 420 is the number.

I wonder if Elon knows this,

and if he doesn’t, he will truly enjoy this.

Okay, yeah, that’s true.

Oh, okay, funding security, excellent.

So I mean, this takes us to this story of heartbreak,

of triumph that you described in losing the Nobel Prize.

So describe what polarization is that you mentioned.

Can you describe what bicep one and bicep two are,

bicep three, perhaps, the instruments

that can detect this kind of polarization?

What are the challenges, the origin story, the whole thing?

Yeah, so well, the origin story goes back again

to like a father son rivalry, it really does.

My father won all these prizes, awards, et cetera,

but he never won a Nobel Prize.

And some parents in America, they compete with their kids.

Oh, I was a football player in high school, I’ll show you.

And whatever, wrestling, whatever.

And some of us could be healthy too.

But with me and my dad, it wasn’t super healthy.

Like we would compete and he was much more

of a pure mathematician and I was an experimental physicist.

So we had both different ideas

in what was worth prioritizing our time.

But I knew for sure he didn’t win the Nobel Prize.

And I knew I could kind of outdo him.

So I feel pretty venal and kind of minuscule

kind of character wise saying that.

The only reason you could outdo him

is because the Fields Medal is given every four years.

And only if you’re under 40, which he was.

So he’s working under much more limited conditions.

That’s right, so even if I had, which spoiler alert,

the book’s called Losing the Nobel Prize, so I didn’t do it.

But I wanted to do something big

and I wanted to do something that would really

just unequivocally be realized as in a discovery

for the ages, as in fact it was

when we made the premature announcement

that we had been successful.

So you were from the beginning reaching for the big questions.

That’s all I cared about.

As an experimenter you were swinging for the fences.

That’s all I wanted to do.

I felt like if it’s not, if it’s worth spending

perhaps the rest of my life on as a scientist,

it better be damn well better be interesting to me

to carry me through, to give me the,

I always say passion is great when people say,

oh, follow your passion, but it’s not enough.

Passion’s like the spark that ignites the rocket,

but that’s not enough to get the rocket into space.

So then you swung for the fences with Bicep One.

What is this?

So Bicep One was born out of

kind of interesting circumstances.

So I had gone to Stanford University for a postdoc,

so an academic hunger games.

Stanford? Stanford University.

Yeah, it’s this small little school.

It’s not like that technical college in Massachusetts

that you’re affiliated with.

But as I went there, I was working

for a new assistant professor.

She had gotten there only a year before I got there,

and she had her own priorities,

the things that she wanted to do.

But I kept thinking in my spare time

that I wanted to do something completely different.

She was studying galaxies at high redshift,

and I wanted to study the origin of the universe

using this type of technology.

And I realized, courtesy of a good friend of mine

who’s now at Johns Hopkins, Mark Haminkowski,

that we didn’t need this enormous Hubble telescope.

We didn’t need a 30 meter diameter telescope.

We needed a tiny refracting telescope,

no bigger than my head, less than a foot across.

And that telescope would have the same power

as a Hubble telescope, size telescope could have,

because the signals that we’re looking for

are enormous in wavelength on the sky.

They’re enormously long, large area signals on the sky.

And if we could measure that,

it would be proof, effectively,

as close as you get to proof,

there could be things that mimic it,

but that we discovered the inflationary epoch.

Inflation being the signal originally conceived

by Alan Guth to explain why the universe

had the large scale features that it does,

namely that it has so called flat geometry.

So there’s no way to make a triangle in space

in our universe that has three interior angles

that do not sum to 180 degrees.

You can do that with spacecraft,

you can do that with stars,

you can do that with laser beams,

you can do that with three different galaxies.

All those galaxies, no matter how far you go,

have this geometry, it’s remarkable.

But it’s also unstable, it’s very unlikely,

it’s very seemingly finely tuned.

And that was one of the motivations that Guth had

to kind of conceive of this new idea called inflation 1979

when he was a postdoc also at Stanford, Slack.

And he was trying to get a permanent job,

I was trying to like make my name for myself.

And so I realized I could do this,

but I was also being paid by this professor at Stanford

to do a job for her.

And I was kind of a crappy employee, to be honest with you.

And then one day she couldn’t take it anymore

because I was like sketching notebooks

and planning these experiments.

And I just, I wasn’t, no, I actually.

Big ideas in your mind, you’re planning big experiments.

And that was difficult to work with on a small scale

for like a postdoc type of situation

where you have to publish basic papers,

deliver on some basic deadlines for a project,

all those kinds of things.

And support your advisors, paying, she was paying me.

And so one day I came in and it actually involved

another friend of mine, an astronomer named Jill Tarter,

one of the pioneers in the SETI science business

of detecting extraterrestrials,

which I assume you’d never like to talk about aliens,

so I’m sure we won’t get into aliens.

But Jill was visiting Stanford and I was like,

I really wanna meet her, can you introduce me?

And she said, no, in fact, you’re fired, my boss.

So I was like, this is possibly the best thing

that could ever happen to me.

I didn’t know where it would lead or what would happen to it,

but getting fired from this ultra prestigious university

turned out to be the path, I mean, literally,

that brings me here today, in that because of that,

I ended up working for another person in Caltech,

which is in Pasadena, and she, my original boss,

Sarah Church, she got me the job with her former advisor,

a man by the name of Andrew Lang.

And Andrew was like, he was like this, I don’t know,

like he’s like Steve Jobs or Elon, charismatic,

handsome, persuasive, idea man,

not the guy always in the lobby and doing everything,

but understood where things are going decades from now.

And he had been involved in an experiment

that actually measured the universe was flat,

very close to flat, along with a preceding experiment

done at Princeton by Lyman Page and other collaborators.

So the shape of the universe is flat.

The geometry of the universe is flat.

How did he do that experiment?

So he used the cosmic microwave background.

And so what I said is you have to look for triangles

in the universe.

So you can measure triangles on earth.

You can actually, it’s hard to show that the earth is curved,

but you can show the earth is curved using triangles,

mountain tops, et cetera,

if you have an accurate enough protractor.

Allegedly, yeah.


God, you’re like auto canceling.

This is great.

My ratings are gonna go up, man.

This is gonna be great.

Take out the cake.

If you want actual science, go listen to Brian.

If you want all of these conspiracy theories

or AKA the truth about flat earth, listen to him.

So what he used was the following triangle.

There are proto galaxy sized objects in the CMB.

The cosmic microwave background has these patches.

And so you can make a triangle out of the diameter

of one of these blobs of primordial plasma,

the soup that constitutes the early universe,

which is hydrogen.

It’s very simple material.

Understand hydrogen electrons and radiation, very simple.

Plasma physicists, son, understand it.

The diameter is one base of the triangle.

And then the distance to the earth is the other two legs.

So he measured along with his colleagues at Caltech

and then University of Rome and that’s other group

at Princeton, measured the angle,

interior angle effectively very, very accurately

and showed that it added up to 180 degrees.

Can you localize accurately the patches in the CMB?

Can you know where they could trace them back location wise?

You can know where they are, but more than that,

there’s so many of these patches.

They’re about one square degree on the sky.

The sky, you may know, a sphere has about 44,000

square degrees in a sphere.

So there’s literally 44,000 of these size patches

over which he could do these kinds of measurements

to build up very good statistics.

That’s not exactly how they do it

or how they did it in this experiment called Boomerang,

but they did measure very accurately

the what was called the first Doppler peak

or acoustic peak in the plasma, the primordial plasma.

So the sphere has 44, approximately 44,000 square degrees.

So to cover a sphere, that’s a very kind of important

data collection thing when you’re sitting on a sphere

and you’re looking out into the observable universe.

So there’s a lot of patches to work with.

Yeah, and in fact, a lot of the fast kind of algorithmic

decomposition of spheres and machine learning

in the early 2000s still used today

was created out of this field by data analysts

using this thing called hierarchical equal area triangles

called heel picks is what it’s called.

And so just stitch all this stuff together

and stitch it together very accurately.

Yeah, get high statistical significance

in order to reduce the statistical errors,

very clean signal and a measurement device

to reduce the systematic errors.

Those are the two predominant sources of error

in any measurement.

Those that can be improved by more and more measurement,

you take more and more measurements to this table,

you’ll get slightly better each time,

but you only win as the number of the one

over the square root of the number of measurements,

but the square root of 44,000 is pretty big.

So they were able to get a very accurate measurement.

Again, it’s not exactly how they did it.

They also have to do a Fourier analysis,

decompose that, do a power spectrum, filtration windows.

There’s a lot of work that goes into it, image analysis,

and then comparing that with cosmological parameters,

very simple model, just six different numbers

that go into a model that made a prediction.

And one of those is the geometry of the universe pops out.

And that is the universe has zero spatial curvature,

and that was called boomerang.

So he had just come off of this.

Now, let me remind you, who was the first person

to measure the curvature of the earth?

It’s a guy named Aristophanes in the whatever,

lived around Aristotle’s time.

His name is in the history books.

So this guy, Andrew Lang, I was like,

he’s like the next Aristophanes.

I just wanted to work for this guy.

He clearly had this brand.

He was about 40 at the time, California

Scientist of the Year.

I was sure he was going to win a Nobel Prize for that.

And I knew that he, so I went down to Caltech

to give my job talk.

And he said, I love it.

You got a job.

And before I could even, before he finished the sentence,

I said, I’ll take it.

It was too good to be true.

And I started working there at Caltech,

and slowly but surely, because Caltech’s

a rich private university, at that time

run by a Nobel Prize winner by the name of David Baltimore,

he just wrote us a check.

Baltimore wrote us a check and said, get started on this idea.

And so we started coming up with the idea for what I later

named BICEP, background imaging cosmic extragalactic

polarization, which is kind of ironic,

because we ended up measuring galactic polarization.

We’ll get to that in a minute.

But along the way, the idea was very simple.

We’re going to make the simplest telescope you can possibly

make, which is a refracting telescope.

Your eyes, you have two refracting telescopes

in your head.

Only way forward is making things more complex, right?

And when you make things complex in science,

you introduce the possibility for systematic errors.

And so we wanted to build the cleanest instrument.

Turns out the cleanest instrument

you can build in astronomy is a refracting telescope.

We also had to, unlike that telescope or Galileo’s,

we had to use very sensitive detectors that

were cooled less than 1 20th of the temperature

of the cosmic background itself, which

is the coolest temperature in the whole universe.

So we had to cool these down to about 0.1 or 0.2 degrees

Kelvin above absolute zero.

To do that, we needed to put it inside of a huge vacuum chamber

and suck out all the air molecules and water molecules

and take it to a very, very special place called the South

Pole Antarctica, from which I retrieved for you a patch.

There it is over there.

So when you go there, you get these bright red jackets.


Oh, yeah.

As somebody who was born in the Soviet Union,

we obviously like to call it red.

United States Antarctic Program, the National Science


And the base is called the Amundsen Scott South Polar


So it’s a little known fact of geopolitics

that whatever country occupies a region has ownership over it.

Now, there is a treaty in Antarctica.

You can’t use it for military purposes, for mining,

et cetera, et cetera.

But I don’t know if you know, but about 12 years ago,

Putin sent a submarine to the North Pole.

Now, there’s no land at the North Pole, right?

So what did he do?

He stuck it in the ocean underneath.

But the South Pole is on a continent called Antarctica,

which was first reached about 110 years ago,

the first time in human history.

Antarctica means the opposite of the bear.

It means no bears there, basically opposite

of where polar bears are.

Arctic means polar bear.

That’s where in the Greek.

I did not know that.


So Antarctica means the opposite place of that.

Humans never even saw it, let alone went to the South Pole,

which is kind of in the middle of the continent.

We went to take this telescope somewhere extremely dry.

It turns out the Sahara Desert, San Diego, Texas,

and there’s no place like the South Pole or Chile.

Those are the two premier places on Earth.

Of course, you’d like to go into space.

There’s no water in space.

So it’s not about cold.

It’s about dry.


So that’s why, for example, you can take this vodka,

and you could put it in this cup.

And we could take it over to a microwave somewhere

and heat it up.

After two minutes, three minutes, the water’s boiling.

You can’t touch it.

Take it from me.

Don’t touch it.

But you can touch the mug and take it out if you want to.


Because the mug is totally bone dry.

But the microwaves get absorbed by the water molecules

because water molecules resonate exactly

at these microwave frequencies.

So we don’t want these precious photons, 420 of them,

traveling per cubic centimeter from the Big Bang itself

to get absorbed in some water molecule in the Earth’s


So you take it to a place with the fewest number

of water molecules per square centimeter of surface area.

And that happens to be either Chile

or my other project, the Simons Observatory, is located.

Or you take it to the South Pole.

We took it to the South Pole and spent a couple of months

of my life down there.

And it’s like being on Hoth.

It’s a completely otherworldly environment.

Ice, planar, flat as a pancake.

And the buildings are built up on stilts.

They’re built because the snow will otherwise cover them over.

The nearest medical facilities are 4,000 miles away.

If you have any issues with your wisdom teeth,

they yank them before you go down there.

If you have any issues with your appendix,

they’ll cut it out of you before you go down there.

The Russians at Vostok base, not too far away,

about 600 miles away.

The doctors there, there’s a famous picture of one

of them operating on himself, taking out his own appendix

in the middle of winter by himself.

So harsh conditions.

Science in the harshest of conditions.

On Earth, at least.

And we go to those great lengths because it’s

a pristine environment to observe these precious photons.

And we built this telescope.

And it weighs tens of thousands of pounds.

And it had to scan the sky almost like it’s a robot.

I mean, it’s scanning the sky almost unattended.

We have a guy who spends a year of his life down there,

a girl who spends a year of their life down there.

They’re called winter overs.

They arrive in sometimes as early as November.

And they don’t leave until the following December.

And we always joke, we’ll pay you $75,000.

You just have to work for one night of your life.

That’s all.

But it’s a long night.

And what BICEP is, and I couldn’t

bring my polarized sunglasses here,

so I brought these actual polarizers here.

So if you take this and put it in front of your telescope

there, you have now made a polarimeter.

You have made a polarization sensitive telescope.

Now, you may not be able to immediately know

how you would use such a thing.

But one way to think about it, now take this guy

and look at a light, look at a light source.

Put one up to your eye.

And now put the other one in front of it anywhere.

And now rotate them.

What happens to the light source?

Becomes brighter and dimmer and brighter and dimmer.

Yeah, so it’s called a quadrupolar pattern, right?

So it’s repeating.

It goes bright, dim, bright, dim.

It rotates twice in intensity for every single physical


And that’s because of the property of the photon.

The photon is a spin one field.

But the polarization of light is the axis

at which its electric field is oscillating.

Its electric field is marching straight up and straight down.

And so therefore, vertical polarization

is the same as negative vertical polarization.

And so you get the same pattern as you rotate two times

for every one physical rotation.

This is like a spin two object.

So now if you put that in front of the telescope,

you can do one of two things.

Now you’re polarizing all the light that’s

going in because you have one of the polarizers.

And then you can analyze it as you rotate the other one.

You can analyze it and change the amount of polarization.

Or you can put this kind of very special crystal in here.

There’s a crystal.

It’s called calcite.

This is from Lex Luthor, not Lex Friedman.

This crystal, put it on top of your printed notes

there and tell me what does it look like?

There’s a, like I could see everything twice.

It’s a double image.

That is a special crystal that has two different indices

of refraction.

So light emerging, which is unpolarized from the black ink,

comes out.

And it splits into two different directions.

And it could split even more if I made the crystal give you

my more expensive crystal.

But that’s all I have.

What is the crystal with this kind of property called?

It’s called calcite.

This is crystal.

It’s called birefringent crystal.

Bi means two.

Refringent means refracting.

So this is a special type of material

that separates light based on its polarization.

It’s a pretty clean bi signal.

It’s cleanly two.

I’m seeing two very cleanly.

It’s very crisp, right.

So that’s yours to keep with every time you host me.

Now, take the polarizer underneath your left hand.

Put it on top of the crystal, and kind of move it back

and forth.

What’s happening?

This is incredible.

You can switch.

As you rotate, you switch from one signal to the other.

So it’s one of the refractions to the other.


So that is now you are analyzing the polarization.

You’re confirming the light comes out of the crystal.

Two different types of polarization.

And effectively, what we do is we have those two things,

if you like.

But working in the microwave, so that’s

where the cosmic photons are brightest,

in the microwave regime in the electromagnetic spectrum.

And we’re coupling that to a refracting telescope.

But your eyes are refracting telescopes.

So you are a polarimeter right now.

The human eye can actually slightly detect polarization.

But otherwise, it mainly detects its intensity of light

and the color.

That’s what we call color and intensity, brightness.

So you’re devising an instrument that’s

very precisely measuring that polarization.


And doing so in the microwave region with detectors

not made of biological human retina cells,

but of superconductors and things called bolometers.

And this has to be done at temperatures

close to absolute zero under vacuum conditions

one billionth of the pressure we feel here at sea level.

So why is it that this kind of device

could win a Nobel Prize?

So when the CMB was discovered, it

was discovered serendipitously.

There were two radio astronomers working at the time

at Bell Laboratories.

Now, why would Bell Laboratories be

employing radio astronomers?

Bell Laboratories was kind of like Apple,

or it was like a think tank, or it was Google.

Let’s say it was like Google.

Google has Google X. It has this thing and that thing, right?

So they were working there.

But imagine if Google was employing radio astronomers.

They were actively recruiting them.

Why would they do that?

Well, it turns out that was the beginning in the 1960s,

was the first commercial satellite

launch for communication.

And so Bell Labs, which would later become the telephone

part of AT&T, the early telephone company,

later invent the first cell phone the year I was born.

And they would take that, 1946, and they

would take that telescope technology

that radio astronomers had developed,

and they would use that to see if they

could improve the signal to noise of the satellites

that they were seeing.

And they found they couldn’t.

They found that they could not improve the signal to noise

ratio of the first telecommunication satellite.

It was like the equivalent to one kilobit per second modem.

They were bouncing signals from the West Coast

up to the satellite, bouncing it down,

landing it in New Jersey, of all places,

in northern New Jersey, Holmdell, New Jersey.

And these radio astronomers couldn’t get rid of the signal.

So they said, well, New Jersey’s not far from New York.

Let’s see if the signal’s coming from New York.

No, not coming from New York.

Let’s see if it changes with the year.

Maybe it’s coming from the galaxy,

which was also discovered there by Jansky in 1930 something.

So in not being able to reduce the signal

or increase the signal to noise ratio, the noise was not good.

They knew the signal was right.

They couldn’t get rid of the noise.

And there was excess noise over the model that

had not only been predicted by them,

but had been measured by a previous guy, a guy

by the name of Edward Ohm.

