Sketchnotes of Lawrence Krauss Interview with Krista Tippett

Science changes our perspective of our place in the cosmos, just like art, music, and literature.

This encapsulation by sketchnote artist Doug Neill has to be one of my favorite ideas from Krista's interview with theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss. It's derived from this part of their conversation:

"Most people don't have to know how to build the detailed things of science, but the ideas change our perspective of our place in the cosmos. And to me, that's what great art, music, and literature is all about — is when you see a play or see a painting or hear a wonderful piece of music. In some sense, it changes your perspective of yourself. And that's what science does in a profoundly important way and a way with content that matters."

Early one evening in November 1996, my wife convinced me to attend an evening lecture at the University of Minnesota. The presenter: Professor Krauss. The subject: the physics of Star Trek. Yes, he debunked a lot of the pseudo-science in the popular television series, but, more importantly, he explained why and how through accessible demonstrations. He opened up possibilities — diving into phenomena like warp drive and wormholes (using a colorful balloon). He offered fresh ways of thinking about my place, our place, in the universe.

A decade later, shortly into my tenure on this program, I pitched Dr. Krauss as a possible interview with Krista. It didn't take. I admit it was a soft-sell, and we weren't quite ready as a nascent program to bring on a somewhat strident atheist. I didn't have the chops or the clout at that time to fight for him as a guest. It took several years, but I found another opportunity to re-pitch him again while compiling a list of potential guests for a grant proposal. Again, he didn't quite fit the bill because of the terms of the grant.

Then, last summer, the Chautauqua Institution reached out to Krista asking her to host a week-long series of conversations based on the theme "Inspire. Commit. Act." Lawrence Krauss could add another dimension to this theme.

Lawrence Krauss at the Chautauqua Institution

And so I pitched him again to Krista:

"I see Krauss as a 'public scientist' in much the same way as a 'public theologian' functions. He may be recalcitrant on the religion front, but there are a large segment of people who think the same way.

For me, Krauss was a dynamic speaker who had this fantastic way of relating science — physics and space more specifically — in terms of popular culture. He knows how to play to a crowd, and he's kinetic when in motion. And he's funny. His sense of humor may be a way to disarm him and liberate him from caustic characteristics.

A general audience could find a way in to some of the most complex ideas of the governing principles of the universe through his demonstrations: the curvature of spacetime and wormholes, for example, with a balloon and two fingers meeting each other in the middle by pressing on both sides. (This resonated during the production of our Kissling show when she was discussing how two sides could meet without giving way on their positions.) He did this through what I believe to be his most popular book, "The Physics of Star Trek."

I wonder if you couldn't take the current news about the Higgs boson discovery and explore that popular imagination with him. Why does this inspire people, even if they don't have a clue about what it means? What does he see as his developing role + responsibility in relating and explaining news like this? And how can we infuse this scientific sense of wonder and awe about some of the smallest, least understandable particles in the universe and translate that into not only our education/science education, but also into our public dialogue about role of science in our religious and spiritual lives?

I'd like to hear his advice on what he's learned and what he does that brings science alive. If he can offer tips, operating principles, for those faithful audience members to take back to their churches or worship groups for a better conversation, I think that might be a living gift to them.

You will charm him, no doubt, with your own fascination with science. Let that be your guide.

Krista liked this framing. The organizers at Chautauqua appreciated an uncharacteristic guest. And, finally, after years of trying, we had our interview.

The result: "Our Origins and The Weight of Space."

This process has been a lesson to me, and I hope can be helpful for other producers and idea people. If you think a person or an idea is worth pursuing, try and try again. Eventually you will figure out the right way to give voice to your idea and present it to a larger public. As a result, our public dialogue will be the richer for the effort.

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28Reflections

Reflections

Thank you.

Too bad he would not allow Krista to reframe the context of science within a supernatural world. Science originated from humans trying to understand 'God.' The Catholic Church developed the scientific method that Krauss hangs his hat on.

Science originated from humans trying to understand the nature of things and their relationship to it. Some may have tried to understand their god, but not all and certainly not the Daoists who developed scientific processes centuries before the Catholic Church came into being.

