January 30, 2014
Brian Greene —
Reimagining the Cosmos

A thrilling, mind-bending view of the cosmos and of the human adventure of modern science. In a conversation ranging from free will to the meaning of the Higgs boson particle, physicist Brian Greene suggests the deepest scientific realities are hidden from human senses and often defy our best intuition.

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is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University. He is also co-founder of the World Science Festival. His books include The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Hidden Reality.

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(Re: Brian Green on free will) There is no need to redefine choice in order to acknowledge free will. We have a sentient being that is aware of two or more alternatives and selects one (or more if they are non-exclusive). That’s what free will entails: what else could it? Let’s say selections made had nothing to do with predispositions and awareness of consequences—in other words a completely random event: How would this constitute a choice? Green and the theologians get tied up in knots because the target they both have in mind is a naïve, absolute (fantastic) idea of choice that is disconnected from anything physical (or any context in which the word is ordinarily used): the immaterial spirit influencing the laws of physics. That is all Green is denying, which in no way denies any defensible idea of free will. He says the elements of choice are made up of events governed by deterministic laws of physics, so those elements don’t constitute a “real” choice—which is why he speaks of merely “experiencing a choice”. Fine: let’s say the laws of physics were non-deterministic, the underlying processes completely random, and there was no regularity in the world whatsoever that could enable persistence and evolutionary change: would the elements of “choice” ever have got a foot hold? I would argue the only reason we have free will is because of those underlying deterministic processes.

It's so simple. What's called "free will" is simply the degree of choices available.
A rich kid on the Upper West Side has infinitely more life's choices ("free will")
than the child of a wellfare mother in inner city Philadelphia. To believe in
something called "free will" is to chase an illusion!

I'm afraid it's not so simple at all. Although the Upper West Side kid has more choices available, he will still have to select one from them, won't he? He couldn't go with all of them, right? So how would that selection take place? Through making a singular choice. And how is that done?

Yes, but who says we start from zero? Who says that choice isn't structured [even determined by] by past experience?

I absolutely agree with you. No body starts at zero. All humans start out with an individual personality given them by the Lord God. It's our personalities that determine our interests in life. For example, some people love to play music, while others love science and engineering, and still others gardening or baking, etc. Now everyone may enjoy music from time to time, but not everyone desires to make a career about playing music. I know from personal experience that I prefer vanilla ice cream over chocolate ice cream, and although I've eaten chocolate ice cream a few times, and even enjoyed it, I will always prefer vanilla because that desire is God given. If our personalities were not God given and unique from other people's, then the world would be a boring place. There would be too many people all doing the same thing. If everyone loved to build houses for a living, then who would cook. Now I can cook. In fact I'm pretty good at it. But I realized some time ago I will never love to cook as much as teach science and the Bible.

Listening to Brian's explanation of choice and free will, the thought occurs: perhaps God "IS" the law of physics. I think on the idea that we are thoughts in the mind of God, and from that perspective, I can see how as humans we simply have a sensation of choice that may be just that and not complete separation from God. It is my current belief that humanity is God's way of creating "separation" and "independence" necessary that we might "know" God. We can live purely by instinct - as animals - or we can live with insight, and both can look exactly the same on each end of the spectrum.

Merton speaks of the inability to define/describe contemplation. That moment of clarity that comes from contemplation that intuits the larger beneath the mundane. This is the moment the non-God proponents miss entirely. The vastness and complexity of what they endlessly quantify is merely a formula, and they miss the obvious intelligence behind it all.

Which god?

I love this broadcast because I find it so provocative. I am becoming more and more comfortable with some of these concepts and find comfort in them as I go through my daily life. I am a school counselor and encounter many frustrations all day long but I don't feel anything is out of control. Everything is evolving. Sometimes I wish I could influence students more. Yesteday I found a boy wandering the halls as he was avoiding Algebra class. I asked him how that would help him achieve his goals because my goal is that he graduate. He told me his goal is to drop out and that he doesn't need Algebra. The big questions discussed in this show don't seem to address this kind of situation but somehow I hope that student ends up in a good place and I hope it includes Algebra and a high school diploma.

This contact that you are having with this boy, this interest in talking with him, the connection you and others are making with him is the invisible substance that he needs and may guide him on to that
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could instill in our students this excitement for Algebra and Science that Brian Greene has experienced? I think this will eventually happen.
But I also think that there is something really important that should never be lost, and that is the connection with all our kids so that they can experience empathy and understanding at times when they so need it.

If we're all just a product of a mathematical equation how do we differ from the computers we're building?... Or do we ?

dear natasha:
computers don't have consciouses (consciousness). we would have to program it for them and with the human minds, brains and variations and crosspaths of other influencing categories influencing our conscience. it wouldn't work.. what about feelings? we have, computers can't have feelings, computers and machines can only solve problems we put into them...we are the ones that give them direction and programs to find answers. a computer doesn' t have a soul, a spirit, a mind,...but a computer has a programs and those are its brain.

Greene seems full of it. Depends on what the meaning of the word "the" is. In that case, the professor can't hold conversations bc you have to define every word for him. Math is math. Religion is religion. People know what those words mean. If someone asks you a direct question, why not answer it without the Clintonion rhetoric? Or saying"this is uninteresting to me." No one asked you about what was interesting to you. Quantum mechanics has NOTHING to do with free will. Free choice has nothing to do with apples falling from trees. What a bunch of total B.S.!