He measured the same signal, found

that there was this hiss of static, of radio static

that he could not get rid of, that had

a value of about 3 Kelvin.

So you can translate.

Remember I said, if you take a radio telescope

and you point it at an object that’s hot,

the radio telescope’s detector will

get to the same temperature as the object.

It’s a principle of radio thermodynamics.

So it’s a really interesting thing.

It’s a thermometer.

You can stick it into Jupiter from here on Earth.

It’s amazing.

And so we in radio astronomy characterize our signal

not by its intensity, but by its temperature.

So he found, this guy Edward Ohm, oh, there’s

this 3 Kelvin signal.

I can’t get rid of it.

It must be I did my error analysis wrong.

And I would give him an F if he was one of my first year


But he’s just attributed to lack of understanding.

These other guys, Penzias and Wilson,

who are also radio astronomers, they said, no,

let’s build another experiment, put that inside

of our telescope, and do what’s called calibration.

Inject a known source of signal every second that

has a temperature of about 4 Kelvin,

because the signal they’re trying to get rid of

is about 3 Kelvin.

And you want to have it as close as possible

to the pernicious signal as possible.

They did that once a second.

So they got billions of measurements,

millions of measurements over the course

of several months, years, and even,

by the end of, you know, millions of measurements

for sure.

And they found they couldn’t get rid of it either,

but they measured it was exactly 2.7265 degrees Kelvin.

So how does having a 4 Kelvin source,

how does the calibration work, just out of curiosity?

It could be larger.

Imagine like you’re trying to calibrate the microphone.

Like you could do it with like a really loud sound,

but the gain would start to compress.

So there are amplifiers downstream from the detector

in every experiment that I’ve ever worked on.

And they only have a linear region over a very small region.

And you want to keep it as linear as possible.

That means you want, if you’re trying to get rid of it,

you’re trying to compare like a voice,

and you’re trying to compare that to a jet engine,

it’s not going to be as easy on the amplifiers

as getting a slightly loud gong or something, you know.

So the idea of the noise is present in both?

There’s noise present in both.

And you measure, what they did is

they made a separate measurement just

of the calibration system, which they measured

exactly very well.

4 Kelvin is the temperature of a liquid helium.

That’s a temperature that’s not going to change.

And it’s certainly not going to change

over a time scale of one second.

And so they could compare unknown signal,

known signal, unknown signal, known signal,

like a scale, like a balance.

So another way to think about it is like this.

You’ve seen these Libra kind of balances,

where you put two weights in a pan, right?

What happens if you put like a one ounce weight on one side

and a 20 kilogram weight in the other?

You don’t get any measurement, right?

You do get kind of a measurement if they’re close in weight.

That’s why they use 4 Kelvin.

Got it, but just to linger on the fact

that there’s a romantic element to the fact

that you’re arriving at the same temperature.

That’s kind of fascinating.

And you measuring stuff in terms of,

you’re measuring signal in terms of temperature

at the source.


So you get to, I mean, there’s something

about temperature that’s intimate.


It’s cool.

Yeah, especially since, you know, all life

is basically, you know, conversion of energy

and trying to control entropy,

which is then related to thermodynamics

exactly in that way.

And this is very crucial kind of thing to do in science

because they weren’t looking for the signal.

They found it accidentally,

these two scientists, Penzias and Wilson.

And I like to think that those kinds of discoveries

are the purest in science.

Like when you see something, Isaac Asimov once said,

like the most important reaction as a scientist is not,

Eureka, which means in Greek, as you know, I have found it.

No, he said, no, he said like, that’s weird.

Like that’s a much better reaction

or that’s freaking cool.

Like that’s a scientist, not like, oh, I found one.




Because if you find what you’re gonna find,

that’s what leads us susceptible to confirmation bias,

which is deadly inside, you know,

as close to deadly as possible.

So how does that take us to something

that’s potentially worthy of a Nobel Prize?

So Penzias and Wilson weren’t looking for a signal.

They ended up discovering the heat leftover

from the fusion of helium from hydrogen, et cetera.

And that was a serendipitous discovery.

They won the Nobel Prize in 1978.

It was the first one ever awarded in cosmology.

My reasoning is, what if you could explain

not only how the elements got formed,

but how the whole universe got formed

and kill off every other model of science.

So if that weren’t enough, every scientist, you know,

worth his or her salt had told me and Andrew Lang

and our colleagues, this is a slam dunk Nobel Prize,

if you could do it.

Because it was really explaining, again,

the stakes of this science is different

than like super fluidity, plasma physics.

When you talk about the origin of the universe,

it ties into everything.

It ties into philosophy, theology.

You realize if Paul Steinhardt is correct,

that the Bible can’t be correct.

In other words, where the Bible is correct now

isn’t falsified, if you like, if you believe it.

I never use the Bible as a science book, obviously.

But the Bible speaks of a singular beginning.

What if you knew for sure the universe was not singular?

It would be more like the cosmology of Akhenaten

and Egyptians than the biblical Torah, Old Testament,

if you will, narrative.

So in my mind, the stakes could not be higher.

And again, it’s not an offense, because we need plasma physics.

We need every type of physics except maybe biophysics.

We literally use every branch of physics, thermodynamics,

superconductivity, quantum mechanics,

all that goes into our understanding

of the instrument.

And even further, if you want to understand the theory that

predicts the signal that we purport to measure.

So I rationalize that if Penzias and Wilson won the Nobel

Prize for this, if Hulse and Taylor won the Nobel

Prize for indirectly detecting gravitational waves,

this is decades before LIGO, by me detecting

gravitational waves indirectly, detecting how the universe

began, detecting the origin of the initial conditions

for the Big Bang nucleosynthesis, which

won the Nobel Prize in 1983.

These are like five Nobel Prizes potentially.

For that reason, it seemed as close

as you could possibly get to being a slam dunk,

to outdo what my father did, to do really this impossible.

And at that time, Lex, again, it sounds weird.

Because people are like, oh, you still want the Nobel Prize.

You’re still like greedy.

And look, you wrote another book about it.

And I always joke.

I’m like, well, if you want to see if I’m a hypocrite,

just get them to give me the Nobel Prize in literature.

And if I accept it, then I’m a hypocrite.

Oh, wait, well, we’ll get to your current feelings

on the Nobel Prize in terms of hypocrite and so on.

So there’s this ambition.

Let’s say this device, this kind of signal

could unlock many of the mysteries

about the early universe.

And so there’s excitement there.

So let’s take it then further.

I mean, there’s a human story here of a bit of heartbreak.

Not only was this possibly worth a Nobel Prize,

if the Nobel Prize was given,

you were excluded from the list of three

that would get the Nobel Prize.

So why were you excluded?

Maybe that’s a place to tell the story of Bicep 2.

Yeah, so Bicep 2, like iPhones,

or I know you’re an Android fanboy,

but every year, they get a little bit better.

They get more megapixels.

They get more optics, triple X zoom, whatever, OK?

We upgraded our detectors as well.

The initial detectors were based on what

are called semiconductors.

They have certain properties that

make them very difficult to replicate at scale.

And we wanted to make them into superconductors, which

had a virtue that you could then mass produce them.

Why superconductors?

Well, again, we’re measuring heat.

So one thing about a superconductor

is that it transitions from some finite resistance

to zero resistance over a very short span of temperature


That means you can use that very short span dependency

as an accurate and sensitive and precise thermometer.

And so my brilliant colleagues around the world,

in this case, Jamie Bok, and nowadays, Suzanne Staggs

at Princeton, they are just exquisitely

making these sensors, tens of thousands of them.

The initial Bicep 1 instrument, of course,

we just call the Bicep, that only had 98 detectors.

Simon’s Observatory is going to have 100 times more just

in one of our four telescopes.

We’re going to have 60,000 detectors operating

full time at 0.1 degree above absolute zero

in the Atacama Desert.

We’ll get there.

But in the case of getting back to what Bicep did,

we upgraded and made Bicep 2.

In January 2010, we had just installed

in the exact same location at the South Pole,

in the same building, which is ominously called the Dark

Sector Laboratory, DSL, still operating to this very day,

we installed a new receiver on the same platform as before.

It had very similar identical optics, cryogenics, vacuum,

everything, except it went from 98 detectors to 512 detectors.

So almost an order of magnitude, very substantial upgrade.

And it had certain other features

that made it even more powerful than just a naive factor of 5.

And then we started observing with that.

And we knew we’d have years to go,

and maybe we’d never see anything.

Again, we’re looking for these tiny little reverberations

in the fabric of space time produced

close to the origin of the universe as we could ever

get to.

So I was playing a role in that.

Obviously, it had upgraded my version of the original idea

that I had had for BICEP along with Andrew Lang.

And in January of 2010, I was at a meeting at UC Berkeley,

and I got a call from Andrew Lang’s,

or I was in a meeting with Andrew Lang’s thesis advisor,

Paul Richards at UC Berkeley.

And he said that Andrew was dead.

He had taken his life by suicide.

And this is a man, and I had already lost my father

at this point in 2010, but he was like a father figure

to me, Andrew.

He would give me advice on marriage,

on how I should be with my kids, and what

was the most important way to move

through the academic ladder.

Again, he was predinaturally suited to win the Nobel Prize.

Everyone always thought he would win it.

If he were alive, he still could win it.

In fact, his wife, or his ex wife,

won it, Frances Arnold, in 2018.

And it was this power couple, and it destroyed me

for a long time, because he was just this magical person.

I mean, I couldn’t conceive of my career, my life,

even these aspects of raising kids and being married

without him.

And to do it in that way, it felt like, again,

he’s got kids, and I feel terrible for them, obviously.

But it did feel like a betrayal.

I mean, I’m just being honest with you.

It felt like, why the f did you not reach out?

I thought we were close, and I couldn’t.

I told him everything, and I felt

like he had told me everything.

And now he was gone.

And then, inevitably, we had to keep running the instrument.

I mean, there’s millions of dollars invested,

careers at stake, young people working tremendously hard.

And then here we were.

And who’s going to take over the lead?

He was the lead of the project at Caltech.

And then it turned out that the other collaborators,

with whom I had been working for years and shared a lot of ups

and downs with as well, they had decided

to form a collaboration in which I was no longer

the principal investigator.

I was no longer one of the co principal investigators,

as I was on Bicep 1.

So I continued on Bicep 1 as the co leader of it,

but not on Bicep 2.

And obviously, that was pretty painful.

This is all happening at the same time

as you lose this father figure.

Now there’s this one betrayal in a way,

and then there’s another, or something

that feels like a betrayal.

Yeah, and he had been the only one

looking out for my interest in the new experiment.

I had moved from Caltech to UC San Diego,

and there were other postdocs in the mix,

all of whom had come there to work with him

to get the approbation that would then lead

to their careers taking off, as it did for mine.

And so there was a competition.

Science is not free from egos and competition

and desires, rightfully or wrongfully,

for credit and attribution.

Was he the source of strength and confidence

for you as a scientist, as a man?

I mean, we’re kind of alone in this world.

When you take on difficult things,

we often kind of grasp at a few folks

that give us strength.


Was he basically your only source of strength

in this whole journey, like primarily

in terms of this close knit?

As a scientist, there were really two.

There was one, this Russian cosmologist,

Alexander Polnareff, who thankfully is very much alive.

He was at Queen Mary University.

Now he’s retired.

He was kind of a theoretical, cosmological father to me.

And then Andrew was this counterpoint

that was teaching me, you need to have a brand as a scientist.

Every scientist has a brand.

And some of them don’t protect it.

Some of them don’t burnish it.

But some of the skills about being a scientist

we don’t teach our students involve,

how do you cultivate a scientific persona?

And he was the exemplar for that,

in addition to being the avuncular father figure type

character that really was the person I would talk to.

I had issues with when I had issues with my own students.

And he would tell me how those were.

And he would tell me his misgivings about people

that he worked with or things in his personal life.

And it was devastating.

But again, who the hell am I?

I’m not his kid.

His kid’s lost father.

So I feel guilty talking about it in that sense,

but it’s just a reality.

Well, there is something that’s not often talked about

is people who collaborate on scientific efforts.

I mean, that’s, I don’t, again, don’t wanna compare,

but sometimes when the collaborations are truly great,

it sounds similar as when veterans talk about

their time serving together.

There’s a bond that’s formed.

So like comparing family and this kind of thing is,

you know, it’s not productive,

but the depth of the bond is nevertheless real

because you’re taking on something,

you’re taking on the impossible.

You’re trying to achieve something,

sort of like there’s this darkness,

this fog of mystery that we’re all surrounded by,

which is what the human condition is.

And you are like grasping at hope

through the tools of science.

And you’re doing that together

with like a confidence you probably should not have,

but you’re boldly pushing through.

And then for him to take his own life,

can I ask you about this kind of moment that combined,

I don’t wanna say betrayal,

but perhaps the feeling of betrayal

that Bicep 2 kind of goes on without you,

even though you’re part of it,

you’re not part of the leadership group.

Can you describe those low points?

Was there a depression?

Or was there a crumbling of confidence?

Yeah, I mean, it was so wrapped up

with my identity as a person.

You know, like there’s only a few different ways

to have identity unless you’re unhealthy psychologically.

One of them for scientists is often that they’re a scientist

and that sometimes is their primary identity.

Now I’ve got other husband and father,

but at that time that was my identity.

So to have that kind of taken away,

you know what, it reminded me of being kind of adopted

in a sense like the one who created me

or that I had played a role in my life,

that he abandoned me in the sense,

it felt like these people are abandoning me.

And the only thing I’d correct about the analogy

that you use is like in the war,

they’re all working for common good.

It’s not like I want to get the most kills.

I compare it more to like a band,

like think about the Beatles and what they did.

And then they ripped apart because of egos, credit,

they had solo careers,

they had relations with their intimates and so forth.

And there it’s not only for the common good,

there is more of a zero sum aspect.

Like I would say, science is an infinite game.

You can’t win science.

You never get to the, oh, we won science.

And even the Nobel prize, they don’t feel like,

oh, we’re done.

They feel like a lot of times they’re imposters

even to that day.

However, science is made up of a lot of finite games

where there is only one winner for tenure.

There is only three winners

or only three winners for the Nobel prize.

And because of that, I think it’s heterodox

and it’s very confusing, especially there’s no guide.

I never got a guide how to be a professor,

how to teach, how to lead a research group,

how to deal with the death of an advisor,

how to deal with an unruly graduate student or two.

So we’re all like reinventing it,

which is kind of ironic and insane if you think about it.

Cause the academic system that I am a part of

and you are a part of is a thousand years old.

Dates back to Bologna, Northern Italy, 1088 or so.

First universities were established.

And very little has changed.

There’s some guy or gal scratching a rock

on another piece of rock and lecturing in front.

And there’s only one better aspect nowadays

is that back then the students could go on strike

if they didn’t like the professor

and then he or she wouldn’t get paid.

Probably mostly it was he’s back then.

Nowadays that barbaric process has been replaced

by tenure, so okay.

But no, it was a definite kind of feeling of the rug

getting pulled out from underneath me

because he was like my consigliore.

He was a guy I sought counsel and counseled me

and he’s dead.

And I felt like there is no one

who’s gonna honor the agreements that we had.

And he was a very soulful person.

He was so much better at being a scientist

than I could ever be.

And just a loss for the cosmos, it just really hurt.

And I thought, oh, it’s so sad

cause he could have won the Nobel Prize.

I don’t think like that anymore.

First I think about his kids.

Felt at first now there goes my chance

at winning a Nobel Prize.

And hence the title of the book was like,

I knew I would not win the Nobel Prize.

It also means that there’s parts of the Nobel Prize

that have to be done away with.

It’s a double entendre.

Like we need to lose aspects of the Nobel Prize

to help science out.

We can talk about that a different time.

But in the context of like now thinking back on it,

that was such a minuscule part of it.

Because let’s say he did win the Nobel Prize

or I did win the, or any of us did.

Would that have changed anything?

Would that have brought anything back?

It’s so, we say it’s like vanity, it’s futility.

And I just, for me, the Nobel Prize is like,

I don’t wanna say it’s like insignificant,

because obviously it has a lot of power

and it has influence.

And I went back, I had Neil deGrasse Tyson on my show.

I’m gonna name drop, okay?

And he prepares.

He prepares like a surgeon before doing surgery

when he goes on a talk show.

So you see him going on Colbert Report.

You think, oh, they just have a banter.

He’s just naturally gifted.

No, he said, no, no, no.

You say that, you’re undermining what he does.

What he does is he goes back.

He watches the last month of Colbert Reports

or whatever it’s called, late show.

And he says, how long does Steven pause between questions?

How long in the news cycle does he go back?

What topics has he talked about with people similar to me?

So I took Neil and I did that for you.

And I look back, how many times has Lex

mentioned the words Nobel and prize?

And I put it into Google Ngram and out came

exactly the same number of times as show episodes

as of this moment.

So you’ve said the words Nobel Prize over 240 times.

Yeah, I mean, it is so strange as a symbol

that kind of unites this whole scientific journey, right?

It’s so, it’s both sad and beautiful

that a little prize, a little award, a medal,

a little plaque, they’ll be most likely forgotten

by history completely, some silly list.

It’s somehow a catalyst for greatness.

It resulted in you doing your life’s work, the dream of it.

Would I have done it without the Nobel Prize?

I can’t necessarily counterfactually state

that that would have happened.

So no, it definitely has a place.

And for me, it is valuable to think about it.

But the level of obsession that academics have about it

is really, I think it is almost on balance

becoming unhealthy.

And again, I have no, I make no truck

with the winners of the Nobel Prize.

Obviously, now I’ve had 11 on the show.

And to think about the one rule,

so by the way, right after the denouement of the story,

which I’ll get to in a bit,

how our dreams went down to dust and ashes,

I was asked by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

to nominate the winners of the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics.

So like the one that I theoretically

could have been eligible to win in 2016, actually,

they asked me to nominate.

Now imagine if I ask you, Lex,

you say, Brian, instead of me inviting myself on the show,

if you say, Brian, would you like to come

on the Lex Friedman podcast?

I say, you know what, Lex?

You know that guy Rogan?

I think you might know him.

Can you introduce him to me?

Like, do you imagine how that would feel?

Like you’d be like, ah, you know.

So I was asked to nominate the winners.

And the one rule that they say,

of all the rules that Alfred Nobel stipulated,

there’s only one rule that they maintained.

In other words, he said one person can win it

for something they discovered in the preceding year

that had the greatest benefit to mankind,

made the world better, right?

None of that was mentioned in the letter.

It said many people can win it, worked on long ago.

They didn’t mention anything in the letter to me,

signed by the Secretary General.