We now understand god thanks to science. God is a human constructed concept that was our initial attempt to explain the world and to give us meaning and purpose. Science and logic has shown us that the concept of god is not self consistent or logically sound and contradictory to the observed universe. It does have a long history and many cultures are built around the concept of god(s) so it will take some period of time for us to wein ourselves away from its hold on our imagination. The sooner the better.

Nope. Unless you mean the "God is whatever I don't know" variety of God. Science is man's way of understanding the world. Science says (essentially) the universe is sufficient, to explain itself, pictured correctly. All religions that I know of, share in common, that the universe is not sufficient, to explain itself. And, while a few Catholics helped develop and apply the scientific method (along with protestants, atheists, Moslems, and maybe some pagans thrown in, the best that can be said about them developing it, is that they occasionally didn't completely deny it. Kraus doesn't hang his hat on a "method" anyway, it seems to me. He hangs his hat on asking questions. All religions start with answers. Christianity doesn't ask a single important question. It claims to know everything important! The biggest threat of science to religion, is not in what it can ever "disprove", but in the questions that it inevitably raises in people. When you claim to have all the answers, questions terrify you.

Very stimulating discussion. Thank you very much for helping to bring it about.

What a brilliant trick was pulled off today during the show. Unless, it wasn't a trick and, as Lawrence Kraus said, (I think) that the existence of dark matter "causes"? our existence, because, nothing and it's weight in reality (is that a metaphor?) seems to exist next to something. Now my brain is shredding again. Whatever, I was happily beginning my traditional day of Sunday ----what ?---remembering formal worship---honoring my own roots---thinking about the unknown? I had just started thinking how wonderfully annoying it was to have been brought up with the teaching that I must defend my faith (if it is real it is ultimately evident,) or, the subject and the unknowingness of it is real). As always, I ramble. Anyhow, suddenly, the power disappeared, and, I was left suddenly somewhat more awakened, I was still lying in bed, eyes closed, reveling in my half-asleep state in my 73rd year of life. Ah yes, the power had gone off---what would happen---where was the rule about---there must be music or we'll think the world is coming to an end. (I was pretty sure I was not dead/ dead as I was still thinking---echoing the I am of being.) OK, and, I could still move, but, then again, the power came back on and the question of nothing ness was still on the air but, shortly, within seconds, the power went off again. Now being slightly annoyed, I began to hear the lovely morning sounds of my reality and heard a bird awakening and taking joy in his/her day beginning and then, technology appeared with the sound of a car (I always forget that electricity and it's harnessing for a radio program is technology and as I write this I thank ?????(Dark Matter, my Lord, Love of this World) fully remembering that I had just donated to NPR. Then the power came back and there was that Science vs. Religion question raising it's ugly head. I have enough to worry about without two totally man made schools of thought fighting (competing?) over how to describe something that, putting those two ideas together, is indescribable). I mean, if God is Love (and, that notion gets my vote), how can we even begin to address why the entities of this world and universe can not run smoothly towards our total fulfillment which cannot be as silly as the plug being pulled or the electricity failing. See---I 'm sitting here thinking about----and then, the program again lost power, and, I started thinking about using my head and getting up, since I had a pleasant task ahead of me---traveling to see people I love, some of whom I had helped to bring into this worldj. And, what should I hear but Lawrence Kraus, beginning to really get to the point of his talk with Krista Tippet. He seemed to be complaining about the fact that people weren't thinking. They were being too distracted by technical advances (the advances that help us work, find another person to prove we're still alive, go out into the world, serve our needs, and let me drive myself to see those people I love). And, why did I think????Because, in the silence of the loss of power, I could hear the bird, the car, and, still innately wanting to justify this existence---I had a thought. And continued TO THINK. What a trick NPR, Krista Tippett and Lawrence Kraus pulled off. Such wonderful human congress thought up the most wonderful trick to make us think and, of course, even laugh at the later thought that there are no accidents and either the whole event was as brilliantly planned as the best party I ever attended, (LIFE is the best party I ever attended) or.....dark matter allowed the power to go off? See, either way, It, Life in the Spirit) is the best party. Kudos to all!!!!!

THANKS TO TRENT GILLISS FOR HELPING CREATE KRISTA'S BEST PROGRAM E-V-E-R-!

An entirely refreshing interview and about time we had a presentation of the secular humanism point of view.