Greene saying "this is uninteresting to me" is very much to the point in all of this - namely that scientists choose - subjectively - their involvement with a physical, material sense of what they regard as reality. However, while they don't need to be interested in any other version of reality, they don't seem to realize that the practice of science is nothing other than their own individual subjectivity… which they insist on labeling (subjectively) as being objective. In only choosing what can be observed and verified by their limited senses, they will hardly have the last word on "reality."

Greene spoke condescendingly at points, especially considering the forum in which he was appearing. He, and I'm afraid sometimes Krista as well, falls victim to the fallacy that expertise in one field implies competence in another.

It is clear that he has any training, basic understanding, or even interest in learning about the theological concerns he took on. That's fine, but then he should develop the grace to defer.

If puzzle-solving satisfies something akin to a personal need for him or other scientists, then that is wonderful. But neither he nor we should be deceived into thinking that such an endeavor specially qualifies him in the fields of philosophy, theology, or ethics.

Krista, why do you keep giving this kind of overweening scientism a platform? At least toss them a real challenge now and again.

Totally agree with you. The danger, however, that Greene and countless other scientists pose for our cognitive evolution is that they have already assumed that everything can be explained by one of sciences or another, and in due course of time. Also, there are still far too many people whose thinking is conditioned by them, and by our overwhelmingly materialistic education system, and have not been able to see just how much subjectivity is determining their views and projects… I could get more metaphysical than this, but in a forum as compromised as "On Being" it's not worth it.

Those last two sentences sum up my disappointment with this interview and with how Krista tends to conduct interviews with proponents of scientific materialism. I am eager to hear from scientists who are adept at speaking about the philosophical and/or theological implications they draw from their work, but scientists such as Greene seem completely blind to their own underlying philosophical commitments and condescendingly dismissive of those who don't share these commitments (most evident in this interview, I think, in his back-and-forth with a woman theologian who tried to engage him on a series of questions). And Krista, usually a fabulous interviewer who asks evocative questions, doesn't appear to have the ability to name and challenge the underlying assumptions behind Green's responses. And we, the listeners, are expected in the end to discover meaning in a worldview that reduces the human person to a mere purposeless accident in a mathematically precise, rigorously deterministic universe, the totality of which reducible to mere laws of physics? Krista, please wake up and pose challenging questions here!!!

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Krista if I were you... If she were to interview someone like Ervin Laszlo, for example, that would be a sign that she is ready to engage with something quite different than the round of usual suspects which fully meet the standard safety requirements of NPR, PRI, etc. But it is unlikely, at least in this particular universe...

If math proves that the universe is ordered why would we disturb it? Its vastness and design are beyond our natural human makeup. Scientist are boundary pushers. They are not God(s). Men are prone to error along the path of discovery. They have no right to gamble with humans lives.

Dr. Brian Greene's hypothis that there is no free will, or that free will is merely a sensation, needs to be further examened. I propose an experiment; dr Greene will attempt, using the laws of physics, to predict my selection of a color (one out of six stated options). If he is correct 80% of the time, his hypothis will be given some credibility. If not, he has much work to in fortifying his hypothis.

Brian Green's comments that free will is not part of the equations of physics is disturbing to many but we must keep in mind that we are dealing with the exact meaning of words (which is an oxymoron to begin with). Green's comments are within a particular hypothetical interpretation of quantum theory proposed by Hugh Everett a half century ago called the many worlds theory (hypothesis to be more accurate). There are many other competing interpretation and the dust has yet to have settled on this issue. But even within this way of viewing things the concept of predestination, which is traditionally coupled with a lack of free will, is not at all part of the concept. The many worlds hypothesis is the opposite of predestination in that every thing that can happen happens in at least some of the many worlds. Predestination assumes that there is only one world, not many. The question of free will in the the many worlds interpretation is whether or not the odds of a particular world (its probability relative to the total ensemble) can be influenced by our conscious decisions. The question then is can our decisions tilt the odds of one world outcome verses another? Just choose to run a red light at 100 mph at rush hour to answer this one.
This then leads to the discussion of Camus' issue of whether life is worth living or should we just choose a pleasant suicide. Green's approach to this is right on. He finds inspiration in the amazing structure of the physical reality from which we evolved. I am totally in tune with this approach. Like Green, I have published on the intricate nature of the physical substructure of the universe that was necessary for the raw energy of the Big Bang to have evolved into anything like ourselves anywhere in the vast visible universe (see ImprobableUniverse.com , Our Improbable Universe, ISBN 1-56858-301-X, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2004 and also go to for a 1 hour video presentation). Here I identify more than 14 physical laws (or phenomena) that had to be more or less exactly as they are for intelligence to have evolve anywhere. If these laws were set up by a deity after much contemplation (and perhaps computer simulations), the great effort of the creator implies that life has value (i.e. derived value) and must be taken seriously and helped to flourish. A non-deistic approach is a many universes hypothesis which is not the same as the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. In this approach one hypothesizes a huge metal universe in which our visible universe (what we can see) is one of a zillion pocket universe each of which has a different set of physical laws (String Theory implies 1,000, .... with 500 zeros potential structures) . With this hypothesis we have gotten the one universe in a zillion with the built in spontaneous creativity that can result in beings such as ourselves. We won a rare gem in the rough that has inherent value based on its huge creative potential.
So either way(a deistic or non-deistic hypothesis) life and the universe has unimaginable creative value. This is my answer to Camus' paradox.