Nothing about benefiting mankind.

They said, just one thing, can’t nominate yourself.

So none of these guys nominated themselves.

Actually, little known fact,

they sent that exact letter just to you.

That rule was created just for you.

That’s called the Keating Correlate, yes, exactly.

Just to like. Good for them.

Rub it in.

I mean, in this particular case, of course,

there’s some weird technicality or whatever,

but in this particular case,

it’s kind of a powerful reminder.


That the Nobel Prize leaves a lot of people behind

in their stories behind all of that.

Yeah, I mean, here’s a good example.

Again, this is my friend, Barry Barash.

He’s become like a mentor and a friend.

He wrote the foreword to my book, Into the Impossible.

He won the Nobel Prize because a different guy died,

and he admits it, and he said it.

And actually, it’s funny with him

because I’ve heard you talk very rhapsodically

and lovingly and romantically about,

with Harry Kliff and a wonderful podcast with him,

by the way, about the LHC and how wonderful it is

and how in that we were about to build

the superconducting supercollider right here in Texas,

and it didn’t get built and it got canceled by Congress.

And I say to Barry,

that was the best thing that ever happened to you.

And he’s like, what the hell are you talking about?

I’m like, if that didn’t get canceled,

first of all, even though it did get canceled,

the Europeans went on to build it themselves,

saved the American taxpayers billions of dollars,

and we wouldn’t have learned anything

really substantially new as proven by the fact

that as you and Harry talked about,

nothing besides the Higgs particle of great note

has come out, and actually, he’s had a recent paper,

but it’s been an upper limit along with his collaborators

on LHCb experiment that I’m gonna be talking with him about.

But the bottom line is it was really built

to detect the Higgs.

So the SSC, for twice as much money,

would have sucked up Barry’s career.

He would have been working on that, maybe not.

And then he would never have worked on LIGO,

and then he wouldn’t have won the Nobel Prize, right?

So you look at counterfactual history.

That’s not actually a big stretch, right?

If the SSC had still gone on, he would have worked on it,

because he was one of the primary leaders

of that experiment.

Second thing, imagine the following thing had happened.

They won the Nobel Prize because in September 2015,

they detected unequivocal evidence

for the in spiral collision of two massive black holes,

each about 30 times the mass of the sun,

leaving behind an object that had just less than 60 solar

masses behind.

So one solar mass worth of matter

got massed, got converted to pure gravitational energy.

No light was seen by them.

This particular date, September 14, 2015,

that explosion, because of the miracle of time travel

that telescopes afford us, that actually took place

1.2 billion years ago in a galaxy far, far away.

They actually don’t know which galaxy it took place in.

Still, then they never will.


If that collision between these two things, which

have probably been orbiting each other for maybe a million

years or more, if that had occurred 15 days earlier,

Barry wouldn’t have won the Nobel Prize.

Because it’s hilarious to think that there’s one

human that won the Nobel Prize because two giant things


A billion, 200 million years ago.

And if it had happened 18 days, 20 days, 30 days,

because that was the deadline for the Nobel Prize

to be announced, they announced the findings in February.

But you have to nominate the winners in January.

So I could have nominated them up until January 30.

But they didn’t announce anything,

and there were just rumors.

But the reason that he wouldn’t have won it,

because there was another guy who was still alive,

considered to be the founder and father of the three fathers,

Ray Weiss, who did win it, Kip Thorne, who did win it,

and this third gentleman at Caltech named Ron Drever,

who passed away again.

He was alive in 2016.

He died in the middle of 2017.

And then he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

And here we are, several billion of hairless apes

that strangely wear clothing, celebrated three other clothed

hairless apes with a medal, with one particular element.

And then they made speeches in a particular language

that evolved in a…

Bend down to get those medals in front of another guy

who wears even fancier clothes, who is the king of Sweden.

And then they got some free food afterwards.

They get some reindeer meat, that’s right.

Okay, excellent.

Since you mentioned Joe Rogan in that little example,

what happened to you in terms of BICEP2?

I want to kind of speak at a high level

about a particular thing I observed.

So I was a fan of Joe Rogan since he started the podcast.

I just listened to the podcast.

I’m a huge fan of podcasts in general.

And it also coincided with my entry into grad school

and this whole journey of academia.

So grad school, getting my PhD, then going to MIT,

and then Google, and then just looking at this whole world

of research.

What I really loved about how Joe Rogan approaches the world

is that he celebrates others, like he promotes them.

He gets like genuinely, and I now know this

from just being a friend privately,

he genuinely gets excited by the success of others.

And the contrast of that to how folks in academia

often behave was always really disappointing to me

because the natural, just on a basic human level,

there is an excitement, but the nature of that excitement

is more like I’m happy for my friend,

but I’m really jealous and I want to even outdo them.

I want to celebrate them, but I want to do even better.

So that’s even for friends.

So there’s not a genuine, pure excitement for others.

And then to couple that with just you now

as a host of a popular podcast and all this feeling,

which is like there’s not even a willingness

to celebrate publicly the awesomeness of others.

People in academia are often best equipped technically

in terms of language to celebrate others.

They understand the beauty, like the full richness

of why the cool idea is as cool as it is.

And they’re in the best position to celebrate it.

And yet there’s a feeling that if I celebrate others,

they might end up on the cover of Nature or whatever,

and not me.

They turn it into zero sum game.

The reason why I think Rogan has been an inspiration to me

and many others is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

And forget money and all those kinds of things.

I think there’s a narrative told that academics are this way

because there’s a limited amount of money.

And so they’re fighting for this.

I don’t think that’s the reason it’s happening this way.

I think you can have a limited amount of money.

The battle for money happens in the space of proposal.

There’s networking, there’s private stuff.

Public celebration of others and just actually

just how you feel in the privacy of your own heart

is not have to do anything with money.

It has to do with you having a big ego

and not humbling yourself to the beauty of the journey

that we’re all on.

And there’s folks like Joe Rogan who in a comedian circles

is also rare, but he inspired all these other comedians

to realize, you know what?

It’s great to celebrate each other.

We’re promoting each other and therefore the pie grows.

Cause everybody else gets excited about this whole thing

and the pie grows.

Right now the scientists by fighting,

like by not celebrating each other,

are not growing the pie.

And now because of that sort of science becomes

less and less popular.

It’s a flywheel and exactly.

No, and I want to point out two things.

One is that I remember you went on Joe’s show

maybe a couple of years ago and then he gave you a watch.

He gave you like a Rolex, right?

And I tweeted to you and I think it’s Omega, sorry.

Okay, fine.

The watch that went to the moon,

which we will get to in a bit.

I don’t think he could give you what I gave you though,

by the way.

And we’ll get to what that final gift package is for you.

And by the way, I also wanted to mention,

because when you said Joe Rogan, I would not be upset.

And you should definitely go on Joe Rogan.

And we had this conversation with him.

Cause I was like, when I was moving to Austin

and had a conversation like, don’t you think it’s weird?

Like if we have the same guests at the same time

or whatever, he’s like, fuck that.

I want you to be more successful than me.

I want, he truly wants everybody like,

especially people close to him to be more successful.

Like there’s not even a thought like.

But you know why he does.

And this is what I tweeted to you.

And one of the few things I think you have retweeted

that I sent you.

I said, someday you’re going to give that to somebody.

And today I wanted that to be me.

No, no.

Joe’s Omega.

No, but the point is he sees in you that same,

grandiosity, that same genuine spirit graciousness.

And I think that’s true.

And you do do something very rare.

I don’t want to turn this into too much of a love fest,

but I do want to say even back to Andrew,

who I’ve almost been hagiographic about,

just treating him like a saint.

He said to me the same thing.

And in a moment of peak said like,

God damn it.

Like I have to train these guys and women that work for me

so that they can be better than me,

so that they can go out and compete with me

for the same limited amount of funding from the Fing NSL.

That wasn’t his, that wasn’t who he was.

That was just an expression,

like I’m doing something which is fundamentally,

but you know what, when you have kids,

hopefully, you know, please God, you will someday.

Cause I think, and I hope we can get to talk

about that later, but part of investment

and part of doing something when you have a kid,

like you can get married.

You can marry someone cause she’s rich or he’s rich,

or you can marry someone cause they’re good looking

or he’s good looking.

You can marry for all these different reasons

that are ultimately selfish.

There’s no way you can have a kid and be selfish.

Nobody says like, oh, you know what?

I really want this thing that’s three feet tall,

that doesn’t speak English, that craps on my floor,

that wakes me up all hours of the night,

that interferes with my love life.

Nobody says that cause it doesn’t benefit you

for months and months.

A friend of mine who actually does the videos for me

and does a lot of my solo videos,

he’s having his first kid, he’s like, what do I do?

Cause it always gets stupid, I’ll catch up on sleep now.

Like, yeah, I’m gonna store sleep in my sleep bank.

Like I don’t think Huberman and you talked about that, right?

You can’t do that, that’s stupid.

What you can do, give the kid a bath, feed the baby,

let the mother relax.

Like, in other words, do the things,

and this really relates back to what Aristotle once said.

Aristotle once said, why do parents love kids

more than kids love parents?

As much as you love your dad and your mom,

they still love you more.

And because you love that what you sacrifice for.

Here’s a proof.

I know a lot of families that have kids with special needs.

Some with severe, one of my uncles on the Keating side

had a severe, what they called mental retardation,

now it’s probably has a different name.

That, out of the nine other brothers and sisters,

he was their favorite.

Because they had to sacrifice so much for him.

And I think of that, you know, in the small case,

like Joe is kind of mentoring you or whatever,

you’re gonna mentor someone else.

You love that what you sacrifice for.

Sacrifice is reduction of entropy,

it’s storing and investing, and you wanna protect that.

And you know, that to me really speaks to this.

So yeah, I don’t hold it against.

But it is true, like scientists are, you know,

when they’re described again, they’re often said

to be like children, right?

You’ve heard this description.

They’re inquisitive, they’re curious, they’re passionate.

They love that.

And I’m like, yeah, and they don’t play well with others.

They’re jealous, they’re petty, they’re selfish,

they won’t share their ball and they’ll go home.

There’s no such thing as a single edge sword.

I wish there were, you know,

because we need some more of that

because you gotta dull it up.

But in this case, he, you know,

I think when you have this kind of investment in science,

it’s gonna be natural.

But that doesn’t mean we have to like, you know,

feed the flames of competition.

You know, I’m like really venerate.

If you go to the homepage of the NSF

or the Department of Energy

or the recently released National Academy of Sciences

future of science for the astronomical sciences

for the next 25 years or more,

they talk about how many Nobel prizes

these different science things could win.

Exoplanets, life, the discovery of the CMB,

B mode polarization, the nice, you know,

that’s figure two in this thing.

And I’m like, what message is that sent to kids,

like to young people?

Like that’s what you should be doing

so that you win this small, as you said,

this prize given out by one hairless ape

to another wearing a fancier costume using reindeer.

Especially in the case of Nobel prize,

it’s only currently given to three people.

At most, which was never one of his stipulate.

He actually said one, he could only give it to one person.

So they change it.

Why did they change it?

I talk about, I speculate.

By the way, the book’s only three chapters out of 11

about the Nobel prize and it’s a fact.

But you know, one of the things that’s been so interesting,

like I’m speaking, actually this coming up in December

is that the Nobel prize is given out

on the day of Alfred Nobel’s death.

There’s a lot of, and they bring in flowers,

not from his birthplace, but from his mausoleum,

which is in San Romino in Italy.

It’s a lot of like death fascination.

Denial of death features heavily in the Nobel prize

because it’s like, what outlives a person?

Well, science can outlive a person.

My father has a theorem named after him.

It’s still engraved in many places around the world.

You or I, we can go to different places around the world.

People know who we are based on our publications.

We engrave things, we want to store things,

we want to compress things.

And I think there’s something beautiful about that,

but there is a notion of denial of death.

Like there is a notion of what will outlast me,

especially if you’re among the many 90 something percent

of members of the National Academy

don’t believe in an active faith and a creator and a God.

And science can substitute for that,

but it’s not ultimately as fulfilling.

I just, I don’t believe it can fulfill a person the way

even practicing, but not believing in a religion

can fulfill a person.

So, which is interesting

because you do bring up Ernest Becker

and the denial of death in losing the Nobel prize book.

And there is a sense in which that’s probably in part

at the core of this, especially later dream

of the Nobel prize or a prize of recognition.

I’ve interacted with a few or a large number of scientists

that are getting up in age.

And there is the feeling of real pride of happiness in them

from winning awards and getting certain recognitions.

And I probably at the core of that is a kind of a mortality

or a kind of desire for mortality.

And that was always off putting to me as opposed to,

I mean, I know it sounds weird to say it’s off putting,

but it just, rather than celebrating the pure joy

of solving the puzzles of the mysteries all around us,

just the actual exploration of the mysterious for its own sake.

Well, that’s what I said, it’s like a scientist should,

okay, you have to be careful and not have any physical,

it has to be platonic,

but you can think of scientists and mentor.

I have a chart in the book and in my plaque

made by one of my graduate students, former graduate students.

She’s now a professor in New Mexico, Darcy Barron.

And she made this plaque and it has 17 generations.

So here I am, 17 levels down, there’s a guy,

Leibniz, not the famous Leibniz, different Leibniz,

1596 he was born and I’m in this chain.

And I don’t know if you know this,

but in the Russian language,

the word scientist means someone who was taught.

I’ll say it very simply, one who was taught, right?


So it probably means a guy was taught, right?

No, uchony, no, no, no, it’s a person.

Uchony, no, no, no, it’s literally someone who was taught.

Someone who was taught, right.

So what does that mean?

To me, it has a dual kind of meaning, at least dual meaning.

One is that you have to be a good student to be a scientist

because you have to learn from somebody else.

Two, you have to be a teacher, you have to pay it forward.

If you don’t, I claim you’re really not a scientist

in the truest sense.

And I feel like with the work that I do in outreach

and stuff like that, I’m doing it at scale.

I’m influencing more than 24 kids I might have

in my graduate class or undergraduate class,

and potentially could reach thousands of people

around the world and make them into scientists themselves.

Because that’s the flywheel that is only beneficial.

There is no competition.

There is no zero sum fixed mindset versus growth mindset

because it is an infinite game.

Imagine a culture that had none of the trappings

of the negativity of the Soviet Union

or pre World War I Germany or Imperial Japan.

Science celebrated.

And we’re just making a nation of scientists.

And we’re not doing it to become multi billionaires

or necessarily for any military purpose whatsoever.

But if we have that, sometimes I’m flying home at night.

When you fly into LA, you literally, it’s very rare,

you can see the number 10 million.

It’s very hard to visualize things.

You see a brick wall, you ask how many bricks are there?

It might be 1,000, 2,000.

10 million lights.

There’s 10 million souls.

And you can see they’re discrete.

They’re not like the Milky Way all blending together.

Each lost in their own busy lives, excited, fall in love,

afraid of losing their job, all that.

By the way, people should know that you’re a pilot.

So you literally mean fly.

Yeah, sometimes I get to do it.

You get to look at the eye of God perspective

on these 10 million, on these millions of helpless apes.

And I don’t think they’re like constellations,

but upside down, like the city.

This is like a constellation.

Hopefully I’ll stay and keep the plane the right way up.

But when you think about that,

imagine they’re all working together.

And imagine you always talk about love.

But you don’t know that they’re not worthy of love.

So you’re looking down on them.

And it’s just amazing.

Because you think, what amazing creation has man and humans?

And what can we do?

It’s phenomenal.

It’s so exciting.

And then I get to do it.

It’s a job I say, don’t tell Gavin Newsom,

but I do it for free.

I love what I do.

But to think about, oh, if my student succeeds, then I’m not.

No, it is unfortunate that you have experience.

I’ve certainly experienced it.

And I think there are ways around it.

I think it is a vexing problem.

Because people want to, it’s very tempting

to keep your own garden fertilized.

One thing that’s interesting is people are like,

why are you doing this thing?

And podcasts, and you’re supposed

to be a serious scientist leading this huge project,

and collaborators.

And I’m like, well, most of what I do, as I said before,

for you it’s Velcro.

For me it’s like, what is the deal with the safety standards

on the truck that we’re driving up to deliver the diesel fuel

that will power the generator that

will allow the concrete truck to move?

It has nothing to do with the Big Bang

inflation, the multiverse, God’s existence.

It has nothing to do with that.

So those are people I say I have to talk to.

The people that come on the show, those

are people I want to talk to.

And that’s super fun.

I mean, it’s a real honor that I get to do it.

I have some unfair advantages.

I’m at a top university.

We have people that’s affiliated with the Arthur C. Clark

Foundation, brilliant scientists coming through.

But I felt like it would be kind of a shame

if I didn’t allow them to teach at scale,

because they’re better teachers than I am.

Let me ask you an interesting, maybe difficult question.

Have you ever considered talking on your podcast

with the people who would get the Nobel Prize for BICEP2

if it turned out to be detecting what it is?

Yeah, I mean, I’m still friends with them.

And they have still gone on to.

So we should say why we didn’t win the Nobel Prize,

and then what happened with the group that

is now leading it that I’m completely divorced

from in a secular sense.

We’re friends.

We see each other.

We send each other emails and stuff like that.

I would love to get their sense of what

the natural heartbreak built into the whole process

of the Nobel Prize, what their sense is.

I would love to hear an honest, real conversation.

I understand you’re friends, but there’s some hard truth

that even friends don’t talk about until you put a mic.

They weren’t happy I wrote the book.

I mean, I remember one of them was like, well,

what’s this I hear about a book?

And I mean, a lot of people told me not to write the book.

They said it’s going to give too much attention

to the Nobel Prize.

It’s going to look like sour grapes.

Again, I say you can prove I have sour grapes or not.

Just give me the next prize.

So if you get a Nobel Prize for literature,

you would turn it down?

I don’t know.

It’s funny, because Sabina Hassenfelder,

who is a fellow YouTube sensation,

and she’s so gracious and so good.

She has that German, just gentle and genteelness.

She’s a little too nice for my taste, I would say.

I wish she could really say what she thinks and be

snarky on occasion.

So she wrote a review of my book when it came out

three or four years ago.

And she said, well, you know, Brian Keating,

she said, well, it’s interesting.

He talks a lot about cosmology.

But they can do whatever the hell they want.

And he presumably has these problems with it,

but it’s none of his business, basically.

And at the end, she said, but if you want one good thing,

he’s a really good writer.

And who knows?

He could win the Nobel Prize in literature someday.

And then she allowed me to publish a rebuttal

on her blog, which was kind of funny.

But anyway, no.