Nora Klein, MDi

This is one of the best shows I've heard on the radio, and that is saying a lot given the number of high quality shows on public broadcasting channels. I am a bit puzzled as to why it took so long to get Krauss on the show and why there was seemingly so much resistance. History teaches us that our culture, mindset, and institutions (e.g., government, education, churches) have an incredible impact on our lives and our future. Our modern world is due to both scientific and cultural advances that together change the way we view ourselves, others, and our place in the universe. We are now at a point where our political and economic institutions are stressed and in need of change and where religion is still used to justify harm to others. Krauss' notion that science, rationality, and empiricism can provide everything that religion provides, but in a better way, is a concept that we need to explore and use as a guide to transform our current institutions and beliefs. Although I am not religious, I doubt that science will ever satisfy everyone as a better choice than religious beliefs. I suspect many people just feel more comfortable thinking that there is an afterlife, nirvanna, all-powerful being, etc. These beliefs clearly have real impact on people's lives and behaviors, regardless of whether or not the belief is true or false. The question is whether the beliefs overall have more negative effects than positive. That is an empirical and philosophical question that science, rationality, and empiricism can and should address.

This show {Krauss} has to be one of the better & most fascinating shows I've listened to. Thank you so much !!! I have no scientific background but was utterly fascinated by Dr. Krauss' lecture, trying very hard to learn more. His quick mind and super sense of humor made it funny, charming, bright, easily digestible. WOW - more please.

It seems to me that being a good scientist is LISTENING. Krauss is so arrogant and obnoxious, I struggle to stay tuned. He could benefit from not being so defensive, and pondering what other people are wondering about. Stop shouting!

I was only able to tolerate the first 15 minutes. I recall Krista Tippett’s statement in her book, “Speaking of Faith,” that there are certain people that she would never have on her program. I believe she mentioned people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, along with some fundamentalist atheists like Richard Dawkins. I believe she invoked intolerance in her reasoning for excluding such. Does the Program’s name change (‘Speaking of Faith’ to ‘On Being) indicate more than a shift in program focus? Are offensive and discriminatory statements now encouraged? Are intolerant attitudes now accommodated (or even celebrated)? I hope the 30 minutes of programing that followed after my tolerance was exceeded were much better than the 15 minutes I heard.

What do you mean by the term fundamentalist atheist?

Those who refuse to consider any arguement that is not completely based on the fundemental principles of science

This definition fails for a number of reasons. Atheism is a conclusion and not an epistemology. It can be arrived at through differing epistemologies. It is probably true that this conclusion (atheism) is usually arrived at through the rigorous use of logic, empiricism, and the scientific method. Your use of the term "fundamentalist" seems to be an attempt to discredit the epistemology of the scientific method by equating it to fundamentalist religions. I would agree that fundamentalist religions, as with all religions, have their epistemology wrong. It is not the fundamentalism (In the general use of the term, i.e. strict adherence to fundamental principles) that is wrong it is their epistemology.
You seem to believe that there are equally valid ways of knowing that compare with the scientific method. Instead of backhandedly insulting those that think science is the best means to acquire knowledge, put forth your argument for why others should be considered.

First, I fail to see the connection between a person's position on the existence of god(s) and their epistemology as related to science and empiricism.

I am a Full Professor of a scientific discipline and teach scientific methodology at the collegiate level. I have learned to recognize both the strengths and the weaknesses of science, and the mistakes that people make in the name of science. These mistakes are rooted in the same character flaws that we can so easily identify in people with fundamentalist religious views: inflexibility, a near-sighted adherence to certain fundamental principles, intolerance with those with whom we don’t agree. As Krista Tippett once described the theologian Martin Marty, “(he) doesn’t divide the world into conservative and liberal. He divides it into “mean and non-mean.” I believe that Martin Marty would say the same for a world that contained theists and non-theists (atheists). What theists and non-theists need is an atmosphere that promotes mutual respect, an appreciation of each other’s point of view, and a milieu where good religion can stimulate good science, and the practice of good science can foster a culture where good religion thrives.

Professor Plevak,

Well said Sir! Yes, whatever side of the fence we reside we stunt our growth in understanding when our focus is not ultimately on finding truth and understanding where ever it may reside. Faith is not an end but a beginning.