I wrote this a few months ago while contemplating the motivations of the main antagonist in my novel:

"Consider, for a moment, the notion that how we think, what we say and how we behave is not simply a function of all of our experiences and gained knowledge. Indeed, these are gathered via our senses, in regions of our brains and then processed by synaptic junctions - they are imbedded in masses of biological tissue, and are regulated - not necessarily consistently so, however - by biochemical electronic impulses. Our thoughts, words and behavior are simply the outcome of this biological process. Who we are is defined by the chemistry of our cells: we are a compilation of the chemical reactions of our collective thoughts, feelings and actions, which have been nurtured by the senses - of which, even those are based on cells. We don’t have free will. We have chaos will."

If who you are is defined by the chemistry of your cells, which are a product of random mutation and natural selection through the mindless process of evolution leaving you with chaos will, then why should anyone attribute worth to a word you say? If that is the worldview to which a physicist submits, then why should anyone attribute any worth to his or her claims and musings? Intelligent people rejecting to acknowledge their Intelligent Creator end up as fools making irrational and self-refuting statements. How we think and what we say and how we behave is a function of our rebellion against the God of Creation. Only when we submit to Him and His love demonstrated through His Son Jesus Christ, the Creator, who came to rescue us from our rebellion against Him, can we experience a rebirth that you are longing for so much but will never find outside of a relationship with Him.

I am holding an apple. And your discourse refers to an orange. I also failed to identify a segue; you initially disregard the reality of biochemistry which comprises us, and then shift abruptly, atop your podium, to lament some "lost soul looking for rebirth." While I do not wish to belittle or critique your religious zeal, let me propose that one's lack of commitment to Christianity - or any religion, for that matter - has nothing to do with one's understanding of the perceptual environment, as it is transferred through the medium of biochemistry. I admire your interest in my salvation, but, sir, no, thank-you. Now can we please get back to the subject at hand?

Many years ago I was a physicist and part of a group, the head of which won the Nobel Prize. After a few years I quit my job and physics because "something" in me was not being nourished in that work and in the way I was able to be in that environment; something was missing. As I listened to Brian Greene I heard that same emptiness that I had to leave in order to find, what I might call a "Greater Life." Greene speaks from a heady place and does not yet realize how limiting this is. He proclaimed the verities of science and was indignant and even hurt that science is not adequately appreciated in our culture; this is a common theme with many science "true believers," but in his conversation with Krista he was not open and reflective in response to her questions and offerings. Marcelo Gleiser was not like that. The status of science and how it is held in our culture is changing and I'm not talking about the latest exciting, seductive theories. There is more to every phenomenon than can be accounted for by our explanations, whether scientific, ideological or theological. This is the most compelling understanding and basis for humility I have found.

While Dr. Greene was discussing his definitions of choice, and where free will may or may not exist, I could only think of Lao Tzu. In Lao Tzu's teachings of Taoism there are two "ways." Our way which is imperfect implementation of life and The Way of the divine. It seems to fit quite well in this discussion of choice, Free Will, and their relevance within string theory. I can't fully explain this idea at the moment, I star work in 15 minutes, but I chose to post this in its incomplete form for future discussion.

Other interesting ideas on this topic I've listened to come from Dr. John Hagelin, a Quantum Physicist. As a layman, I can't expound upon hypothetical or tested theories. What I do know is what I experience. I am a long time meditator so come from a different angle. Sometimes I loose the experience of time/space altogether in a linear fashion as if all that has, is or will be is happening at the same time. Hard to describe, but I'm sure many have experienced this.Sometimes I do have an inkling that everything is predestination (karma?, multiverses? hard to know for sure) in the time/space reality we experience. It's a fascinating subject. I thoroughly enjoyed Krista's interview with Brian Green!