So getting back to the guys that we were kind of collaboratimies

or frenemies, we’re still, look, we

don’t wish each other active ill.

I’ve visited them.

They’re welcome to visit me.

They have visited me.

The thing I have to say is that I just

wonder about introspection.

For me, literally, I don’t care about the Nobel Prize

other than what it can do to benefit science.

But I no longer, I did, but by the way,

I did seriously care about how it would benefit Brian Keating

early on in my career.

I’m just totally honest.

I’m not proud of it.

It’s kind of embarrassing.

But now I would hope that people would say, like, OK,

the guy is like, you know, he’s obsessed with it.

My next book is not about this.

It’s about something completely different.

And I do feel like people lack introspection a lot of times

in science.

We don’t think about why we’re doing what we’re doing.

And I think it comes down to curiosity.

One thing about Joe, and again, I’ve only listened to,

like, I have to confess.

You know, you’re like, my father.

Now I’m confessing my sins to you, Father Lex.

Father Friedman.

I haven’t listened to, like, that many of your episodes

start to finish, OK?

I’m with our friend, mutual friend, Eric.

I’ve listened to a bunch of recent ones.

Einstein, Weinstein, Weinstein, Weinstein, that’s what it is.

I get them confused with the brother.

The brothers care about stuff, the brother’s wives.

And a few others.

I haven’t ever listened to a full Joe Rogan episode.

But from what I’ve seen with him,

he has a preternatural curiosity.

He doesn’t have passion.

There are a lot of podcasts that have passion.

Like, I’ve been on their show.

He has curiosity.

Like, he’s not going to stop talking about something

until he hops it, until he understands it,

until he gets it viscerally.

And I respect that.

Because as I say in this more recent book,

passion’s kind of like the dopamine hit

that gets you started, like, oh, I’m going to be great.

Maybe I can win a Nobel Prize.

Like, that’s not going to sustain you.

The sustenance comes from the passion

converting to curiosity.

And what I want to do is convert as many things as possible

to things that I can then.

Because actually, I’ve had people that discuss addiction.

And there is an addictive quality to doing podcasts

or whatever.

But there’s an addictive quality being a scientist.

And you get to do things that are very specialized

in specialized locations with special people,

paid for by other people who have no freaking idea what

you do.

I mean, imagine you worked in some job.

And Feynman said all these contradictory things.

Like, he said, if you can’t explain it to your grandmother,

you don’t understand it yourself.

Then the day you won the Nobel Prize,

a reporter asked him, what did you win it for?

He said, if I could explain it to you, bud,

it wouldn’t be worth a Nobel Prize.

So let’s leave aside his inherent contradictions.

But in reality, there is a kind of like dopamine rush

that you get from it.

But what is ultimately going to be the sustenance of it?

So yeah, I do feel like we have to find a way to nucleate that.

I don’t know, actually, I don’t know if it’s like,

can you turn someone into a scientist?

I used to ask this question all the time.

Can you make someone creative?

Can you teach someone to be creative?

I don’t know.

Can you teach someone to be curious?

I don’t know.

I do know that kids are naturally curious.

As they get older, they get less curious.

Just like I heard from the other forward author, James

Altucher, he said, once they did a study,

kids smile 300 times a day, or smile or laugh.

Adults, five or six.

Five or six.

No, I’m trying to get you to laugh, but you’re not going to laugh.

But anyway, no, it’s true.

Somewhere you lose 30% to 50%.

I’m not entertained.

But that’s because I’m an adult.

And then I do remember there’s some distribution

in those studies with happier adults smile a little more,

but still the kids blow them out of the water.

Just crush it.

In other words, should we invest our energy

in getting the half life decay constant,

stretched out more for curiosity for kids?

Or should we try to reset the dopamine hit?

And then I don’t know.

It’s an open question.

Well, I think it goes to David Foster Wallace,

the key to life is to be unboreable.

I think you could train this kind of thing, which

is in every single situation, which I think is at the core,

at least this correlated with curiosity,

is in every situation, try to find the exciting,

the fascinating.

Like in every situation.

You sitting at the, I don’t know,

waiting for something at a DMV or something like that.

Find something that excites you, like a thought.

Like watch people or start to think about, well,

I wonder how many people have to go to the DMV every day.

And then try to go into the pothead mode of thinking like,

wow, isn’t this weird that there’s a bunch of people

that are having to get a stamp of approval

from the government to drive their cars,

and then there’s millions of cars driving every day.

Or like, how can I do this better?

Maybe there’s some blockchain and they could like VIN transfer.

Yeah, exactly.


No, that is a good thing.

And then every situation, I think

if you rigorously just practice that at a young age,

I think you can learn to do that.

Because sometimes people ask me for advice

and to do this thing or that thing.

I think you, at the core, really have

to have this muscle of finding the awesomeness in everything.

Because if you’re able to find the awesomeness

in everything, like whatever journey you take,

whatever weird meandering path that you take through life

is going to be productive, is going to end up in a great place.

So that muscle is at the core of it.

And I guess curiosity is central to that.

But you didn’t win the Nobel Prize.

The team of Bicep that led the Bicep 2

didn’t win the Nobel Prize because of some space dust.

That’s right.

It’s like schmutz.

Which one is the moon?

Which one is?

That one’s dust.

Space dust, yeah.

What are we looking at?

So why is space dust the villain of this whole story?

Well, it’s funny.

I wrote these books.

And I don’t know about you, but when you get all these books,

I’m sure you get books, people sending books.

They always come in these dust jackets, right?

I was always like, what the hell is a dust jacket?

How much dust is raining down at any moment?

I mean, this is immaculate.

This room is Russian tidiness galore.

But in a normal household, how much dust is raining down?

It’s not really pretty until I wrote a book.

And I realized I’m writing a story about the origin

of the universe, the prologue to the cosmos.

And dust is going to cover this story.

It’s actually more a story about astrophysics and cosmology

than dust.

And this is the link between the cosmological and the


So what does that mean?

So astrophysics is, broadly speaking,

the study of physical phenomena manifest in the heavens,

astronomical phenomena.

Cosmology is concerned with the origin, evolution,

composition of the universe as a whole.

But it’s not really concerned with stars, galaxies,

and planets per se, other than how they might help us measure

the Hubble constant, the density of the universe,

the neutrino content, et cetera, et cetera.

So we have a tendency to kind of look a little bit,

you know, they’re like, not all astronomers

and astrophysicists are equal.

They’re all equal, but some are more equal than others.

So we have kind of a prejudice, a little swagger, right?

And cosmologists are studying, you know, we’re using Einstein.

We’re not using, like, you know, Boltzmann.

We’re thinking of the biggest possible pictures.

In so doing, you can actually become

blinded to otherwise obvious effects

that people would have not overlooked.

In our case, when we sought out the signal,

we were using the photons that make up this primordial heat

bath that surrounds the universe,

luckily only at three degrees Kelvin approximately.

We’re using those as a type of film

onto which gravitational waves will reverberate it,

make them oscillate preferentially

in a polarized way.

And then we can use our polarized sunglasses,

but in a microwave format, to detect

the characteristic twofold symmetry

pattern of underrotation.

That’s the technical way that we undergo it.

I mean, there’s a lot more to it.

But there are more than one thing

that can mimic exactly that signal.

First of all, when you look at the signal,

the signal if inflation took place, big if,

but if it took place, the signal would

be about one or two parts per billion of the CMB temperature


So a few nanokelvin.

The CMB is a few kelvin.

The signal from these B modes would be a few nanokelvin.

It’s astonishing to think.

Penzias and Wilson, 1965, measured

something that’s a billion times brighter.

And that was what, 60 years ago?

Let’s call it 60 years ago, since they discovered it.

Moore’s law, you’re more expert now.

Let’s call it every two years.

So you’re talking about like 2 to the 30th power doubling

or something like that at that.

Let’s call it 2 to the 20th, something like that.

So that’s like only 2 to the 10th is 1,000.

Correct my math, I’m wrong.

2 to the 20th is a million.

2 to the 30th is a billion.

So we’re outpacing Moore’s law in terms

of the sensitivity of our instruments

to detect these feeble signals from the cosmos.

And they don’t have to deal with,

in the semiconductor factory in Santa Clara, California,

they don’t have to deal with meteorites and things

like coming into the laboratory.

It’s a clean room.

It’s pristine.

They can control everything about it.

We can’t control the cosmos.

And the cosmos is literally littered

with particles of schmutz, of failed planets, asteroids,

meteoroids, things that didn’t coalesce

to make either the Earth, the moon, the planet Jupiter,

or its moons, or get sucked into them

and make craters on them, et cetera, et cetera.

The rest of it is falling, and it comes in a power spectrum.

There’s very few, thank god, Chicxulub sized impact

or progenitors that will take out all life on Earth.

But there’s extremely large number

of tiny dust particles and microscopic grains.

And then there’s a fair number of intermediate sized


And it turns out this little guy here

is the end product of a collapsing star that

explodes in what’s called a supernova, type II supernova.

So stars spend most of their life

using helium nuclei protons and neutrons into helium nuclei.

And then from there, it can make other things like beryllium

and briefly make beryllium and carbon, nitrogen, oxygen,

all the way up until it tries to make iron and nickel.

And iron and nickel are endothermic.

It takes more energy than gets liberated

to make an atom of iron.

When that happens, there’s no longer enough heat supplying

pressure to resist the gravitational collapse

of the material that was produced earlier.

So the star forms and goes inside out.

That’s how scientists discovered helium

was discovered on the sun.

I don’t know.

Did you know?

That’s why it’s called helium.

Yeah, they went there at night.

And they went there at night.

No, helium means Helios is the god of the sun.

It was discovered in its spectrum from observations

of the telescope like 150 years ago.

It wasn’t discovered like when oxygen and iron was discovered.

So it’s only a relatively recent comer to the pure activity.

So helium came after oxygen.

Oh, no, first hydrogen forms into helium.

So that’s the first thing that formed.

No, in terms of discoveries.

Oh, yeah, after oxygen.

Yeah, I think Priestley and others, Dalton,

discovered it in the 1700s.

No, helium was really only discovered

from the spectrum of looking at the sun

and seeing the weird atomic absorption called Fraunhofer

lines in the solar spectrum.

But when it tries to make iron, there’s

no longer any leftover heat.

In other words, there’s heat left over from fusing,

as you know, the son of a plasma physicist.

You fuse to a hydrogen nuclei, you get excess energy,

plus you get helium.

So that’s why fusion energy could

be the energy source of the future and always will be.

No, no, I don’t know.

Hopefully, it’ll come much sooner than that.

In so doing, trying to make iron, it takes more energy,

doesn’t give off enough energy, star collapses, explodes.

And what does it spray out into the cosmic interstellar medium?

It sprays out the last thing it made, which is that stuff.

Luckily for us, because some of that

coalesced and made the core of the Earth,

onto which the lighter, like silica and carbon and the dirt

and the crust of the Earth were formed.

And some of that made its way to the crust.

The iron made its way to the crust.

Some of that your mother ate and synthesized

hemoglobin molecules.

And hemoglobin has iron particles in it.

It’s a quite amazing substance.

Without it, we wouldn’t have our red blood.

We wouldn’t exist as we are.

Is this a very long, complicated mom joke?

I’ve done enough dad jokes.

My quota’s up.

So taking this object seriously, not all of it

gets bound up in a planet.

In fact, forming planets is very inefficient.

And so there’s a lot of schmutz left over,

some of which gets in the way of our telescopes looking back

to the beginning of time.

And some of those molecules, like iron,

is used in compass needles.

They’re magnetized.

And magnetic fields in our galaxy

can align them and make the exact polarization pattern

that we’re looking for, as if the compass needles get

all aligned.

That’s like the polarization of the dust grain.

It’s like that polarizing filter.

That means light polarized like this will get absorbed.

And light polarized like this will go through.

So it’s absorbing.

It’s making 100% polarized light out

of an initially unpolarized light source.

And that’s what happened.

And what we ended up claiming on March 17, and I’m sure

if you were there, you might remember this.

At the Harvard Center for Astrophysics,

there was an announcement.

There were like three or four Nobel Prize winners

in the audience.

And the BICEP2 team, which I was no longer leading,

I was still a member of it.

In fact, in the announcement, the first person they mentioned,

besides thank you all for being here,

is me and my team at UC San Diego.

Although I wasn’t invited to go to the press conference

because that was very complicated.

Yes, exactly.

It’s a little school up there in the Cambridge area.

And so they ended up making this announcement

that we had discovered the aftershocks of inflation.

We detected the gravitational waves shaking up the CMB.

And on that day, past Lex Friedman’s podcast

back when it was called Artificial Intelligence,

Max Tegmark said, goodbye, universe.

Hello, multiverse.

And hello, Nobel Prize.

He saw that as confirmatory evidence, not only of inflation,

not only of gravitational waves, but of the multiverse.

Goodbye, universe.

Hello, multiverse.

Multiverse is a natural consequence.

Consequence of inflation, yes.

According to its prominent supporters, yeah.

Yeah, and of course, leave the poetry to Max,

which he does masterfully.

OK, so the excitement was there.

I mean, maybe the initial heartbreak for you

was there, too.

That’s some of the darker moments you’re going through.

But broadly, for the space of science,

there’s excitement there.

Huge excitement.

And I often note that this is a problem in what I call

the science media complex.

Because oftentimes, you’ll see things like past guess

Sarah Seager, Venus life exist.

And that will be really, I mean, it’s fascinating, right,

with the work that she’s doing or her colleagues are doing,

Clara, who’s on your show as well.

And that will be on front page, New York Times, Boston

Globe, San Diego Union Tribune.

It’ll be above the fold.

Make headlines around the world.

And then six months, 12 months later, as is the case for us,


Page C17 of the Saturday edition that nobody reads

and underneath the personal.

So we have a problem in science, that if it explodes, it leads.

And we get this huge fanfare.

And this is not unique to my experiment.

This happened with the earlier discovery

of so called Martian life discovered

in Antarctica, which was announced after peer review.

We weren’t peer reviewed at the point

when we made the announcement.

We had a press conference.

And there are other reasons that the team leaders felt

it was important to do that so that we don’t get scooped

by a referee who’s unethical.

We thought we had done everything right,

but that’s confirmation bias.

So there’s levels to this.

Yeah, there were many levels.

And there were people, me warning

about how it would be interpreted

and wanting to also make sure that we put all the data out,

including the maps, which we still haven’t released.

And so there were a lot of reasons to be skeptical.

But the public never knows this.

So I’ve made a rule that if I am ever

in charge of doling out large amounts of science funding,

that you should keep kind of an option.

In other words, you should have money for publicity.

It’s fine.

Have money for your press conference.

But hold in reserve in a bond to be used, hopefully never,

but if it’s to be used, an equal fund for the retraction,

if it should occur.

So you would like to see,

because that’s a big part of transparency, is the…

To me, in the space of science at least,

that’s as beautiful, because it reveals the…

It tells a great story.

There’s an excitement, there’s a…


So there’s a climax to the triumph,

but there’s also a climax to the disappointment at the end.

Because that also eventually leads to triumph again.

That sets up, that’s the drama that sets up the triumph.

Like with Andrew Wiles performing Fermat’s theorem,

I guess it’s not the last thing, whatever.

Like the ups and downs of that, the rollercoaster,

the whole thing should be documented.

That is science.

And when we don’t do that, then we cultivate this aura

that excludes other scientists.

Often from minorities or women,

that you have to be Einstein.

Like Einstein came out of the womb,

and he was just like this guy with like curly…

No, he wasn’t.

He wasn’t bad at math.

That’s all nonsense.

But he said that he…

You know what he said he attributed his success to, Lex?

He said, I never asked my dad what happened

when I ran alongside a light beam as a kid.

And thank God I didn’t.

Because had I?

He would have told me the best answer of the day,

which by the way, he would create 20 years later

as a 26 year old in the patent office,

obviously in Switzerland.

And in so doing, by delaying when he asked these questions,

he said, I approached it with the intellect

of a mature scientist, not a little kid.

And I wouldn’t have accepted the same explanation.

So sometimes assuming that scientists are infallible,

inevitable, omniscient being,

I think that really does a disservice.

And Jim Gates said, he’s like,

Einstein wasn’t always Einstein.

And we cultivate this mystery and allure at our peril

because we’re humans until we have artificial Einstein,

which I don’t think will ever exist.

You’ve launched the assay or project

where you hope to assess theories

of everything with experiments.

You have a YouTube video where you were announcing that.

That looks super cool.

Can you describe this project?

And you also mentioned kind of,

you give a shout out to a little known fellow

by the name of Galileo Galilei

as an inspiration to this project.

Yeah, so Galileo is kind of my avatar,

my hero, the kind of all around scientist

that I would love to approach the logarithm of Galileo.

He was not only a phenomenal scientist,

he was an incredible artist, a writer, a poet,

a philosopher, and back then they didn’t have distinctions

between a scientist and a physician,

was like a physicist.

And he would indulge kind of these really

intellectual flights of fancy,

thinking about phenomena such as the Earth’s tides

or the composition of the Milky Way.

And what’s interesting about Galileo

is that he was almost as wrong often as he was right.

And Galileo was not alone like this.

I always say like Einstein had at least seven Nobel prizes

that he could have won for discoveries

that later became true,

but he also had seven huge impossible to believe blunders

in some sense.

That’s too bad,

because he could have had a good career as I would say.

And Galileo was like that too.

In other words, he would fall victim

to I think this confirmation bias

that all scientists have to guard their lives against,

their careers, their brands, their reputations against,

which is the exclusion of evidence that doesn’t conform

to what you’re trying to prove for one reason or another,

or the radical acceptance of things

that do comport with it in order to bolster your confidence.

And both are equally intoxicating.

It’s a confirmation bias is a hell of a drug

because it really reinforces this notion,

which is partially sunk cost.

You put so much time, effort, money, reputation into it.

You don’t wanna be wrong and go back on it.

And with Galileo, he would be incredibly perceptive

about things such as the Earth being not located

at the center of the solar system

and the sun being the center,

the so called Copernican hypothesis.

And he would use as evidence very, very interesting ideas

that all of which were wrong, basically.

And in fact, we weren’t able to prove

that the Earth orbited around the sun.

And I ask you, can you prove the Earth is not flat?

No, well, you’re a flat earther anyway.

But I ask my practice.

Proud Flat Earth Society member,

T shirts coming out soon.

Let’s stream it.com.


Last merch.

But it’s actually not trivial to do that.

But most of my students, graduate students

can prove that the Earth is round

or explain how the Earth.

It is actually not trivial to do though.

It’s not.


And much harder is to prove

that the Earth goes around the sun.

In fact, that’s extremely hard to prove.