Professor Plevak, as no less than a "Full Professor of a scientific discipline" and a teacher of "scientific methodology at the collegiate level" you must undoubtedly be aware of the argumentum ad verecundiam fallacy. This fallacy is defined as an appeal to authority, which argues from the fact that a person claiming to be an authority affirms a proposition to the claim that the proposition is true. Appeals to authority are deductively fallacious; even a legitimate authority speaking on his area of expertise may affirm a falsehood.

While dividing the world into "mean and non-mean" is perhaps the methodology of children, theologians like Mr. Marty and Krista Tippett, it is not how science looks at the world. A climate of respect for the individual? By all means. Unfortunately, theists often wilfully misinterpret scientist's rejection of their dearly held mythologies and faith in the supernatural as a lack of respect for their person. Belief in the supernatural which theists cling to forms the foundation of all religions and is not compatible with science -an evidence, fact and reason based discipline.

Yes, I am a scientist, and I am also honest enough to admit that much faith is required of those who utilize the scientific method.

Come now; it is unbecoming of a professor -even more so a scientist- to be seen playing with the definition of a word behind which to defend an opinion: By "faith" do you mean the faith scientists have that the physics they used to get people on the moon, vehicles on Mars and spaceships leaving our solar system will work tomorrow to get people on Mars? Or the faith that, say, Christians have their "Lord" and "Savior" will descend from the heavens accompanied by a clarion call played by Angels?

If you don't see the difference then you are not a scientist and the honesty you advertise in your previous comment is neither enough nor of the intellectual variety.

I'm curious. Assuming you were listening to the show as a radio broadcast, did or have you considered listening to or watching the rest of the conversation online? I have read the entire thread of this conversation so far and wonder if you might adjust your observations once hearing how Krista's and Kraus's conversation developed/proceeded including the questions put forth by members of the audience toward the end. If not, I'd recommend investing your time in the unedited video version and report back on your conclusions in response to your hope stated in your original post. I liked your answers in response to the "fundamentalist" term discussion.

I am dealing with the same thing trying to write a thesis for art and environmental ed. There is a lack of relationship between humanists and empirical science...thanks, lets get going....earth is worth it

Watch this and then for more fun read Feynman's "The Nature of Physical Law" to complement Krauss's insights.

I like your program. We can only take horse to the water but we cannot make it drink it. It will drink when its thirsty. In this world there are so many duplications. Just for the sake of it why some of us think that there is only one way for saying that God is or not existing. Let science do its job and Religion or Spirituality do its own rather than each pulling the other's leg!

Lawrence Kraus dis-believes in the same god that evangelicals and other fundamentalists believe in -- the man with the white beard on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This is an unfortunate and profound mistake, which reflects his self-imposed ignorance of modern thought among many religious movements.

Reading Maimonides or St. Augustine really won't help; would he have us read only Copernicus to understand modern science? He needs to *study* with some of today's leading religious thinkers.

Also, he misses (or dismisses) one truth: life as it is lived today is *not* fundamentally very different from life lived thousands of years ago. We are born. We grow up among a community day to day, year to year. We grapple with good and evil, the ugly and the beautiful. We reproduce. We live our lives. We die. Today, we can still learn a lot from our ancestors about that experience and cycles of being. This is true even though all of our feelings and emotions are based on the chemistry and structures of our brains and bodies. And, the guy with the white beard has nothing to do with it.

I really enjoyed the interview with Dr. Krauss. I laud the producers and host for havng a guest who some would judge as "politically incorrect" for a show on reigion, meaning and ethics. I personnally find my faith is not weakened and often ultimately strengthened when I contemplate views opposed to mine. I do think that Dr. Krauss is biased and uniformed in his assertion that religion is rearward looking. Do not confuse the practitioners with the practice. For me faith can be a conduit for constantly new discoveries of God, myself and others. However, one must approach faith with the openness and innocence of a child. That is when and where God works to show us Him and His creation.

Professor Krauss's strident tone and seeming inability to value anyone's scientific or religious opinion other than his own made this episode nearly impossible to listen to.

I stuck it out to the end, but would never re-listen or recommend this episode to a friend. Not because of Professor Krauss's beliefs, but rather because of the way they were completely overshadowed by his obnoxious style of communication.