Dr. Greene, as many others like him who operate in submission to the philosophy of naturalism, limit science to an investigation of our reality within the confines of the Big Bang Theory and the Grand Theory of Evolution. These are foundational axioms to which an individual does not have to submit. In fact, hundreds of cosmologists and physicists have signed an open letter rejecting the Big Bang Theory and many have attended 2 recently held conferences on the Crisis in Cosmology which acknowledge significant and multiple contradictions with what we observe and what the Big Bang Theory predicts. They have gone as far as saying that we need to get rid of the Big Bang Theory and start with a clean slate, at the least challenging the consensus cosmology. The BBT has been propped up time and again with ad hoc assumptions and "theories" that are not supported by evidence, as Dr. Greene admitted with String "Theory" when answering an audience member's question. Why are they called "theories" when a Theory in science is something that has so much evidential support that it's practically a law. There are other cosmologies as solutions to Einstein's equations with different starting assumptions that are supported by what we observe and do not need to invoke ad hoc assumptions like Inflation, Dark Matter or Dark Energy--read about the cosmologies of Moshe Carmeli, John Hartnett or Russell Humphreys. Regarding the Grand Theory of Evolution, he assumes that molecules evolved to man and man is still evolving. This requires an earth history of millions and billions of years. This kind of discussion is outside the realm of scientific observation. Conclusions about evidence collected, whether it be fossils, DNA or radiometric dating, are inherently dependent upon the worldview of the observer. For example, DNA, collagen, blood cells, osteocytes, etc. have been found in dinosaur bones. From what we know though objective science, these products do not last in the environment for more than tens of thousands of years. Some scientists see this as supporting evidence that dinosaurs and humans co-existed only thousands of years ago. Other scientists conclude that these products do last for tens and hundreds of millions of years, even though that is contrary to what we observer in the laboratory, because their worldview requires the dinosaurs to have existed 65 million years ago or more. Some German scientists have carbon dated dinosaur bones and found the radiocarbon ages to be in the tens of thousands of years with the radiocarbon concentration highest in the bone and decreasing as one digs away from the bone, arguing against external sources of radio carbon. A purely objective scientist would consider these findings and do further and more extensive research, possibly finding more evidence in support of the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs. However, most scientists operating in submission to the consensus position that radiometric dating of rock layers is irrefutable will reject the radiocarbon ages of dinosaur bones outright, acting not as scientists but as philosophers protecting their strongly held worldview that is not open to scientific scrutiny. If Dr. Greene's beliefs about how his brain works and how we are simply operating according to laws of physics and the consequences of random mutations and natural selection over billions of years of directionless evolution, then why should anything he says be attributed worth by the rest of us who apparently have no free will anyway?

I too am a believer in Free Will, for many reasons, but I record one of my suspicions here, as it applies to Brian Greene's specialty.
Can an expert in Quantum Mechanics, which is deterministic mainly in many-particle interactions, apply that determinism to
brain action, which is microscale - possibly viewable as amplified (through network) single particle interactions, which are
not deterministic, as I recall QM physics.
- - -
There are other attacks to use too, but this one is from physics so I record it here possibly for Mr Greene or another Physicist to see.

As I see it, "free will" is simply the number of choices available to an individual.
The child of rich parents living on the Upper West Side and going to an exclusive prep school has infinitely
more choices in life (infinitely more "free will"). Than a child of an impoverished family in inner city Phila.
Someone severely crippled by accident has many less choices (much less "free will") than before the accident.
Ain't no such thing as "free will", per se, just the degree of choices you have. Believing in "free will" is
chasing an illusion!

One danger in destroying the concept of will contained in the individual (freely) is the danger of destroying the legal sovereignty of the individual - He can not be seen as responsible. Guess what? that's the basis of the entire legal system. Anti free will philosophers (with followers accepting them as true prophets) are really playing with the destruction of society. Will is where things that get done come from - guess there's a rash of anti free will types in Congress too, not that that should be tolerated.

Cool show.

It's understandable that one of the portions of the discussion that has attracted the most attention (and ire) is the question of Free Will. There are many occasions in history where scientific discoveries have forced us to re-examine our own cherished assumptions. In such situations it is not unusual for people to initially seek ways to reject this information, and even to attack those who present it, as a sort of protective disgust-reflex, instead of engaging with this new data in order to ask questions and consider new possibilities (good as well as bad).

Apparently the way Dr. Greene himself handles this sense of intuitive conflict in his own life, is to go on living with a healthy dose of curiosity and humor, accepting that things may not always be quite as our intuition tells us they should be, while recognizing that we can honor the importance of Free Will as a part of our subjective experience of living, within our limited ability to sense and intuitively grasp the underlying physics at work in each moment. Ironically, he as a scientist seems more willing to accept a certain amount of paradox in life than some religiously-minded folks are.

The question of Choice is a thorny one for us humans, and similar issues (and strong opinions) arise in discussions of psychology and neuroscience, and of crime, mental illness, and punishment. Not to mention theological discussions surrounding ancient notions such as "karma" and "sin". We can be sure that as artificial intelligence continues to develop, there will even more discussion of the intersection of science and Free Will.

Gerry's reflection is so well-written and concise. Also, he makes a good defense for how Dr. Greene conducts his life, even while acknowledging the absence of Free Will.

It is deeply offensive to see the interviewer Krista Tippett throughout the interview in her incessant grasping for her god of the (her) gaps repeatedly misappropriate and distort the legacy of one of history’s greatest men of reason - Albert Einstein.

Einstein did NOT not “necessarily” mean a creator god. He ABSOLUTELY and unequivocally did not mean a creator god. Throughout his lectures, conversations, correspondence and publications he categorically rejected a creator god and viewed ALL religions as “an incarnation of the most primitive superstitions” and the word God as “nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses”

As to the effects of organized religion whose methods he described as “mass indoctrination” Einstein had this to say (just to scratch the surface): “…the unspeakable crimes of the Church for 2,000 years…” and "If I were allowed to give advice to the Churches I would tell them to begin with a conversion among themselves, and to stop playing power politics. Consider what mass misery they have produced in Spain, South America and Russia."

To "believe" in "free will" is to chase an illusion.
What many call "free will" is simply the number of choices one has.
A rich kid on the Upper West Side has infinitely more "free will" (choices available)
compared to the child of an impoverished, ill-educated inner city welfare mother.
There's no such thing as "free will", per se, only choices available.

Herman, I agree with you on that. I call that phenomenon "bandwidth of choice". Some have a greater bandwidth than others. I'd like to call this "karma" which is to a large extent pre-determined with a variable bandwidth of ability to change it, or not.