And almost none of my students,

even after they get their PhD and the final exam,

I kinda like to just give them a little bit of humility.

Cause I think to be a good scientist,

you need to be humble.

You need to have a little humility

and you need to have swagger.

You need to feel like a little cocky.

Like I could do this.

I can do this thing that Einstein by definition couldn’t do.

I’m gonna attempt it.

I’m gonna attempt to do what was impossible

just a generation ago.

How do you prove that the Earth goes around the sun?

Do you have to, is it by the motion of other planets?

So there are many ways to do it.

I mean, obviously you could take a spaceship,

park it at the North celestial pole of our solar system

and just watch what happens.

But obviously that wasn’t how it was discovered

in the late 1700s.

So it was called aberration.

So if you look at stars,

as the Earth orbits around the sun,

the position of the stars will shift slightly

because of the tilt of the Earth

and because the Earth is in motion around the Earth

and around the sun.

And because the Earth has a non trivial amount of velocity

compared to the speed of light in its orbit around the sun,

the stars will trace out little tiny ellipses

and those will correspond to the fact

that we’re moving around.

If they’re infinite distance,

which we assume that they are, they’re not really,

but for all intents and purposes

in the scale of the solar system, they’re infinitely far away.

So that’s called stellar aberration.

And that was the first way it was discovered.

And actually we still use that.

We have to correct for that effect

when we measure the cosmic microwave background.

Because imagine you’re inside of an oven,

it has some temperature three Kelvin

and a thousand Kelvin whenever.

If you’re moving towards you,

the photons that are coming to me in that direction

will be blue shifted hotter

and the ones behind me will be red shifted.

I’ll artificially impute a greater or lesser amount

of matter or energy where you are

and it’s an extension of the Doppler effect.

So we actually make use of that

and construct what’s called like a local standard of rest.

Anyway, so you can do it.

But Galileo said, no, no, no,

I’m not gonna wait for that.

I have other proofs for it.

One of which is that the earth has tides

and the tides come in and out twice a day,

high tide and low tide.

And he made the analogy,

because the earth is moving around the sun,

say this is the sun here,

and it’s moving around the sun,

but it’s also rotating on its axis.

See how the water is sloshing up and down

inside the vodka bottle?

As that happens, he said,

that’s what the tides are caused by.

Totally wrong.

Most people listen to this podcast.

Just so you know, if you’re listening to this,

he actually has a bottle of vodka in his hand.

Half drunk.

And we’re both drunk and whatever else is possible.

So as it sloshed around,

he claimed that was what,

no, it has nothing to do with that.

The moon, over there,

the moon pulls differentially

on the earth and the earth’s ocean.

That causes the oceans to bulge slightly

towards and away from where the moon is.

And the moon is actually the source of the earth’s tides.

It has nothing to do with Copernicus,

the orbit of the sun.

So he was totally wrong about that.

He also thought that the Milky Way

was comprised only of stars,

when we know it’s made of gas, dust,

nebulae, and things like that.

So he had his fair share of blunders.

Now, one thing I always kind of make note of,

and I’m actually producing along with Jim Gates,

Fabiola Gianatti, Frank Wilczek,

and Carlo Ravelli,

and my friend Lucio Piccirillo,

the first ever audio book of Galileo’s dialogue,

the one where he claimed to find evidence

for the orbit of the earth around the sun,

but it was an error.

So you’re reading parts of this text.

Yeah, it’s a brilliant book.

So this book was written in 1632.

It was written, and it was the one

that caused him to go into house arrest

and almost threatened to be tortured.

And that book laid out his arguments

for what was called the Copernican

or the nonparapathetic Aristotelian, et cetera,

notion of the planetary dynamic.

And eventually he was forced to recant

that he believed in it,

and allegedly he said he still believes the earth moves.

Anyway, so we’re making,

it’s written in the form of a trilogue.

It’s actually called the dialogue with his three people.

There’s one named Salviati,

who was espousing Galileo’s notions

about how the heavens were orchestrated.

And Salviati means like the salvation, the savior.

Then there’s a middleman, Segredo.

So Carlo Rovelli is playing Salviati, brilliant one.

I am playing Segredo,

who’s like an intelligent interlocutor.

I’m kind of just, I can appreciate Aristotle,

I can appreciate Copernicus.

Then there’s this guy, Simplicio, the simpleton,

and he espouses the words of the Pope.

So you can imagine like,

you’re working in Putin’s government

or you’re working in whatever,

and all of a sudden you’re kind of putting the words

of like the fool, literally calling the fool,

but you’re using the words

of the all supreme powerful being on earth at that time

was the Vatican church,

especially for an Italian like Galileo.

So he wasn’t as brilliant politically

as he was astrophysically and otherwise.

Who’s doing Simplicio?

Simplicio is a friend of mine in University of Manchester

named Lucio Picciarello.

He’s an Irish guy, but he has an Italian,

no, no, he’s a full blooded Italian.

They all speak English and Italian, I only speak,

and the four words are written by,

so one four word in this place has three four words,

which is like a 12 word.


The four words are written by.

Can you explain that joke for me?

Yeah, that was a good one.

The four word, three four words.

One of them is written by Albert Einstein

in which he says Galileo was not only

one of the greatest scientists in history,

this is Einstein telling Galileo,

but he was one of the greatest writers

and minds of all of human history.

That four word is read by Frank Wilczek, who you’ve had.

Jim Gates, who you’ve also had,

he reads the translation, the translator,

Stillman Drake, who’s a renowned scientific translator.

And then Fabiola Giannati,

she reads the introduction and dedication

from Galileo to the Duke of Tuscany

and some of the different introductions

that Galileo himself had.

It’s just, it’s such a thrill to be able to do it.

I only randomly found out,

cause I wanted to study it and it’s like 500 pages long.

And I was like, let me get the audio book

cause I’m an audio medium kind of guy, didn’t exist.

So I said, let’s do it ourselves.

And so we did it and hopefully it’ll be out

on Galileo’s birthday, which is February 15th, 2022.

There’ll be a ripe 457,

but that’s not the only one of his books.

Galileo wrote many books,

one of which is called the Military Compass.

And this is an interesting book for my blockchain

and your blockchain aficionados.

In this book, he talks about a compass,

which is not a magnetic compass,

but an actual like slide roll.

It’s basically a slide roll.

And it’s a manual.

It’s like, imagine if your phone came with a manual,

nowadays they don’t, right?

But this was a manual for how to use this slide roll,

which is like enormously important.

And he gives a whole bunch of worked examples.

It’s a brilliant book.

One of the examples is how do you convert money?

So he does a currency conversion

between Ducati and Florentine Ducati

and Scuti and whatever, you know, lira, whatever.

He does all these currency conversions.

One copy of this book, or maybe two exist,

first printings from 1600 still exist.

If Galileo had just kept those in his family,

they’re worth a hundred million dollars.

Nowadays, you can’t get a Scuti.

A Scuti is worth nothing.

Like a Ducati is worth nothing.

I mean, maybe some collector wants a piece of paper, right?

So it’s a lesson.

Like there are value in physical, you know,

nonfungible tokens, this original nonfungible token.

But then a third book is called the assayer.

So what is an assayer?

So assayers were kind of like these alchemists, you know,

physicists, chemists that would be around a court.

And every so often for the treasurer,

they would want to accept pieces of gold from the citizens

and convert that to script or, you know, paper money.

And to do that, they needed someone

to verify with a standard of gold

that they knew to be gold and do some kind

of semi non destructive evaluation

of the purported object, the metal that

was supposed to be gold.

So they would take these pieces of gold, theoretically gold,

and they would rub it on something called a touchstone.

Touchstone was a special piece of rock, granite, whatever.

It has no intrinsic value.

It’s just a piece of rock.

But with that rock, you could assay and determine

the content of this thing that could be worth, you know,

millions of lira or whatever, right?

So it was an incredibly important job.

And so this person would take this piece of inanimate rock

and use it to do something valuable.

What I want to do in the Assayer Project

is take this plethora of physical theories

of everything.

I said recently, you know, we should give a Nobel Prize

to someone who doesn’t come up with a theory of everything.

Because there’s just like, it’s just rotten with them.

And I think it’s great.

You know, I often say that theory is kind of like software.

And I’m not denigrating software at all.

But like, you can create a lot of software.

You can make a quine, and it’ll make its own quine.

And you can make infinite amounts of software.

Look it up, kids.

That’s one of my favorite videos.

And you can replicate.

You can’t replicate.

You can’t make a telescope that makes a telescope that

makes a telescope.

In other words, hardware’s kind of like the nonfungible token

that’s the ultimate minted, limited edition, the book,

the compass book, like I talk.

And so it’s very expensive.

That means you have to be very careful before you invest

decades, billions, and humans into pursuing

one of these theories of everything.

You have to have good intuition for it.

And lately, what I’ve seen is not predictions,

but retrodictions.

So you see that the Large Hadron Collider will come out

with a measurement.

And then so and so will say, oh, this

is compatible with string theory.

Or g minus 2 of the muon, it has these bizarre properties.

Fifth force, string theory predicts this.

String theory solves this.

Neutrinos, sterile neutrinos, Large Hadron Collider bottom

or B experiment, blah, blah, blah.

They’ll say that it’s compatible after the fact.

And it’s not so bad, right?

Because what did Einstein do with GR, general relativity?

The first thing he did was not predict something new.

He looked at the anomalous behavior

of the planet Mercury.

And he saw it was behaving strangely.

And people had said, oh, that’s because there’s another planet

hiding behind the sun that we can’t see that perturbs

the orbit of the planet Mercury.

It’s called Vulcan.

That was one approach.

That’s kind of like the dark matter approach,

where it’s like there’s a clump of matter

that we can’t see that’s influencing the planet that we

can’t see.

And we use that to divine and intuit the existence

of the other planet.

That’s actually how Neptune was discovered.

Neptune was discovered because of the anomalous behavior

of the planet Uranus.

So Neptune was dark.

We couldn’t see it.

It was tugging on Uranus in a certain way.

And that led to Le Verrier discovering the planet,

predicting where this planet should be found.

So it had a good heritage in physics

to predict this planet that you couldn’t see that worked.

But Einstein said, no, it’s caused

by the warping and bending of spacetime

due to the presence of matter, who will later become known

as the Einstein equations.

So he explained why Mercury did that.

And it was known since the time of Newton

that Mercury was behaving in this really freaky way.

So he didn’t predict it.

He retradicted it.

That’s fine.

But at some point, you should come up

with something new that’s uniquely

predictive of your theory, as I just said.

The theory of dark matter in the context of Neptune

is actually a valid theory.

It just happens not to make sense

in the context of Vulcan.

And so if he had kept doing that,

maybe perhaps he wouldn’t have come up

with these other predictions that he would later reject.

He rejected the existence of gravitational waves.

You and Barry talked about that.

He didn’t actually believe it.

It was the one peer reviewed paper that he had.

He used to send back in those days.

He’d send a letter to Nature, physical review,

publish this, and know how much it cost.

And he got it rejected,

because he said you can’t detect gravitational waves.

And actually, or they’re not real.

And the guy showed that they’re real,

because he corrected a math error

in Einstein and Rosen’s paper.

So it’s fascinating.

What should the assayer do?

He or she should look at these theories,

look what things they explain that already exist,

and look at what new predictions they can claim to explain

if we can build experiments to test them.

So you have to kind of challenge yourself

to think about what kind of predictions

can they make such that we can construct experiments?

So that’s like ultimately back going to the signal,

to the experimenter’s theorist, essentially.

So like very experiment centric exploration

of the fundamental theory of everything.

That’s right.

And the best scientists, the best physicists,

were both experimentalists and theorists.

Or at least if they were experimentalists,

they understood the theory well enough to make predictions

or to explore the predictions

and the consequences of those predictions.

Or if they were theorists, they were like Galileo.

Like Einstein has patents for things that he invented.

And then some of his work led to the laser and the maser.

So he had practically, it wasn’t just pure airy fairy,

quantum reality and expanding universe.

So in this case, what I wanna do is look at,

there’s 10 different theories of everything

or cosmological models.

They make predictions, they have advantages

and disadvantages, and I’m just asking the question,

why aren’t we applying Bayesian reasoning

with confidence intervals?

Why don’t we have updates?

Every time an experiment comes out,

we can update our credulity in that experiment

or that theory rather,

based on the results of the experiment.

And we shouldn’t do it after the fact,

or as Michio Kaku has said,

well, you have to tell me what the initial conditions are.

And that’s not my job.

You’re supposed to tell me if string theory is correct,

what should it predict if it’s true?

There’s one big problem, which I should say,

that to be a good ass air,

I think you have to be worldly in the sense of,

worldly and curious, like we were talking about before

with you and Joe, and you can’t only talk your own book.

You can’t only understand your own pet theory of everything.

You can’t only say, well, I only understand string theory

and I don’t have time for these other theories,

or as if it’s beneath me to even go into Garrett Lisi

or Eric Weinstein or Stephen Wolfram

or aspects of M theory, et cetera, et cetera.

And there are some that say,

why do we give string theory so much of an advanced pass

when there are actually predictions that’s made

that are completely anathema to what we observe in physics?

Like the dark energy should be negative

and we see it as positive.

That’s a huge strike.

If you told somebody, here’s my tenure application

and what do you, oh, I’ve made this pretty,

if it wasn’t done by Maldacena and Whitten

and folks like that,

I don’t know if it would have had the traction,

the endurance, the resiliency that it’s had.

And that worries me because all these men and some women

are making these fantastic, brilliant, beautiful ideas

and they’re not even looking at what their neighbor’s doing.

There’s a thing that I really enjoyed seeing

and that don’t see often enough with these theories,

which is others who are also experts

kind of studying them sufficiently well

to steel man the theory,

to show the beautiful aspects of the theory.

I see that with Stephen Wolfram.

He has a very different sort of formulation of physics

with his physics project.

Now I’m, it’s, physics is a foreign land to me,

but his formulation, especially in the context

of cellular automata or hypergraphs,

just as objects, as mathematical objects themselves

are familiar.

And so I’m able to see the real beauty there

and it saddens me that others in the physics community

can’t also see the beauty.

Like give it a chance, give a chance to see the beauty.

And that.

Give it your respect.

So there is one person who does take time

and is what I consider to be a great scientist

in terms of what he thinks.

He obviously has invested interest in his own theory

and it’s Eric.

Eric’s got a truly encyclopedic knowledge

of the history of physics.

And he has a great warmth and graciousness

when it comes to giving other,

and I’ve witnessed this and I’ve had,

look, first of all, I think debate is pointless.

Like, I don’t know about you, but if you’ve ever voted like,

oh, I saw this debate and you know,

because Trump did so badly, now I’m gonna vote for Biden.

No, never have.

You almost never change anybody’s mind

unless you debate with love.

Unless you have almost like we’re gonna win together,

like the red team approach in the military,

they’re trying to win a war.

So they may disagree on the tactics day to day,

but the strategy, we have to win this war.

I love you and I wanna protect you.

I don’t see that in very many of these physicists from Kaku.

I almost see it, it’s embarrassing in some ways

because they’ll almost mock with the exception of Eric.

You know, Garrett’s interesting.

You know, his theory is, you know,

people have a lot of issues, very technical,

but Eric has taken the time to try to understand it.

Eric has taken the time to understand Peter White’s theory.

And I don’t see the same graciousness extended from them.

I’m sorry to say.

Yeah, essentially, you’re right, you’re right.

I mean, with Eric, he hasn’t, he wants to,

but he hasn’t extended the same for Stephen Wolfram

because I think Wolf.

No, he did.

No, actually, no, he did.

I had a debate with them live on my show.

No, I did, I listened to it,

but I just think it’s outside of the toolkit

that Eric is comfortable with.

So it’s not that he’s not,

but the main thing that’s often absent

and Eric does have is the willingness

and not just dismissing or mocking that he’s reaching out.

But okay.

I mean, what if it’s not,

you know, I made a joke when they were on,

I was like, how many theories of everything can there be?

You know, Highlander, there can be only one.

I don’t know, maybe.

But he, of course, also, like the other folks

who propose a theory, has an ego.


He rides a dragon with the dragon representing the ego.

Well, let me ask you about your friend, Eric Weinstein.

So he proposed initial sketches of geometric unity,

which is his theory of everything.

Maybe you can elucidate some aspect of it

that you find interesting.

But what do you think about the response

he got from the scientific community?

Well, you know, some of the response came

from people, academicians, professors.

Some came from a lay audience

and some came from trained scientists

who are no longer, you know,

maybe practicing in the universities.

I thought it was, there was a lot of vitriol,

which surprised me because I look at what he’s trying to do

and it was always, the vitriol would always come

with some element of ad hominem.

And maybe that’s his personality,

maybe that engenders this or whatever.

Maybe there is kind of just a natural tendency.

You know, I always get these emails,

Professor Keating, I have a new theory,

Einstein was wrong, I’m gonna prove it.

I’m not good at math, but if you help me,

I will share my Nobel Prize with you.

And I’m like, oh, thanks, have you read my books?

In other words, it’s always taking down the dragon.

It’s always taking down the Kung Fu master, right?

That you get the hit points from D&D.

You get their hit points, you take their cards,

you get their risk tokens from Kamchaka.

And thinking about with Eric, it’s like,

because what he’s doing is so aspirational,

it is grandiose in a good sense.

What he’s trying to do is construct

a geometric theory of everything

that has aspects of supersymmetry

and stuff embedded in it.

He’s trying to meld that, it has very unusual features

and that it features not only multiple spatial dimensions,

multiple time dimensions,

it uses new mathematical objects that he’s invented.

And look, I had him on my show, I’ve talked with him.

We’ve had consultations with other physicists

where he’ll come down and I have a visitor’s office

and he comes down to San Diego sometimes

and spends time there.

And we talk with eminent mathematicians and physicists.

Eric’s been out of the academic world for a long time.

And there is, as I said before,

an aspect of persuasion that must take place

in order to get anything through.

And I think there was a slight amount of good nature,

not ignorance, naivete, but just the sense that

if this is right, everyone will recognize it.

If you build a better mousetrap,

the world will beat a path to your door

as the expression goes.

That’s completely untrue.

That doesn’t even happen with mousetraps.

I mean, you know how many fricking mousetrap types there are?

It’s like, no, they don’t beat a path to your door.

You have to sell that fricking thing.

You have to sell it like Steve Jobs or Elon.

I have never, I’ve had one paper out of 200 papers

I’ve published in peer reviewed journals.

I’ve only had one, half a percent,

published with no referees comments.

In other words, published like dream.

Submitted it, it happened to be in a prestigious journal.

Thought I was pretty psyched about that.

