Michio Kaku Explains the Physics Behind Absolutely Everything

"It's turtles all the way down," a possibly apocryphal old lady once said as a way of fully explaining her concept of the world supported on the back of a giant tortoise. But according to City University of New York's Michio Kaku, it's physics all the way down. He shares this highly educated assumption with, presumably, everyone in his field of theoretical physics, and if you've got 42 minutes, he'll tell you why the subject's explanatory power has compelled him and so many others to dedicate their lives to it. In "The Universe in a Nutshell," the lecture embedded above, Kaku tells of the origins of modern physics, breaks down how it has clarified to humanity so many of the mechanisms of existence, and reminds us of both the countless technological advances it has already made possible and the infinitude of them it will in the future. To our fellow humans just a few generations back, he says, we, with our advanced communication devices and our ability to watch slickly produced, high-resolution lectures on demand, would look like wizards; our grandchildren, enjoying yet more benefits from physics, would look like gods.

This video comes to you free from Big Think, though as a production it originates from the associated venture Floating University, which sells access to lectures on a variety of subjects, from physics to demography to linguistics to aesthetics. Given all the useful information technology now so widely available — thanks in part to discoveries in, yes, physics — a particularly fruitful time has come for projects meant to reinvent education. Floating University considers itself to be "democratizing education," and the demand certainly seems fervent. "Why can't school be like this?" writes one YouTube commenter. "I don't want homework, I don't want a binder with dividers, I don't want to be bored to death with worksheets. I just want to LEARN." This, of course, started arguments. But that's democracy for you.

Please note, oodles of Free Physics Courses -- including ones by Richard Feynman, Leonard Susskind, Sean Carroll, and Walter Lewin -- can be found in our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

“Do Scientists Pray?”: A Young Girl Asks Albert Einstein in 1936. Einstein Then Responds.

einstein on god

Albert Einstein endeavored to express his view of God as forthrightly as possible to a public eager to know where he stood in the popular conflict between science and religion. In 1936, a sixth-grade girl named Phyllis wrote him a letter on behalf of her Sunday School class. "We have brought up the question,” she wrote, “Do scientists pray? It began by asking whether we could believe in both science and religion.” Einstein’s reply is somewhat equivocal. He is clear enough in stating that a scientific fidelity to the “laws of nature” means that “a scientist cannot be inclined to believe that the course of events can be influenced by prayer, that is, by a supernaturally manifested wish.” This would seem to settle the question. However, he goes on to invoke the philosopher Spinoza’s god and distinguish between intellectual humility and wonder, on the one hand, and a more popular, supernatural faith on the other.

However, we must concede that our actual knowledge of these forces is imperfect, so that in the end the belief in the existence of a final, ultimate spirit rests on a kind of faith. Such belief remains widespread even with the current achievements in science.

But also, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

This is probably not the response that Phyllis and her class had hoped for, and they (or their teacher) may have taken offense at the description of their faith as “naïve.” But Einstein’s careful reply also expresses a kind of scientific awe that acknowledges the limits of reason and leads to a kind of sublime feeling that can legitimately be called "religious" (much as Carl Sagan would do decades later). This, I believe, is not a casual or callous dismissal of Phyllis’s faith, something that so-called “New Atheists” are often accused of (justly or not). Instead it's a considered response in which the great physicist shares his own version of "faith"--his faith in Nature, or the “laws of the universe,” which he concedes are “vastly superior to man.” I think it’s a moving exchange between two people who couldn’t be further apart in their understanding of the world, but who just may have found some small common ground in considering each other’s positions for a moment.

Einstein's correspondence comes to us via the always illuminating Letters of Note

Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

Dylan Thomas Recites ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’ and Other Poems

When Dylan Thomas was a little boy his father would read Shakespeare to him at bedtime. The boy loved the sound of the words, even if he was too young to understand the meaning. His father, David John Thomas, taught English at a grammar school in southern Wales but wanted to be a poet. He was bitterly disappointed with his station in life.