There is a saying that if a handyman only carries a hammer, then he'll treat everything as if it's a nail. Similarly, if all that scientists want to acknowledge and work with is a material, physical reality, then they won't discover anything else. (And no, the universe doesn't make you "choose" it either, Mr. Greene).

As human beings, scientists are like everyone else limited beings, who don't want to appreciate the extent of their own limitations. All their "expertise" has been highly conditioning, producing an inability to see through to how much of their methodologies are already the complex products of assumptions (which are comprised of what is already "known" or established). In this sense, Greene's disavowal of subjectivity is a good example of a blind spot which appears unable to recognize that one is already fully speaking from within the universe - since this "within" is already positing you contextually as subject.

Nonetheless, while methodology is over-controlled at the expense of a greater openness (which might inspire views of other, less material possibilities), it also seems clear that in the end, the necessary methodologies which would either verify or disprove various unexplained things - such as psychic phenomena - are nonexistent. And will never likely exist.

Why? Because they lie outside the ability of science to determine either their causes or even their very nature. Consciousness is a good case in point. The science has been good with explaining what consciousness does in the body, but not how to get it IN the body in the first place. And it won't, because it doesn't originate in the body… something a mystic or yogi would actually know experientially.

I'm afraid that the materialistic "seeing is believing" of science is just attempting to judge the Book of Reality by its cover - the physical, material surfaces of existence through the limitations of various measurements - but it's the book within that science is actually unable to read: because it doesn't understand the language… while a "mystic" or an adept does. Or, at the very least, someone who is open to allowing the contributions from that quarter.

Mr. Greene can say he is simply not interested in metaphysical questions, but it seems disingenuously offered to cover his scientific behind… which I accept. In the end, while it is true that everyone has a right to their opinions, there are opinions which provide more meaning and value than others. And those will not come from science.

On the topic of free will, perhaps dr. Green has some new england puritans in his ancestry. They certainly believed that "free will" was of little consequence in this life, and that one's fate in the afterlife was utterly and completely predetermined, even prior to one's birth. Thank goodness that the majority of colonists believed in free will! Otherwise, we would still be clinging to the coattails of king george, and probably be drinking tea every afternoon at 4 pm.

Yes, we can do without the clinging to coattails... but I do like tea at 4... ;-)

While I won't wade in to the free will debate (though I do think he is a bit cavalier in general about science), one of the aspects that disturbed me in the interview was the story of the soldier in Iraq who was comforted in the midst of war by going to the theoretical bigger questions of science. To my mind, this is an ethical failure of science if it used in this manner. Science should lead us to a deeper reality with all of its ethical quandaries rather than allow us to zoom out far enough that our actions in war don't seem to make much difference. Perhaps despair is the correct emotion that leads us to question our ethical choices in regards to war and the devastation it causes.

I thought he was clutching at straws on this point, suggesting that science has the capacity to answer the big questions, even moral questions. That is a dubious assertion and, just as you mentioned, I was disturbed by the implication that we might throw in to an unjust mass-killing like the Iraq War and absolve ourselves because, hey, turns out quarks don't care. Religion has a mixed track record indeed and I tend towards moral skepticism, but this portion of his presentation only reaffirms his thorough-going scientism.

The program was as one of the best, lot of to think about; thanks a lot.

Dr Green is certainly the leading thinker between the modern physicists. It is special interesting when Professor talks about new physic, however he considers “free will” in Newtonians approach. He does not give any attention to “the principle of uncertainty”.

The application of this principle is much more interesting on our human scale, when we are dealing with the real natural, engineered and social systems.

This conversation reminds me of George MacDonald (1840-1905):
“There is no word to represent that which is not God,
no word for the ‘where’ without God in it; for it is not,
could not be.”
Just acknowledge the absence of mathematical evidence of free will (and a small 'g') and this could be Brian Green

Brian mentions that there is no room for freewill mathematically, which I'm ok with, but what about the notion that a perceiver can change the outcome of the perception? Isn't that perceiver or freewill, then mathematically accounted for? Or is it just a random reaction that is a natural part of quantum physics?


Leaving the question of choice and free will aside (no logical resolution possible in my mind), I want to express a sigh of relief and appreciation for Greene's integrity in stating his perspective on the question of "God's role." Clean and forthright, his view seems to be founded in the same essential wonder driving whatever pursuits hold a person's passion: "Not that it’s wrong, I don’t find it interesting." It's a respectful personal statement unencumbered by self-doubt or approval-seeking. Hearing this part of the interview hit me in the place of YES.

I'm afraid that Greene's ostensible "integrity" (as you'd have it) matters little in the overall trajectory of his - and scientists' in general - continual disingenuity regarding their own unacknowledged subjectivity, in all matters. Your response is merely an attempt to cover his disingenuity with your own… The question of raising "God's role" tends to be a dishonest trump that has become truly tiresome, as it posits the metaphysical in the most simplistic yet unanswerable terms, and which therefore can neither be successfully defended nor removed from the premises; however, even as such, it hardly remains the elephant in the room. Until scientists have the courage to admit their inadequate efforts (or their convenient lack of interest) in accounting for the many various (so-called) paranormal phenomena at large - which indeed remain pristinely undefiled by their "expertise" - I'm afraid their supposed integrity is quite transparent.

What "paranormal phenomena"?