But you almost have to crave the response,

getting it back from a journal.

And I think he doesn’t, first of all,

he doesn’t subscribe to the peer review process.

He thinks that is anathema to the way science is,

invest interest in public, in journals, et cetera, et cetera.

I think you can have elements of peer review

that are substantive and valuable.

I think you have to learn from your critics.

One of my conversations with John Mather,

he talks about loving your critics in this book,

but not being so open to their criticism

that their criticism goes to your heart

and not being so open to their compliments

that their compliments go to your head.

It’s a very tough Scylla and Charybdis to walk.

Well, there’s something, I mean,

I wanna be careful here because I’d like to talk to,

talk to Eric about this directly,

but I’ll just, from a perspective of a friend,

wanna ask about the drug of fame.

So there’s also the public perception

of the battles of physics.

And so there’s a very narrow community,

but then there’s the way that’s perceived.

The exploration of ideas is perceived by the public.

And so there is a certain drug to the excitement

that the public can show when they sense

that you have something big.

And that in itself might become the thing

that gives you pleasure.

And I think that with theories of everything

or with any kind of super, super ambitious projects,

and this is taking us back to when you were ambitious

about trying to understand the origins of the universe,

if you convince yourself that you have an intuition

about the origins of the universe

and you have a platform like you do now

where you start to communicate your intuition,

it’s hazy, like all the science, you’re still unsure,

but you have a sense, I mean, perhaps you don’t have that

as much as an experimentalist

because you always kind of start going,

okay, how can I build a device to see through the fog?

But if you’re more like a theoretician

who kind of works in the realm of ideas,

in the realm of intuitions,

it is also a source of pleasure.

You mentioned dopamine, a source of dopamine

that you can communicate to others

that you’re really excited by the possibility

of solving the deepest mysteries of the universe.

So there’s some aspect to which you want to be

a Grigori Grisha Perlman and go into the hole

and get the work done and shut the hell up about the,

speaking about myself, about talking about the dream

and planning and exploring how great it will be

if my intuition turns out to be correct.

If the sketches I have turn out to actually build

the bridge that takes us to a whole new place,

as a friend of Eric’s or a friend of,

or my friend, what kind of advice do you give?

What is your role?

Is it to be a supporter given that he has many critics

or is it to be in private a critic?

Like a lot of my friends will say,

hey, shut the hell up, just get it done.

Well, first of all, I wanna ask you a question I’ve asked him

and then it comes from Animal Farm by George.

Probably my favorite book, yeah.

So you remember Benjamin the donkey?


And he’s talking to the pig.

I forget the pig’s name, you probably know.

Anyway, the pig says to him,

you’ve got this long, lustrous, beautiful tail.

You’re so lucky.

I got the short, curly, little squiggly thing

that does jack squat.

Tell me, how does it feel to have such a lustrous tail?

And Benjamin says, well, the good Lord,

he gave me a tail to swat away the flies.

But you know what?

I’d rather not have the tail if I didn’t have the flies.

So I wanna ask you, as I’ve asked Eric, is it worth it?

You know, you’ve got these beautiful tail,

but there are flies.

I’m not saying in a negative way.

I’m just saying you get unwanted distractions,

dopamine, you know, it’s kind of the highlight,

the spotlight effect.

It’s obviously allowing you to do things

that you could never do alone.

And I think, you know, first of all,

I’d love to know how you answer that.

Cause that’s something I don’t feel I can relate to myself.

Well, this has to do with more like.


Platform stuff.

Yeah, scale.

Oh, I, that has no, very little effect on me.

I enjoy it.

I enjoy meeting new people,

but that has nothing to do with platform.

Yeah, no, that has no effect on me.

I’m one somebody that enjoys the act itself.

So this conversation,

the reason I’m doing this podcast with you today

is because that allows me to trick you

into talking to me for a prolonged period of time.

I don’t care about platform.

I assume nobody listens.

It really doesn’t matter.

Yeah, I forgot it, right?

My whole test of it was a good podcast.

How do you know?

Like podcast has been around what, 12 years?

How do we know as podcasters we’re doing a good job?

Like sometimes someone will say,

that was the best interview I ever had,

but that doesn’t happen that often, at least for me.

But if you realize that you forgot to put the SD card

in that little guy and the Zoom didn’t work,

would you do it again?

And I think if you say yes to that,

that was a good podcast.

Yeah, exactly.

That’s exactly it.

So in that space, yeah, all of it is worth it.

But the dream, I’m more referring

to the psychological effects.

Forget the platform, forget all of that.

You know, maybe you shouldn’t even brought up the platform

because it really has to do even in your own private mind,

which is what I’m struggling with.

I enjoy the planning, the dreaming, the early stages

so much that I often don’t take projects to completion.

This is a psychological effect

that I’m sure basically everybody, every engineer,

everybody that does anything goes through.

I just, in this case particular, I think it also applies.

And I wonder as a friend, what is the role?

So yeah, I mean, that effect has been documented,

everything from planning telescopes to dieting.

So there’s a tiny bit of dopamine that you get

visualizing how you’re gonna feel.

You don’t need to know this, but you don’t deal,

but losing five pounds.

I say, oh, I’m gonna lose five pounds

and I’m gonna be able to run a minute faster.

So there’s a part of me when I’m planning the diet

and the meals and the exercise

that I get a little bit of that thrill

and that actually saps a little bit of my willpower

to actually complete the task that will take me to that goal.

So that’s a documented effect.

And that happens in project planning and project management.

It’s a very, very important thing to guard against

as a manager of a big project.

With Eric, it’s interesting because with him,

first of all, we relate extremely well

on a friendship level and very close.

He does remind me a lot of my father

and I’ve told him that just as a mathematician,

as a big thinker, in his case, as a father,

the father kind of figure that I didn’t have in a sense,

but that he is a true lover of life.

He knows he’s got a huge platform.

He knows he gets a lot of attention for what he does.

And I jokingly say, well, it’s one thing,

like how do you know, Lex, that someone’s an expert?

Experts say.

There’s a good rule Ray Dalio writes about in principles.

He says, an expert is someone who’s done something

three times successfully.

Like you can do something correctly once,

you could do something correctly.

It’s very hard to pull off like three projects,

three telescopes, three whatever, right?

So look for, it’s arbitrary, it could be four,

it could be two, right?

But the point is, look at Eric.

So how many things has he contributed to

and made pretty substantive kind of paradigm shifts

for different people?

I would say he’s been right many times.

Does that mean he’s infallible, that he’s ineffable?

No, of course not.

For me, so what I’m saying is I get a little bit of the joy

of kind of learning something purely as a scientist,

something completely outside of what I do, mathematics,

gauge theory, the kind of very advanced geometry topology

that he’s interested in.

But every now and then, I will sneak in that I want,

you know, I’ve told him, I’m gonna turn your son

into an experimentalist despite you.

You know, like he is not gonna be a theorist,

Zev is not gonna be a theorist.

He is working with me, he is learning from me.

We’re trying to get him into, he wants to bypass

all of the kind of nonsense of undergraduate

and go straight to graduate school.

And I’ve tried to encourage him

that maybe he could do it, maybe he can’t,

but there’s no other way than to try.

And so I prepared a whole curriculum for Zev

to basically bypass all of undergraduate.

And to his credit, he’s not earns all the credit.

He’s learned it to a level

that matches many of my graduate students.

Okay, hold on a second.

I have to push back and this is me saying it

and I’m sure I’ll talk to Eric about this.

But to say, you said Eric’s done,

was right on multiple things.

I think Eric has a great deep insight

about human nature and how societies work.

And he says a lot of wise words on that world.

But I think if we’re talking about experts,

you kind of have to prove, you know,

it’s like Michael Jordan playing baseball.

Like he’s proved it many times that he can play basketball,

but he’s also got to prove that he can play baseball.

And I would say the whole point of, I mean,

of radical ideas is you’re not, I mean,

it’s very hard to be sitting on a track record of,

I mean, when you’re swinging for the fences,

always there’s not a track record to sit on.

And like Max Tegmark is an example of somebody

who has a huge track record of more like acceptable stuff,

but he also keeps swinging for the fences

in every other world.

So he has that track record.

With Eric, if you look at just the number of publications,

all this stuff, he chose not to travel the academic route.

So there’s no proof of expertise

except sort of an obvious linguistic demonstration

of brilliance, but that’s not how physics works, right?

There’s a polite way to damn somebody as a scientist

and say he or she, they really know

the history of physics very well.

Like physicists always love it.

Like Sean Carroll always jokes about like,

physicists should never talk about history of physics,

but it’s more than that.

So Eric has certainly contributed in finance specifically

and gauge theory and economics and inflation dynamics

and the non cosmological.

Hold on a second, that’s yet to be proven.

He has a lot of powerful interests.

Calculate is calculus proven.

I mean, he has a gauge model for currency exchanges

between different nations that is explanatory.

Not, it’s not, you know, is this something,

in other words, it’s a model

and it’s used for pedagogical purposes.

And it might be, okay.

It’s unique to him.

I mean, to him and Pia.

Yes, it might be a powerful model.

It might be one that’s actually deserves

a huge amount of applause and celebration,

but does not yet receive that.

And that’s one of the things that Eric talks about.

It has not received the attention it deserves,

but it has not yet received the attention it deserves.

And so like the proven expertise thing,

I mean, there’s a lot of people that go to their grave

without the recognition they deserve and it’s a tragedy.

But the fact is like, you know,

you have to fight for that recognition.

The tragedy happens for a reason.

You can’t just say this person is obviously brilliant

and therefore they deserve the credit

in every single domain.

It doesn’t like transfer immediately.

There’s nobody that’s, well, at least I wouldn’t argue

Eric is one of the special minds in our generation,

but you still have to fight the fight of physics

and prove it within the community.

And I think the same applies in economics.

You can’t, I mean, as somebody that, you know,

I’ve gone through the academic journey,

just like you said, the peer review,

all of those things, flawed as they are,

that’s the part of the process.

You have to convince your peers,

the people that are as obsessed for whatever the hell reason

about that particular thing that you’re working on.

Yes, there’s egos.

Yes, there’s politics.

It’s a giant mess.

But I think it’s a beautiful mess

through which you have to go through

in order to reveal the power of your idea

to yourself and to the world.

Well, let me use an example.

So, you know of James Clerk Maxwell

and he invented the laws of electromagnetism,

which is the first example of a unification principle

ever displayed by the human mind in history.

Purely mathematics, unifying completely disparate phenomena.

In one case, electricity, charges,

static electricity, lightning,

and the other magnets, bar magnets, currents, et cetera.

Unify them.

And you know what he did?

I like to do a thought experiment.

Imagine Twitter exists, 1864.

Maxwell’s working away.

And he goes, I have this wonderful idea

with fluxions and inductive virtue and blah, blah, blah.

And it revolves on this thing called an ether.

And by the way, there are these little vortices and gears

and the gears have these planetary things

and they suck up vortices and the vortices determine

the density of the electromagnetic potential.

You feel like this guy’s a fricking moron.

And what would you do?

Come on, honestly, you would say

everything this guy does is wrong.

I mean, he’s got this idiotic idea

and it would be falsified a couple of decades later

by Michelson and Morley.

And in so doing, you would have thrown out

a very beautiful baby with bathwater.

Imagine Twitter, imagine the twit storm,

clerk Maxwell, at clerk Maxwell one would get.

It would be brutal, right?

And to the detriment.

And that might even set back history.

Imagine Yang Mills doing the same thing.

Chairman Simons.

All these things are very fantastic.

But why Lex?

Why does Ed Witten, why does Juan Maldacena?

Let me give a good example.

Juan, brilliant guy, I love him.

He is the reason that Stephen Hawking conceded

his black hole information paradox loss issue.

What did he concede based upon Maldacena’s calculation

in ADS, CFT and five dimensional wormholes?

Is any of that?

First of all, we don’t live in ADS universe.

Second of all, we don’t know if wormholes are traversable,

if they exist even.

These are devices, Kip Thorne is popularized for movies.

To say that this is something on which I will concede a bet.

Now, obviously Hawking was doing that for publicity.

Why does Maldacena?

And he’s got a pretty high H index,

pretty well respected guy at IAS.

Love talking to him, brilliant guy.

By the way, also had made use of Eric and Pia’s work

on gauge theory and economics originally.

And one, I believe the breakthrough,

I can’t remember exactly what,

but partially credit some of the work that he did,

which appears there’s a footnote to Pia Milani’s thesis

and some conversations with Eric, I think in it.

Anyway, getting back to that,

why is there not the same skepticism?

Is it because Maldacena,

who’s an eminent physicist obviously,

has published realistic work and done,

what about Witten?

Witten gets a pass.

I mean, if you, Witten just gets here.

Well, Witten gets a pass on which aspect?

The string theory?

Yeah, that M theory is correct.

I mean, here’s, well, let me just say Hawking.

Hawking gets the ultimate pass.

Hawking would say things like M theory,

there’s zero evidence for it.

I mean, there’s the famous meme

that went around this weekend, like,

what is string theory predicted?

And it’s nothing.

And by the way, that’s actually wrong.

I talked to Kamran, I know you talked to Kamran.

Kamran says that string theory does make predictions.

It predicts the mass of the electron lies

between 10 to the minus one Planck mass

and 10 to the minus 30 Planck mass.

Okay, whatever, or electron.

It’s a big range.

It’s a huge range.

Is that, imagine Kamran comes up and again,

he’s just some nobody, but he actually,

he doesn’t have a profile, he’s not Harvard,

has zero H and X or whatever Eric says.

Why do we not like, in other words,

why are we more harsh on people that are trying?

You know the answer to that.

So I get a million emails, just like you said,

you yourself, where they provenized in my world

as artificial intelligence, the equivalence of that,

is I figured out how to build consciousness,

how to engineer intelligence, how to, and sometimes.

You should send your emails to me

and I’ll send my emails to you.

And we’ll reply to each other.

I mean, and I don’t want to sort of mock this

because I think it’s very possible

that there is either kernels of interesting ideas

or in whole, like there is geniuses out there

that are unheard, but because there’s so much noise,

you do have to weigh out like a higher

the Ed Wittons of the world when they make statements.

And that’s why you build up a track record.

Like you just said with Ray Dalio,

you have to show that you can, like if you’re a Pollock

and you show us a painting of a bunch of chaos,

you have to, and this is a bad example, probably,

because he probably never showed this proof.

I don’t think he could do it.

Yeah, it’s much more comforting to see

that they can paint a good, accurate picture.

Still life.

Of still life, of an apple on the table.

So there’s, because then, I mean,

because then there’s something

about the scientific community

that they have perhaps an oversensitive bullshit sensor

to where they’re not going to give the full effort

of their attention if you don’t have the track record.

Now you could say that’s a kind of club

that only you have to like, you have to have 10,

you have to have this, yes, that exists,

but there’s some aspect in which you have to play the game

a little bit to get the machine of science going.

Otherwise, if you’re always saying,

well, I have my ball and I don’t want to play your game,

your game sucks, then nobody’s gonna want to play with you.

That’s true.

Look, inherent in all of this is an underlying grandiosity.

Look, how could you talk about doing what Kaku said

on here and elsewhere?

We’re looking for the umbilical cord

that connects our universe to another universe

that will then reveal in a one inch equation

that will surely win a Nobel Prize, the mind of God.

That’s like a prerequisite, I guess,

to tackle these questions.

I think it’s detrimental.

I think doing that, first of all,

I think there’s an element of almost snarkiness

because none of these scientists are believing,

you know, Gnostics, they’re not theists, right?

So they’re using it as kind of a stand in

and always talk about Einstein didn’t mean

he was like a Spinoza and he wasn’t a, you know, a theist.

God doesn’t play dice.

Yeah, Einstein’s mentions of God, yeah.

Yeah, and then Stephen Hawking says if,

when we come, we get an M theory understood,

we’ll know the mind of God.

That’s the title of Kaku’s book,

The God Particle, The God Equation.

It, you know, do any of them really believe in God?

No, is that a prerequisite?

No, I’m not saying that.

But the point being,

you’re talking about something that has to do with God,

right, I mean, where else do you go from there?

I mean, I think God for now enjoys a little bit more,

you know, kind of a PR than Elon or Joe or whatever, right?

So like it’s, you know, God’s got a pretty good,

you know, H index himself.

He has a, by the way, a Twitter account,

just so you know, it’s pretty good.

The tweets of God, yeah.

Yeah, that’s right.

The tweet of God.

So if you look at that, you have to go in there,

again, you have to go in with some swagger.

You have to have a little bit of arrogance,

but you should, I agree,

mix with a little bit of humility.

So he’s doing something, he comes from outside of academia.

Now, if he rails against, I’m talking about Eric now,

if he’s just railing, oh, the system,

and I’m not gonna publish because F that,

and that’s only created by greedy journalists,

I don’t think he’s doing himself any favors.

On the other hand, if he’s shopping it, if he’s talking it,

if he’s willing to expose it to criticism,

and to even embrace people

who may not have the purest intentions perhaps,

but in the sense of like they’re not arguing solely

to get to the truth with a capital T,

what they’re trying to do is take down Eric.

Hopefully those people aren’t out there.

But on the other hand,

looking at what Eric does for other people,

looking at the fact that he has courtesy,

he will look at Wolfram, he will look at Lisey,

who’s one of his closest friends.

I mean, he calls him as his aunt, not his aunt.

Nemesis. Nemesis, right, right.

I think that’s interesting that they’re loving friends.

I really enjoyed that portal conversation

between Gary and Lisey.

Eric is torn about that conversation because, I guess,

because of the nemesis of the beautiful dance of minds

playing with these ideas and theories of everything.

Some of these things, you know, look, so fundamentally,

now I may disagree with him, Eric, on a different aspect,

which is the only one I’m capable of,

but let me say one thing,

which is experimental, but let me say one thing.

I understand probably a third

of what Eric’s talking about with GU.

I understand, you know, GR, I understand mathematics,

I understand some group theory, fiber bone,

I can get a little of it, the age theory,

but I also understand what I don’t understand,

and I understand that there are people like Witten,

Maldacena, Nima, other people that can understand it,

and they’re not trying to understand it.

Sabina, she can understand it.

She makes all these, you know,

oh, I don’t understand it, I don’t want to understand it.

I don’t have time, and then she makes a video,

a music video, you know, kind of mocking Eric

and Steven and Garrett, and I’m like,

oh, you have a time to do, and I love Sabina,

and I’ve actually promoted my show on her,

and I love her, and she’s doing a wonderful job,

but you have a video that you said yourself

takes eight weeks to produce from start to finish,

and you couldn’t have spent, you know, 30 minutes, two hours.