As Louise said here, meditation does take you to a place of suspended time..

Does anyone know which equations are depicted on Dr. Brian Green's children T-shirts referenced in the broadcast? I'm not aware of any quantum mechanics equations that sum up reality.

In the Q and A session which accompanied the recording of the interview with Brian Greene as presented over the airways I was hoping that two questions could have been asked in response to Greene's assertion that the mind is the brain and its processes and that choice is merely the "sensation" of choice.

Question One: What about out of body experiences. Although there is no way to induce this phenomenon in a lab, we have tons of anecdotal evidence that it is a reality. People have reported what the doctors actually said while attempting to revive the patient from death in the operating room.. If consciousness is limited to the brain, how can these people do this?

Question 2:

If choice is but the "sensation" of choice, why can we not say that discovery in the realm of physics is not itself the "sensation" of discovery.

Synapses firing in the brain that provide the sensation of choice which, according to Greene is the effect of physics manifesting itself in the cranium, can be seen likewise as the same thing when we claim that the brain has made some sort of breakthrough in the intricacies of scientific awareness.

Why do you not say that physics reveals itself to us when and where it pleases. Our choice of the time and place we conduct an experiement is a matter of only the sensation of choice, i. e. an illusion.

Greene is positing a scenario in which physics acts as a god if not God himself, herself, or itself, in that physics induces in us the sense that we are free but really are not.

How can a new discovery be seen as a human accomplishment if it is physics that is choosing to reveal it to us?

Greene's atheism has gotten itself mixed up with the notion of physics as God or God as physics which sounds a lot like a quest to discover what the nature of God is rather than a rejection of the idea that there could be a God at all.

I think that the boredom he describes as his experience with "church" growing up can be attested to by many Christians, myself included. But boredom in the act of corporate worship does nothing to diminish the sense of adventure a Christian can have when he or she also.discovers a central meaning for one's life that is nurtured in religious community..

Is this incredible underlying order in the universe a Proof of Purpose?

If free will existed, we would be living in a paradise. Because free will doesn't exist, we continue destroying ourselves, others, and the world we live in.

I have something in common with Brian Green, I am a graduate of Columbia School of Social Work. As an RC interested in all religious and philosophic thought, I share my belief.

In relation to "time". I believe everything happened at once, the big bang was a solitary encounter of everything that is. Jesus said "I am the Alpha and the Omega". God is the beginning and end, and is enmeshed in our time, reconciling us to our original state in the Garden of Eden - where time first was experienced by our original parents - who separated themselves in some way from God. Time is a human invention. Everything comes out of this understanding, the Incarnation, the redemption and salvation. Many of the hints of this reality show up in some way in other faiths. I think the infant in utero is, perhaps, a better example than the fish. As my four year old granddaughter said when speaking of the name of her baby (to my response that I hope I'll be there). "I know, we are all in God's belly." I had compared death with birth. Mariology shows up in different conceptualizations everywhere. Of course what Adam and Eve represent is in question as well as many other accounts in the Hebrew and Christian scripture. There's much more, but I found the tape validating.

Also, I disagree that "free will is the sensation of choice". If everything happened at once, all of the zillions of choices we are presented with and do, but - at the same "time" everything happened at once, in a sense it has happened but it also includes choice. In addition, God intervening can be understood in just the same way. All happened at once (in the sense that we are speaking of human time and creation....God's creation) The Word/The Incarnation "in" time is enmeshed and intervening in the rupture at the same time that they are happening. "for to those who love God and are called in God's plan everything works out to the good." So, in my view, the speaker is missing the context for creation and time.

I find the dialogue fascinating. It will take a great deal of humility to "hear" one another. As a scientist to find an entire world outside of your discipline uninteresting isn't surprising if you cannot allow another discipline to enhance, inform, or modify your science. The same applies to spiritual, philosophic, or religious thought.

So are we holograms, or are we living in a time that is and was and will be. Does deja vu disclose this to us? Is fruitful intuition the consciousness of our unity in one body, not just our perception of our unity? Lots of fascinating questions.

Great conversation. Dr. Thérèse M. Craine Bertsch, DSW

Re: free will - in the future, will the justice system cease to exist? Courts are already beginning to incorporate diagnoses into the definitions of innocence and guilt. If the very notion of decision making is debunked, won't the debunking of "fault" immediately follow?

Isn't that Elephant's Feet Utah? Or somewhere there-a-bouts? Been there several times on my travels. I love the desert...really one of my favorite places to be. Thanks for the beautiful photography. The Universe is an amazing thought continuum, wouldn't you agree?

But what about all those mutations? I believe in this conversation that free will is a mutation of universal laws.

Earlier I submitted a comment, but I would appreciate it if you would erase it and not consider it for publication. I started to submit a revised version, and unfortunately the revisions got lost. It was a wonderful interview!

it seems to me that people who don,t understand math or maybe they just don,t want to take the time to Learn math physics they always revert back to that dreaded 3 Letter word God" something that has never been seen heard or in fact proven at all at all EVER in the History of human beings" but they always go back to it and it makes me very mad ..not because they want to believe in some god" because I really don,t care...the thing is it makes me mad because god and all the religion that go,s with that word makes people forget all about science and instead of going forward in their Learning"- their going backwards to where NOTHING Can be Learned or proven once again ...I really Like Brian because he doesn,t want to hurt anyones Feelings about their beliefs".. but he is an incredible physicist - he believes in the Nature of things and the physics of how it all works whats creating all that we see and all we haven,t seen yet' ./..and this is how my mind works or at least how I want it to work ...I Look at Life Like if I was making a stew or cooking anything which has lots of ingrediants in them and when its all done it taste Delicious! but in nature the only difference to me is that Nature has been working a very Long time and it has been trying or at least mixing ingrediants throughout space until something comes together that is Fantastic in this case I,m of course talking of Life.. this to me is better than forcing my mind to believe that theres an invisible man in the sky watching us at all times making everything happen this not only sounds irrational but it is"! ...in any case even if it turned out that there was such a creator?...I,m sure that it would be aliens far advanced than we are ..instead of some magical one great super man who Runs the Whole Show. ..../Thank you Brian I could Listen to you talk for on and on., Mike,

Jan 30 2014 Broadcast

Reimagining the Cosmos with Brian Greene

This was the first on being episode that I have listened to. It was right on the front page with a cool picture of a starry background. I was quite surprised that the topic was about the best topic I would want to listen to. A famous theoretical physicist that also talks very philosophical, my favorite.

He talks about many interesting topics, one of them was time. How it is relative to the person observing it. We all run along our own path of time. What he talks about is more that the speed of time changes based on the motion, gravity and other forces that are acting on it.

So if a twin leaves his sibling and travels in space at very very fast speed and then returns to Earth. His watch would be far behind the twin, by an order of many years. This is something that has been experimentally shown. By taking radioactive particles with a known half life and putting them in a particle accelerator. After accelerating them very fast, the particles took longer to decay. A human is a little different than a radioactive particle though, so I don't know if I'd quite reach that conclusion yet.

I like thinking of time as relative because we all precieve it to take so long. If your enjoying an activity, it seems to go by much more quickly. During a dream it seems like we accomplish so much, when in reality it was only 10-15 minutes.

So the time that we keep is really just a measure of either how for the earth has moved around the sun if your talking years, or a measure of how much the earth has rotated if your talking seconds or hours.

Wow this really got away from the total concepts of the show, because there is so much science that he explains quite simply. If you have any interest in what theoretical scince means or entails, this is a great broadcast.

Thanks for reading,

Shane Feld - NHCC

This episode was really hard to follow. Brian Greene discussed many scientific findings that I was unfamiliar with, such as String theory and the Higgs field. Even after he explained some of these ideas further, I'm still don't feel like I get it. It was as if I was watching an episode of my favorite show, but in another language. So rather then get into details about these scientific ideas, I'll just share some things that grabbed my attention.

I like how he views science as one of the greatest adventure stories. You can really get a sense of how much he enjoys his line of work. He even goes as far as comparing what he does to that which a artist does. He claims his work helps us find our place in this world and reveals knowledge of our deepest questions.
A couple things that blew my mind was when he explains that complex ideas can be reduced to simple mathematical equations, and that every outcome allowed by the quantum laws of physics is played out in parallel universes. To me much of this seemed more science fiction, but It also intrigued me to learn more. After listening to this I spend a good hour or so doing my own online research to understand his ideas better.
Lastly, I wanted to get some opinions about where religion can play into these ideas. While I was listening to this, I couldn't help to notice that there was really no room for religious ideas in Brian's scientific studies of the cosmos. Where do you place "god" or religious views in this???

I'm listening to these conversations about science a couple of years
after they took place, so I guess it is likely that few will read further comments. However, on reading the existing comments, it does seem that
all viewpoints are not fully represented. I found that Brian Greene was more careful to distinguish speculation from established scientific truth than I expected from his reputation among physicists. However many of the commenters missed those distinctions. There is no consensus among physicists that there are many universes, for example. In a few places, Greene seems to have exaggerated the achievements of his subfield: I do not believe that string theory has succeeded in accounting in detail for the
Standard Model, which correctly describes all experimental results from high energy physics.

With regard to 'free will' I am in wholehearted agreement with Greene's statements, but it might help nonphysicists to understand the issue to discuss the idea of emergence which he barely mentions. 'Emergence' refers to the fact that qualitatively unexpected phenomena can emerge from complex systems obeying fundamentally simple basic physical laws. We understand this in detail in metals at low temperatures, for example, when they suddenly start conducting electricity without any resistance. It seems likely that consciousness and the process of choice are similarly emergent phenomena, though we do not yet understand the details of how they work. I imagine consciousness as a continually renewed cycle of electrochemical currents in my brain which form images of my self and its environment. Choice emerges in a context in which two or more alternatives enter my consciousness and, often after a period of oscillation between them, I , that is my brain, settles into one of them, sometimes leading to motor activity. Models along these lines do correctly describe simple choices in simpler organisms. This emergent behavior is determined by the underlying physical laws, but it is perfectly sensible to say that, at the emergent phenomenological level, a choice was made. I think it's confusing and unnecessarily provacative to say that it is an 'illusion' or a 'lie'. The idea of
emergence is further discussed in semipopular books by Phillip Anderson and
Robert Laughlin (both Nobel prizes, if that reassures you).