I, Brian Keating, have done it

as an experimental cosmologist,

and I have enough to say, like, this is interesting.

It’s part of the ASEIR project, and it actually,

I shouldn’t say that there are no people.

They’re very serious.

Louis Alvarez Gommet at SUNY Stony Brook

at the Simon Center for Geometrical Physics.

Yeah, so he and I are running this seminar,

hopefully this summer.

We’re gonna reenact the famous

Shelter Island conferences in the 1900s,

where, you know, Feynman got together,

and they calculated the Lamb shift and all that,

but what did that feature?

The harmony, the resonant minds

behind the best experimentalists in cosmology,

particle physics, condensed matter physics

is now teaching us tremendous things about, you know,

lower dimensional systems that can be applied.

Theorists and experimentalists, observers,

cosmologists, we all will get together,

and we’re just gonna do it out of a spirit of love,

but if it’s just like, oh, this guy’s like a loudmouth,

I don’t have time for that.

I really don’t.

I don’t think it’s interesting way to spend my time.

There’s a aspect that I hope to see,

and it goes back to our sort of discussion

about Joe Rogan.

I do hope to see sort of love and humility

in the presentation.

Like, let go of this kind of fear of your ideas being stolen

and the ego that’s inherent to the scientific pursuit,

and now that everybody is established and known entities,

let go of that a little bit

so we can explore and celebrate ideas.

I would love to see more of that,

just like, as you were saying,

especially with these big ideas of theories of everything.

And I’ve talked, I mean,

this isn’t talking tails out of school,

but I mean, he has made claims

that I fundamentally disagree with,

in terms of like, he’s had this Twitter baiting,

loving trolling of Elon,

why are you spending all this money to get to Mars?

We should be spending money on interdimensional travel,

and we can unlock it if we…

And I said to him, and he makes the point

that the atomic theory, that unleashed the nuclear age,

and that could lead to planetary destruction.

But I make the point pushing back with love on him,

and I say, look, nobody looked into the equations,

like Fermi didn’t look into all these equations

of the unification, which still doesn’t exist, by the way.

We spent all this time, Lex,

and I don’t know why it is,

it’s a phenomenon purely in theoretical physics.

People are looking for the toe,

and they’re overlooking the gut.

In other words, they’re spending all this time

on the theory of everything, the God equation,

and there’s this gut that unifies the three stronger forces.

We don’t have a single theory for that.

And people like lash out, they’ve tried and failed at it.

Yeah, for people who don’t know,

there’s four forces, gut grant unification theories

that unifies the three forces stuff,

and I’m trying to get a shortcut

to the theory of everything, which unifies the four.

And then there’s this whole thing

that maybe quantum gravity is not even a thing.

So we’re trying to solve the puzzle of everything

at the physics level.

And then already before solving it,

already saying, once we solve it,

here’s going to be all the beautiful time machines.

We’re just level jumping it, going to level 256.

Time x and everything.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I suppose you need that kind of ego, that confidence,

that ambition in order to even have a chance

at some of these things.

The only two people in this book of nine Nobel laureates

who told me they don’t have the imposter syndrome

were two theorists, Frank Wilczek and Sheldon Glashow.

And Frank is a pretty interesting,

and I know eventually we’re gonna talk

about the meaning of life, but you talk about Frank.

Frank invented this theory along with his advisor

and another third person in the early 1970s,

which from 1974, three, when he was at Princeton,

all the way up until 2004, when he won the Nobel,

every day of his life.

Imagine this, Lex.

You’re gonna have this startup.

Actually, someone tells you you’re gonna win a lottery.

You’re gonna win a lottery in 40 years.

What becomes your singular focus in your life

from now until the next 40 years?

Well, I’m not sure.

I mean, would it be winning the lottery

or if I’m so confident?

No, I’m saying you’re guaranteed to win a lottery.


Here’s this wallet, Bitcoin wallet.

It’s gonna guarantee I have this much money.

It’s stable coin, whatever.

You’re gonna win it, but you have to wait 40 years.

To me, it would be surviving for the next 40 years.

You wouldn’t leave your house.

You would go out in a bubble wrap hat.

You wouldn’t go out with that 20 masks on, right?

Your whole life would be consumed with.

Now, imagine everyone’s telling you

you’re gonna win the Nobel Prize,

which is bigger than the lottery.

I mean, many P prizes are worth more than the Nobel Prize

and every person who wins a prize

that’s worth three times the money, like Maldacena,

he would trade that breakthrough prize

for a Nobel Prize and a heartbeat.

So these guys had to wait 40 years.

Imagine the excruciating pain.

What got him through it?

He didn’t feel like he didn’t deserve it.

He felt like, hell yeah, I earned it.

He has that swagger.

And what I’m looking for in this asset is to try to find

ways that we can test stuff now,

cause I don’t know if I’m gonna be here in 40 years,

I hope I am, but can we bypass, can we get shortcuts?

What’s called the low energy regime.

And to me, that’s what’s interesting.

Like, what can we do now?

I don’t care.

Like Isaac Newton came up with color theory

and he did something really interesting.

Next time I come, I’ll bring you some prisms.

What did he do?

He took a white light.

He took a prism from the sun, actually.

He put it through a slit, put it through a prism

and it made a beautiful rainbow, like you’ve seen.

And then he took another prism

and he put it upside down,

like, you know, dark side of the moon, whatever.

And the light went through the first prism,

turned into a rainbow.

And then the rainbow went into a prism

and came out a white light.

That’s pretty cool.

Then he took a popsicle stick or whatever,

it’s probably, you know, pipe tobacco.

And he put it in the beam, like blocked out the orange

and it didn’t make white light come out.

So he showed like colors of synthesis.

It’s a common, he didn’t use like

the Large Hadron Collider to do that.

You know, he used a very low energy experiment

to prove a unification in this color physics

and different kind of color physics

than in quantum chromodynamics.

But nevertheless, can we find things like that?

Are we spending way too much time and energy

thinking about the future circular collider,

which even if it gets built will cost $30 billion

just to build.

By the way, anytime from now on,

if I leave you with anything,

anytime an experimental physicist tells you a number,

always double it, maybe triple it.

How much is it gonna cost?

To operate it.

So like, do we build an aircraft carrier

to build an aircraft carrier?

Do we build a nuclear reactor, a semiconductor facility?

And the rule of thumb that works pretty well

in project management is it costs about 10% per year

to operate a given object of sufficient complexity.

And in this case, so in 10 years,

it’ll cost double the cost.

So never believe a number,

whether it’s from our mutual friend, Harry or whoever,

don’t believe the number, double it.

And then say, is it worth it?

And so building a solar system size accelerator,

even if it were possible, do we have to do that?

Or can we use these two 30 solar mass objects

colliding together to test the number

of large extra spatial dimensions?

Can we do that?

People are working on it.

I think it’s fascinating.

So focus on building detectors.


That like, where the cosmos is part of the experiment,

I suppose, is doing the hard work.

Cause when you’re saying low energy regime,

cause for some of these, especially big questions,

like theories of everything,

you need some high energy events.

And so somehow figure out how the high energy events

that are already happening out there,

how to leverage them to understand here on earth.

So one of the alternative theories of cosmology

that is not a singular quantum gravitational requiring

as the big bang and inflation are,

is are these bouncing models.

Some of them feature a similar kind of entity

called the quantum field.

And that quantum field in the initial stages

of the universe of our current, after the bounce,

which is not a singularity,

it compresses to a classical kind of rebound

and the universe starts expanding.

During that process, the expansion is governed

by what’s called a scalar field,

of which we only know one that exists,

that’s called the Higgs boson.

Higgs is a scalar fundamental particle, fundamental field.

That field then later does double duty

and it becomes dark energy.

So it solves two problems.

And I’m not saying it’s correct, we don’t know yet.

But are there observations of,

and so dark energy is manifest today.

It’s manifest in properties we see in supernova explosions,

et cetera, et cetera.

We see the effects of accelerating universe

caused by presumably dark energy.

Is dark energy a constant or does it vary?

That has to vary in order for this theory to be true,

because that eventually has to decay

so that the universe can not support itself

and collapse again, again classically.

So we could use low energy phenomenon.

It’s hard to think of supernova

as being a low energy phenomenon,

but we use that as a tracer of the cosmic expansion field

and see, does it change or is it a constant?

That’s an example of a low energy limit

to prove a high energy phenomenon,

unlike this collapsing universe in the cyclic model.

Speaking of things that cost a lot, but are super exciting.

Page two, crap.

No, we’ll wrap it up.


Calm down, this is, there’s more than page two.

What do you think this is?

This is a…


Well, Louis de Broglie’s thesis was three pages long

and he won the Nobel Prize for the wave particle duality.

So, size matters in different dimensions in life.

I think the lessons I’ve learned about life

is the short of the paper or the short of the thesis.

Actually the short of the paper,

some of the greatest papers ever written are short.

I feel like some of the best ideas in this world,

not to sound like a contradiction of Feynman,

a contradiction on top of a contradiction,

but it could be written on a napkin, honestly.

It just kind of tells you something about ideas.

What are your thoughts about the James Webb Space Telescope?

Is this, as somebody who likes telescopes,

and this is one of the, I think it says,

took 20 years to build, $9.7 billion.

Is that way too much, too little?

Are you excited about this thing?

It’s sufficiently different from what I do in my field

that it’s incredibly interesting to me

because I have no horse in that race.

And so I’m not competing with them for time or money

or resources or people or whatever.

So I can purely be an advocate

and an aficionado of science.

It is in some sense the successor to Hubble.

It will do things that Hubble can’t do.

It will also may or may not have the impact

on a visceral kind of artistic level that Hubble had.

What are some of the most iconic things that Hubble did?

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the pillars of creation,

storms and imaging of these twisted deep sky galaxies.

Those resonated with the public.

Just visually, they were beautiful.

Yeah, when you look at these images,

the Hubble Ultra Deep Field,

you’ll maybe put that in,

you’ll show every speck of light except for one,

4,000 blobs of light.

There’s one star in our galaxy, the rest are galaxies.

Now that image is less than 1 10th of your fingernail

held out at arm’s length.

It contains 4,000 galaxies.

So now you can figure out

how many galaxies there are in the whole sky

just by seeing how long does it take you

to move your fingernail over the whole sky.

So we have another couple of hours.

No, so it comes out to be,

that’s how we get 500 billion or more galaxies.

Now it’s not exact to the galaxy,

but it’s a good order of magnitude estimate,

maybe even better.

Hubble produced that and it was basically serendipitous.

They pointed to some dark blank piece of sky

what they thought was blank and they saw it.

Same thing that happened with the CMB.

They were looking for something they didn’t find.

Same thing they found when they were looking

for the deceleration of the universe

and found it was accelerating.

So what I sometimes hear is that

we don’t know what we’re gonna discover.

I never think that’s a good idea

to spend billions of dollars on something.

Like you should have some guaranteed low hanging fruit

and then there should be swinging for the fences.

And I think in this case, it was really everything

is swinging for the fences

because it’s kind of a single point failure.

If that telescope, which is this origami construction

of 22 hexagonal panels that have to unfold properly

and then orient themselves a million miles from Earth

beyond the Earth moon distance by a factor of four

and still transmit telecommunication back to the Earth,

get solar energy, keep it away from the sun.

You don’t wanna look through the telescope of the sun

with your remaining good eye.

And you do that and you cover,

it’s gonna be phenomenal for science, for sure, if it works.

There are a lot of people think it’s so risky.

NASA sunk so much of their budget, it ate up.

And what if it does fail?

I mean, there’s no guarantee.

Yes, it’s insured, but so what?

You’re not gonna get back those 20 years of people.

Well, let’s start building it again.

Like they didn’t build two copies of it.

And then if it fails, it kinda has a dampening effect

on the prospects and the inspiration of the public

for what science can do,

what science engineering can do is out in space.

It will make a huge impact scientific.

Let’s hope for the best, let’s assume it does succeed.

It’s launched in a couple of weeks.

And when it does, it will transform our understanding

of we just discovered not only like extrasolar planets

that have moons on them and asteroid belt,

we discovered an extrasolar planet in another galaxy.

This will be able to see crazy stuff like that,

spectroscopy, imaging, but it will be able

to go back farther in time,

such that we will be doing cosmology.

Hubble did some cosmology and measured the Hubble constant.

That was its key project when it was designed and launched.

But because it is optical telescope,

it’s sensitive to more close in redshift,

so shorter distances.

Now James Webb is much, much higher redshift.

It can probe the darker, deeper, distant universe.

Okay, let’s talk about not the distant universe,

but our neighboring planets.

First, I gotta ask you about the moon.

So there’s a piece of the moon on this table

that you’ve given me that we didn’t have to pick up

that arrived here.

That’s right.

So how did a piece of the moon arrive here on Earth?

So this chunk of the moon, if it were delivered

by the Apollo and NASA missions,

you and I would be guilty of a felony right now

because it’s illegal to own pieces of the moon

collected by the Apollo astronauts.

So don’t even joke about that when you go over to Houston.

This piece of moon rock was delivered

via the old fashioned way by gravity.

So this was a chunk of the moon, which is blasted off

because the moon gets bombarded by asteroids and meteoroids.

Some of them eject material from the surface of the moon

into space, and it will then orbit

the common moon Earth system.

And it will then eventually enter our atmosphere.

And if the piece is large enough

and the trajectory is proper, it can land intact.

And this one landed with a few hundred grams worth,

and they sliced it up.

And then it was delivered via US Postal Service to my house.

So you can buy these pieces.

And actually, you can buy a piece of Mars.

You can buy a piece of Mars delivered by the same route.

Now, what’s so interesting about that?

Well, if a piece of Mars can get here,

a piece of Earth can get there.

Some piece of Earth has some life forms on it.

It could get there.

And if that can happen in our solar system,

it could happen throughout the galaxy.

So I’m actually not of the opinion

that there is life elsewhere in the universe,

at least technological life that we can,

I see this look of horror on your face.

I view it, I am personally extremely pessimistic,

would be extremely surprised.

I’m just, I’m curious by the transition

because you just said that life could have arrived from Mars

or like from planet to planet

because of the meteorites striking it and so on.

And then you went to,

you don’t think there might be life out there

in the universe.

Technological life.

Yeah, advanced intelligence civilizations.

Okay, so go on.

So that’s the generalization

of what the famous astronomer Fred Hoyle called,

I know this is a PG 13, it’s called panspermia.


Beep that out, please.

Yeah, yeah, please.

And that’s the exchange of genetic life form material

from other reaches on earth,

which explains the origin of life on earth,

but not the origin of life itself,

which I think is a much grander mystery

and much more interesting.

How did life get here?

And you’ve talked with many eminent people about that.

I’m not gonna add that much,

but just thinking about the reverse process.

Let’s say life started on the earth somehow

and then made its way out into the universe.

Is there enough time for the,

whatever material went from earth

via panspermic direction,

spraying the love gun out into the universe,

did that then have enough time to incubate

and go onto a planet that could support it?

Certainly not within our solar system,

which traveling at the meteorite speeds

would require hundreds of millions of years.

Then looking at the evolutionary history

from bacteria to Bach,

from rocks to Rachmaninoff,

I don’t know, I can do this all day.

Oh wow, that’s pretty good.

How do you get from those very simple

inanimate objects to life?

I just simply think there’s not enough time

for earth to seed life,

technological life throughout the galaxy.

I don’t think there’s any evidence for that.

But so you really think that the origin

of life on earth is a really special event?

Yeah, if it did originate on earth,

my question for those that search for life

outside the earth is what if you had a letter from God

and the letter said life didn’t originate on earth,

like would you choose a different profession?

Like it would seem hopeless.

Like in other words, we only have a sample of one.

In fact, we only know of one conscious life form,

let alone one planet that has life on it, right?

What if you knew for sure it didn’t start here?

That means that like there’s almost nothing about earth

that is originated, it didn’t originate the life process.

So to study purely the origin of life,

not life itself, I think that’s still fascinating.

But how could we learn about the origin of,

remember you have to go from inanimate object

to a living object, whatever that definition of life is.

And I’m not an expert in many definitions,

Max, Sarah, you know, many different definition.

But how do you actually go from inanimate to animate?

It’s a huge question.

Yeah, but then you don’t have to be the place

where life originated to replicate the origin

or to under, like, yeah, that’s one way

to understand something is to build it.

But another way is to just observe it.

You don’t have to truly re engineer from scratch.

So, you know, but then yes, if it didn’t originate on earth,

then your intuitions about the basic prerequisites

of life are off.

What’s the governing principle, right?

Like, what is, and then you can have just

almost an arbitrary number of possible,

like, if life didn’t start on earth.

So to me, that’s exciting because it’s like,

we know even less than we thought.

The thing is it can prosper on earth though.


So maybe the origin of life is fundamentally different

from the maintenance of life.

Right, and maybe the existence

of the earth life symbiosis is critical.

I think Sarah, and you talked about Sarah Walker,

that it’s a planetary phenomenon, et cetera, et cetera.

So doesn’t that make it less like, in other words,

like not only do you need special life conditions

to create life, but then sustenance of life, as you say,

that also has to be maintained

under very specific circumstances

by very specific planets

and with very specific tectonic activity and moon.

And by the way, you need a Jupiter nearby.

You need an earth and a moon system

so that you don’t get bombarded too early.

And I always think like this, like technological life,

I haven’t said this before, really, so I’m just speaking.

I usually like to write down before I say these different,

but one of the things I thought about is.

Somebody hosts a podcast.

You should probably accept the fact

that you’re going to say stupid things

every once in a while.

Not every once in a while, every while.

I claim that to get to sending people to the moon,

our planet needed whales and dinosaurs, right?

Like you don’t make a solar panel

from another solar panel.

Like you made a solar panel from a factory

that melted down glass, silica, aluminum,

extruded that using fossil fuels.

Where do those fossil fuels come from?

Like, so any civilization that’s going to be a Dyson,

you know, a Kardashev, do they have dinosaurs?

Like, do they have like prebiotic life?

Do they have a great oxygenation event?

Did they have a dimorphism between prokaryotic, eukaryotic?

All those hurdles, let’s say you give each one,

let’s say there’s eight hurdles.

And each one of those has a probability

of one in a thousand to go from, you know,

eukaryotic, prokaryotic, whatever.

Let’s say that’s a one in a thousand chance.

I think it’s like one in 10 to the 40th or whatever,

if you really do it.

But let’s say it’s first generous nature.

One in 10 to the three.

Let’s say there’s eight of those hurdles.

That means you have 10 to the 24th power,

different possibility.

And that’s just with eight.

Like the moon has to be there.

Jupiter has to be there.

Dinosaurs had to be there.

All the different things that we have

to get to technological life.