I think, as might be expected from Greene's subfield, that he overstates the role of mathematics in physics. Of course it is enormously important as a language and as a way of straightening out the consequences of hypotheses. But physics is about observable phenomena, not about mathematics. We believe that relativity describes reality because it correctly accounts for the surprising results of thousands of experiments, not because of Einstein's thought experiments or Hilbert's mathematics. It is entirely conceivable to me that if another scientific civilization is ever found to exist it will describe the same phenomena in an entirely different, though essentially equivalent way. To say that Einstein got to his theories through pure mathematics is not correct, even though Einstein himself sometimes gave that impression in his later years. Actually, the attempt to make discoveries in physics by starting with the mathematics does not have a very fruitful history, and that may be the reason that string theory has not, to date, had much success as a physics theory. In most cases in the past, the phenomena came first and the mathematics was produced to account for the phenomena, not the other way around. (Of course the mathematics then had to predict some further phenomena in order to be taken seriously.)

Similarly I would take issue with the emphasis on phenomena 'which we cannot see'. In fact, new physics emerges when we literally 'see' something unexpected: Like the redshifts in spectral lines leading to the understanding that the universe is expanding or the image on a photographic plate leading to the discovery of radioactivity. The explanation of these unexpected observations often involves entities which the technology of the times cannot directly detect. But over time such direct detection often becomes possible: Atoms were not directly imaged until nearly a century after their existence was definitely and quantitatively established by indirect experiments.

One of the most relevant concepts (at least to me)that I find missing from the discussion of free will, both by Dr. Greene and the comments here, is the role of intention. I realize that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but that doesn't mean that choosing to have good intentions isn't important, not only from a moral standpoint, but also from a practical one. Psychological research demonstrates that how others perceive our intentions, whether the perception is accurate or not, largely influences their response. (There are some intermediary, internal processes of cognition and emotion). It appears that Dr. Greene is saying the choice of a response, affected by our perception of the other's intent, is illusory, since our responses (and all the internal processes that influence them) are pre-determined by the math. Does that also mean we have no freedom in choosing our intentions? A member of the audience noted that Dr. Greene's children have a great excuse for their "bad" behavior- they had no choice! He laughingly replied that indeed, his children often DO give that as an excuse for their inappropriate behavior. What he said next was said quickly and almost under his breath, as if he didn't really want people to hear what he said, and unfortunately, he succeeded. Even though I did not hear all of what he said, I got the distinct impression he did not accept the "I had no choice" excuse from his children, and then he quickly changed the subject. So either he does not totally buy his own theory that there is no free will, or he can't integrate this concept into his own daily life. He did say that this is often the case, such as when he acts as if the ground were solid. But if humans truly have no free will, it is ESSENTIAL that we integrate that concept into the fabric of our daily life, including how we respond to people. Oh, wait! We have no choice in how we respond to people! If that's true, psychologists may as well give up on teaching people to change their thoughts and behavior (which in turn, will change their emotions). If Greene is correct, then all the fairly consistent research results of cognitive psychology are a mere coincidence. (In other words, when certain strategies are taught to people, which seemingly change their habitual ways of thinking, in fact, the results are merely coincidence, since those thoughts are pre-determined and not chosen by the person. One can also substitute ways of behaving for thinking here, and also the research on how changing habitual ways of thinking and/or behaving seemingly leads to changes in habituals ways of feeling.....all an illusion, since all of those changes would have occurred anyway without instruction by a therapist, as Greene says that humans have no choice in what we think, do, or feel). Or maybe the relatively consistent results of cognitive psychological research are due to observer bias, as physics has taught us that observation changes outcomes, or at least their probabilities. Dr. Greene did not discuss the role of the observer in changing outcomes, even though it's proven by math, which I find perplexing, as it certainly seems relevant to free will. Also, what about the seemingly relevant concepts of morphic fields and morphic resonance? I realize that physics is a very broad field, and you need to specialize. But for somebody who is allegedly trying to integrate disparate physics findings into a Theory of Everything, Greene seems to be leaving out some critical scientific findings. If Greene is correct, psychologists would be foolish not to abandon their profession. I'm a psychologist, and while I admit to being biased, I'm not ready to abandon my profession. I think Greene has many brilliant ideas, but I find his notion that free will is an illusion and not real is not very "interesting." I'm using that word in the same way that he used it - it's not useful. But the notion that people CAN choose to change their habitual ways of thinking and behaving, which in turn leads to changes in their habitual ways of feeling, has been very useful. I guess that's why I'm more "interested" in the ideas of non-deterministic physicists such as Arthur Zajonc.

I think this writer is oversimplifying the implications of microscopic determinism in discussing human choices. When a human makes a choice, it is entirely consistent with microscopic determinism to say the that the reasoning processes which went on in the brain of the person making the choice were the proximal cause determining what choice was made. I think that when the person then claims to have made the choice freely he or she
really means that his or her thought processes led to the choice and therefore there is not really any contradiction. Microscopic determinism is not contradicted because those thought processes themselves were determined by microscopic physics which is deterministic. And so forth in
a chain of causal processes stretching back to the person's birth and before. But for a psychologist, who is a phenomenologist dealing with
a macroscopic description and with proximal causes, it is unnecessary and probably disfunctional to be worrying about or even conscious of that all
the time. So I think that Kathleen is right to proceed the way she says she does in her professional work, but wrong to think that she can't do that without preferring Zajonc's physics (which I think is just wrong) to Greene's.