There’s only 10 to the, only,

there’s 10 to the 22nd, we think,

Earth, not Earth, planets in the observable universe,

not the galaxy.

So that’s 100 times fewer than the probability

to get, you know, 100% clearing these eight

very low hurdles of one in a thousand.

That’s fascinating, because now I really need

to listen to your conversation with Lee Cronin,

who I believe you had, because he believes the opposite.

Yes, I know.

Yeah, I want to have a debate with him.

He believes that the way biology evolved on Earth

could have evolved almost an infinite number of other ways.

So like, if you ran Earth over and over and over,

you would keep getting life and it would be very different.

So it’s, the fact that our particular life seems unique

is just like, well, because every freaking life

is going to seem unique, but it’ll be very different.

It’s not like, we shouldn’t be asking the question

of what’s the likelihood of getting a human like thing?

Because that seems to be super special.

It’s more like, how easy is it to make

Slime mold.

Anything that has the skills of a human?

And I don’t mean like something with thumbs,

but achieving basically a technological civilization.

And according to Lee at least, it’s like, it’s trivial.

I know, we fought, I fought a little bit.

I’d love to debate him and I think it’d be a lot of fun.

Because we debate with love when I talk with Lee.

I love him and he loves me, I think, I hope.

But let me ask you a question.

I asked this of him and Sarah on our Clubhouse ones.

So what do you think would happen the next day?

Let’s say we discover life, it’s Proxima Centauri B.

It looks just like Slime mold,

like you got on your Brie cheese or whatever.

We discover it, what would happen the next day?

And they were like, oh, this would be transformative.

And I’m not trying to be like Total Cassandra about this,

but I said, I don’t think anything would happen.

And what are you talking about?

It would be transformational.

I’m like, I stipulate that life exists.

Go down to like the river, I’m in San Diego,

go down to the Pacific Ocean, scoop up a glass.

You’re gonna find life in there.

And what are we doing?

What are we doing to our earth?

We’re destroying it callously.

We’re like pumping crap into there.

Like we have this toxic waste spill

a couple of months ago in San Diego,

I couldn’t go to the beach.

Let me take it a step further.

You know how many people, I’m sorry that you do know,

but how many people died in the 20th century killed?

These are advanced civil, this isn’t a slime mold.

We kill, we maim, we harm, we hurt, we hate.

I don’t think anything would happen the next day.

Then we go back to what we had.

And I said, if that weren’t proof enough,

life has been discovered at least two or three times

just in my professional career.

Once in 1996, these Allenland Hills meteorites in Antarctica,

they saw like microbial respiration processes.

Still we don’t know, it was a press conference

held by Bill Clinton on the White House lawn

that’s featured in the movie Contact.

My purpose for that movie.

And then there’s this phosphorus life,

this toxic life in the pools of Mono Lake.

Many, you know, extremophile, we don’t give a crap.

We continue to treat.

So why are we thinking that like our salvation,

from whence will our salvation come as the Bible says?

Like it’s not gonna change how we are.

It’s not gonna magnify how I treat you or you treat me.

And we’re pretty knowledgeable people,

you and I compared to, you know, lay people.

Okay, that’s interesting.

That’s a really interesting argument.

I wonder if you’re right.

But my intuition is I can maybe present

a different argument that you can think about

in the realm of things you care about even deeper,

which is like what happens once we figure out

the origins of the universe?

Like how would that change your life?

I would say there are certain discoveries

that even in their very idea

will change the fabric of society.

I tend to see if there’s definitive proof

that there’s life and the more complex,

the more powerful that idea is elsewhere.

That I’m not exactly sure how it will change society

because it’s such a slap in the face.

It’s such a humbling force or maybe not.

Or maybe it’s a motivator to say,

yeah, I don’t know which force would take over.

Maybe it would be governments with military

that start to think like, well, how do we kill it?

If there’s a lot of life out there,

how do we create the defenses?

How do we extract it?

Or mine it for benefits?

I mean, I just see like there’s 100 million

literal counter examples of that.

I mean, right now there’s like 700 million kids in poverty.

How do we go about our life and just not deal with that?

I mean, look, I put it aside.

I eat hamburgers and in 100 years I’ll be canceled

for being a carnivore or whatever.

So obviously to get through life,

you have to make certain compromise.

You’re not gonna think about certain things.

But I just think there is a sort of wish fulfillment.

Like every time there’s, why are we going to Mars

and digging and flying this cool ass helicopter?

We’re looking for water.

Like stipulate that water was there.

Like, I believe there was water.

I think we should investigate

and see what the geology was like.

But don’t you think, so you’re saying?

I don’t think you’re gonna get meaning from it.

That’s all I’m saying.

I’m not saying it’s not worth doing.

I’m just saying there’s a wish fulfillment aspect

that people will find meaning for life from science.

Okay, but there’s a complicated line here.

What if it’s this intelligent civilization living,

obviously probably not on Mars,

but somewhere like in a neighboring galaxy that we,

sorry, in a neighboring star system that we discover,

that we discover,

don’t you think that profound change in meaning?

I mean, I guess, again,

I assume that because of this panceramic process

or whatever, that the probability is much,

much greater than zero.

I mean, it’s not one, a hundred percent,

but it’s much likelier than that,

that at least some living material from Earth

has ejaculated itself into the solar system,

into the universe, right?

Into our galaxy. Beat that, please, as well.

That’s right.

So like the fact that that could happen

and that you’re holding a piece from a planetary body,

one that couldn’t support life as far as we know,

but next time, if you play nice

and you come on my podcast someday,

I will give you a tiny chunk of Mars.

So Mars theoretically could support stuff, right?

So yeah, so I believe that there could be remnants of Earth

so that means there could be evolution.

I don’t think there’s any chance

that there’s people using iPhones

and having podcasts and stuff in Proxima Centauri.

There’s some chance though, right?

So again, I think the simple statement to say,

it’s much, much, much higher probability

that life exists than technological life exists, right?

I don’t think we can argue that.

It doesn’t mean it’s forbidden.

Again, I’m not saying any of this is forbidden,

not worth studying, not interesting.

It’s a likelihood thing.

Yeah, and to answer your,

I think you’re wise to push back

and like, what does it matter what I’m doing?

And I like to think about that,

because it’s like, what is the value of what you’re doing?

Like you have to answer that question

or else at the end of your life,

you’ll have these existential kind of crises, right?

So when I think about like who I am,

part of my identity is answering

and asking scientific questions.

For me though, there is a religious kind of undercurrent

that does undergird in some sense, this quest.

Again, I’m not like a practicing,

I’m not like wearing yarmulke,

like I’m not like full on into my birth religion, Judaism.

But at the same token, I think as,

one of the things Einstein did say is that,

religion without science is blind

or is lame and science without religion is lame,

is blind and lame.

Anyway, the point is that like,

you can’t get meaning from just knowing facts.

Like Wikipedia knows more than all of us will ever know,


It has no wisdom.

Wisdom, it means sapient.

The word wisdom in Latin is sapient.

We are wise.

And by the way, do you know what we’re,

our real name is Homo sapiens sapient.

So it’s man who knows that he knows.

Do you know what he knows?

Do you know what the knowing is?

It’s that he’s gonna die.

We’re the only creatures that know that we are gonna die.

We don’t know when we’re gonna die.

But like, you know, I have a cat,

a fierce attack cat, it’s beautiful.

She doesn’t know when she’s gonna die.

It doesn’t mean I’m more valuable than I think I am.

The survival instinct is fundamentally different

from like the knowledge of death.

And that’s where the Ernest Becker comes in

with the terror of death and that that’s a creative force

that seems to be more feature than bug

about the human condition is that,

I mean, it’s a gift of knowing our own mortality.

Yeah, to me, I mean, that’s why,

I agree with you in some sense

in terms of the aliens not being a thing

that solves all mysteries.

That’s why my love has always been the human mind.

So understanding who we are, what the hell are we?

And I think your love has been an echo of that,

which is where do we come from?

Or basically, as cheesy as it sounds,

Michio Kaku is away with words.

If you can just like enjoy the, you know.

Oh, he speaks in complete,

he’s like Sam Harris of cosmology.

I mean, he speaks in complete paragraphs.

But like also unapologetically, he says,

we will know God or we will know the mind of God

or whatever the quotes, those kinds of things.

That’s exciting that physics might be able

to find equations that unlock our origins

at the very core and like the fabric of it all too,

and not just our origins.

At the beginning, something tells me we’re too dumb

to truly understand what’s at the beginning, but.

I think we should be humble in that way.

I mean, again, another thing is, you know,

you ever hear the saying like we share 99% of our DNA

with chimps or bonobos or whatever?

I share like probably more than that.

Sometimes I wish we shared like 100%.

Like that’d be so much more interesting,

like, oh, there’s 50% of a fruit fly or banana.

No, no, no, there’s something,

but that should make us feel more precious.

And I almost feel like discovering life

on another planet, whatever solar system

would cause a diminution of humanity.

Like the one thing I do hold fast to from religion,

I don’t know where I am with God.

Like, do I believe in God?

I think that’s an unanswerable question,

but I have some thoughts about it.

But by the same token, I think the one thing I do get

from religion is that every human has infinite worth

because we are in a religious capacity

considered to be equal to God.

In other words, we are gods not to be like, you know,

but we can contemplate what God did.

We have aspects of God.

We have free will.

God had free will if he exists.

Again, I can’t prove that God exists,

otherwise you wouldn’t have any credit

for believing in God.

This is interesting.

I mean, it’s like I’m talking to Einstein here,

but let me ask anyway.

Can you clip that for my clips, John?

For somebody who’s looking at the young universe,

at the early universe, and are talking about God

and are agnostic, who do you think is God?

So I thought you had just like one of the best podcasts

with Sam Harris this past summer.

And one of the things I liked about that conversation

is he talked a lot about happiness and meditation.

And he said something that’s really resonated with me,

and I’ve been working it around

and trying to work on it my own way.

But he said like, you can never be happy

if you can only become happy.

And I try to take it a little bit further than that,

because I think it’s interesting.

Meditation is like, you’re not like, oh, I’m happy,

and now like, oh, my kid came in and now I’m not happy.

No, you can be satisfied.

Kurt Vonnegut said, you ever catch this?

Sometimes, Alexa, you’re walking around and you’re like,

life is fricking amazing, I’m happy.

And Kurt Vonnegut said, you should say to yourself

every time that happens a little mantra,

if this isn’t goodness, if this isn’t happiness, nothing is.

Just remind yourself how awesome it is,

every breath, everything that you do when you make an impact.

Even some of the bad stuff that happens, good, it’s good.

So Sam said that, and it made me think,

because I was like, well, what does it really mean

to be happy?

Because like, I can think of about two or three ways

that right now I could double my happiness.

You know, like win the lottery or whatever,

like I could double my happiness.

There’s only a few ways though, right?

Like, you know, I had this kind of thought like,

how many boats can you water ski behind?

Like you had twice as many followers,

now you’ve got 2 million followers, 5 million, whatever.

It doesn’t do anything, it’s called the hedonic treadmill.

Like once you get to a certain level,

it takes a lot more, you know, change in followers,

money, impact, women, whatever you want

to make you have one more quanta of happiness, right?

On the other hand, this is a concept from entropy.

I can make your life miserable in an infinite number of ways.

In other words, there’s more space

to make your life unhappy than happy.

And so I thought about that in the context

of what Sam said about happiness.

So it’s sort of like, yeah, it’s an expression of entropy.

And that what you should be doing in life

is doing that which will cause you devastation

if it goes away.

Because those are the things that like,

are where you’re reducing entropy,

like a kid, like anyone who’s a parent

knows instantly what I’m talking about.

Like how to make your life a billion times worse.

But there’s no way to make your life a billion times better.

And so thinking about that,

now turning it to the question of God’s existence,

I feel like there’s no way that you can believe in God

to quote, misquote Sam,

but there’s ways that you can become a believer in God.

In other words, you could increase

the Bayesian confidence level that there is some,

and let’s not call it God because that’s a freighted term.

Let’s just call it some infinite source of goodness

or our beautiful power in the universe, right?

Simple things can do that.

You can increase your credulity in the goodness of life.

And we have this bias as humans towards negativity,

negativity bias, well known fact.

So what I wanna do is, let’s call it God good, right?

That’s where it comes from, God good,

same words in German.

And when we think about what is good,

let’s do those things that would devastate us.

And a lot of that could be relationships.

And there’s a powerful concept from network theory,

which is that the number of connections in a network,

you know, I’m just saying it for your own,

it grows as the square of the elements in the matrix

in the number, right?

So you think of a matrix with N people,

you know person one, two, three, four,

and then there’s four other people.

There’s 16 different pairs, but half of them overlap.

The diagonal is where you know each other,

you know yourself.

But that still grows as N squared.

So those connections increase and decrease, right?

You ever have two friends that are fighting

and like you’re kind of upset,

even though you’re not fighting with either one of them?

So like a network grows like that.

So you wanna increase your network as much as possible,

but only the kind of high quality interstices between them.

And I think in doing so,

you make yourself fragile, not anti fragile.

And I think that is where purpose

and maybe approaching some notion of God can come from.

So that is a source of meaning,

maximizing the goodness in life.

And the way you know it’s good,

is if it’s taken away, it would devastate you.

That’s one way.

Think about it, your brand, your business,

your spouse, your kids.

I mean, parents can’t count,

I’ve known parents that have,

Jim Simons, here’s a perfect example.

He’s one of my oldest friends and mentors.

He is one of the richest people on earth.

Gulf Stream, Mega Yacht,

this is all documented books about him.

He lost two sons as adults.

And I hear people say,

oh, I’m so jealous of Jim Simons.

Would you take everything?

I don’t know where he has that strength

and his wife, Marilyn, and his first wife, Barbara.

I’m not like that.

Some people are, there are angels that walk among us.

And there’s this famous prayer.

It’s like, God, there’s an old saying,

one of the hardest tests there are in life

is to be given a lot of money.

And you see it happens with people that win the lottery

or whatever, or NFL football players

after their career’s over, they’re broke, right?

And I was like, God, please test me with money.

That’d be great.

But in reality, you should never say,

I want what X person has.

Unless you’re willing to take everything.

And you’ll find you won’t want to take everything.

Yeah, I think a lot about the altering effects

of fame, of money, of power on people.

It blinds people.

And I wonder about that for myself

because it seems like in themselves,

these are definitely not the goals

that I’m pretty much afraid.

I’m not desirous, and I’m definitely afraid

of each of those things, money, fame, and power.

But it seems the dreams I have as consequences

can often have these things.

And I’m really afraid of becoming something

that would disappoint me when I was younger,

that I wouldn’t recognize.

You know, because change happens gradually.

But are you using yourself as the touchstone

to use the assay amount?

What is your rubric to apprise if you have lived up

to that 12 year old, whatever year old Lex?

How will you know or not know if you’ve let yourself down?

Or I always think, live to impress yourself.

I don’t care if I have followers.

It’s nice, all right, whatever.

But it’s hedonic, and it’s just never ending

because you’ll always see the next level.

But I think it’s pretty damn cool

that I’ve gotten to go to these places, the South Pole,

and I’ve done these things, and I’ve made a family,

and I’m able to teleport my values into the future

through my children, and I’ve had ideological children.

So by what metric have you not already,

A, impressed yourself, and B, could you let yourself down?

I don’t want to turn to the therapist.

I think some of it is psychology.

For me, I’m very much just never highly self critical.

I’m never happy, never happy with what I’ve done.

But I’m always happy in the way that you describe,

which is that the Vonnegut thing,

where you just, often during the day, I will feel,

I don’t know, I just remember just eating beef jerky

and being truly happy.

That was just last night, and I have that all the time.

And that, to me, is why, I mean,

that feels to me like a healthy way to live life,

and at least for me, it’s the one I really enjoy.

A lot of people tell me that maybe being so self critical,

so hard on yourself, is not a good way to go.

But more and more as I get older,

I realize it’s just who I am.

You have to a certain point accept,

this is how I’m always going to be this self critical.

It’s like the Oracle of Delphi, right?

You know thyself.

But I want to leave you with one last thing,

which is to say, just on this topic,

you know, it could be different, right?

We could go down to the ocean and get some krill

instead of the 711.

You know, it could be that we have no other taste buds.

And you know, Eric’s talked about the four dimensions

of the vibration of your tongue, right?

It could be like there’s one,

and it’s just like, not Memphis barbecue,

whatever you like in your Slim Jim.

It could be something, it could be very boring.

Similarly, what if like that’s a clue?

Like what if that’s giving us evidence?

Here’s another clue.

There are many animals,

most animals have single monocolor vision.

They only see in black and white intensity.

They only have rods and no cones.

We could be like that, but we’re not.

Why is that not a clue?

Like if, like God’s not going to like hit you over the head

and say like, here I am.

Cause then everybody would believe in him.

And there’s very simplistic.

I’ve had debates even with like famous atheists,

like Lawrence Krauss.

He’s like self declared militant atheist.

And I was like, well, I don’t believe in the same God

you don’t believe in.

Like some guy in a white beard and a chair,

like that’s infantile.

Like I gave that away a long time ago.

But what if there are clues?

What if Yang Mills theory and you know,

Maxwell’s equation, like what?

Those are beautiful.

If you’ve ever seen like, you know,

expressed in tensor notation, Einstein’s equations

or Maxwell’s equations or,

and then Maxwell’s equations riding on Einstein’s,

it’s unbelievably beautiful.

Doesn’t have to be that way.

That we can comprehend it.

That’s a crack.

Maybe that’s where the light gets in.

And the light is what reveals what’s beautiful.

So I don’t believe in God.

I think that’s a stupid notion.

Like, do I believe in God?

Like sometimes I wonder if God believes in me,

like more than if I believe in,

like he needs Brian Keating.

Like, you know, it’s like one of my friends is a rapper.

He’s like, what would I be doing if I were God?

Exactly what God’s doing right now.

Like, you think I know more than God?

Give me a break.

Leaving clues of beauty for these hairless apes.


And to see what they do with this.

And then marvel at both the tragedy

of what those apes do to each other

and the rare moments of when they understand deeply

about how the world works.

Brian, you’re an incredible human being.

I’m a big fan and I’m really honored that he was,

first of all, showered me with rocks from the moon.

From space.

Space dust.

The villains.

Crystals, magical crystals, healing crystals.


That you can use for good.

And tell me your story and spend your really valuable time

with me today.

This was amazing.

That was a great pleasure for me, Lex.

Thank you so much.

Thanks for listening to this conversation

with Brian Keating.

To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors

in the description.

And now, let me leave you with some words

from Galileo Galilei.

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand

is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.

Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.