Many years later when the father lay on his deathbed, Dylan Thomas wrote a poem that captures the profound sense of empathy he felt for the dying old man. The poem, "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night," was written in 1951, only two years before the poet's own untimely death at the age of 39. Despite the impossibility of escaping death, the anguished son implores his father to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

The poem is a beautiful example of the villanelle form, which features two rhymes and two alternating refrains in verse arranged into five tercets, or three-lined stanzas, and a concluding quatrain in which the two refrains are brought together as a couplet at the very end. You can hear Thomas's famous 1952 recital of the poem above. To see the poem's structure and read along as you listen, click here to open the text in a new window.

And to hear more of Thomas reciting his own works you can visit HarperAudio, where you will find a treasure trove of recordings from a number of writers, including these from Thomas:

  • Part 1: "No Sun Shines," "The Hand that Signed the Paper," "Should Lanterns Shine," "And Death Shall Have No Dominion," and the first verse of "Alterwise by Owl Light."
  • Part 2: "Poem in October," "This Side of the Truth," Love in the Asylum," and "The Hunchback in the Park."
  • Part 3: "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night," "On the Marriage of a Virgin," "In My Craft or Sullen Art," and "Ceremony After a Fire Raid."

All poems have been added to our collection of Free Audio Books.

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The Legendary Bluesman Robert Johnson Brought to Life in (Somewhat Creepy) Animated Image

In his autobiography, Chronicles, Volume 1, Bob Dylan remembered the day, back in the early 1960s, when he first encountered the music of the Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson. His memory went something like this:

I had the thick acetate of the Robert Johnson record in my hands and I asked Van Ronk if he ever heard of him. Dave said, nope, he hadn’t, and I put it on the record player so we could listen to it. From the first note the vibrations from the loudspeaker made my hair stand up. The stabbing sounds from the guitar could almost break a window. When Johnson started singing, he seemed like a guy who could have sprung from the head of Zeus in full armor. I immediately differentiated between him and anyone else I had ever heard.

Dylan wasn't alone in this thought. Ask Eric Clapton and he'll tell you that Johnson is "the most important blues singer that ever lived." And one Keith Richards summed things up rather nicely, saying, "You want to know how good the blues can get? Well, this is it." With this kind of praise, you'd think that Robert Johnson had lived a long life, recording a long list of albums. But the opposite is true. Johnson died in 1938,  when he was only 27 years old (which puts him, of course, in the 27 Club). And he left for posterity a mere 29 tracks, all recorded between 1936 and 1937. The details of Johnson's life are sketchy at best. And the visual traces of his existence have almost entirely disappeared. In the closing pages of Chronicles, Bob Dylan makes reference to a video that briefly captures the image of Johnson:

More than thirty years later, I would see Johnson for myself in eight seconds’ worth of 8-millimeter film shot in Ruleville, Mississippi, on a brightly lit afternoon street by some Germans in the late ’30s. Some people questioned whether it was really him, but slowing the eight seconds down so it was more like eighty seconds, you can see that it really is Robert Johnson, has to be—couldn’t be anyone else.

It's a tantalizing prospect. But, when professionals took a close look at the video, they figured out it was a fake (see below). So we're left with this -- two photographs of the musician. Two simple photos, which now thanks to Westside Media, have been manipulated to bring Johnson back to life, at least long enough to sing two songs: "Hell Hound on My Trail" and "Preaching Blues." Watch above.

The Dead Authors Podcast: H.G. Wells Comically Revives Literary Greats with His Time Machine

Recorded live in front of an audience at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles, The Dead Authors Podcast—“Unscripted, barely researched, all fun!”—showcases raucous conversations between “time-traveler” H.G. Wells (Paul F. Tompkins) and various “dead authors.” Some of Wells’ guests have included Aesop, Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein, Carl Sagan, and Jorge Luis Borges, all played by comedians like Andy Richter (as Emily Dickinson) and Brian Stack (as P.G. Wodehouse).

In the episode above, Wells welcomes the notoriously misogynistic and allegedly anti-Semitic Friedrich Nietzsche (James Adomian) and the notoriously racist writer of “weird tales” H.P. Lovecraft (Paul Scheer). As the podcast description has it, “if you are easily offended, you may find this one a bit challenging.” The offense is mitigated by the fact that the discussion “very rarely makes any sense AT ALL," and that it’s damned funny.

Both “authors” spout exaggerated parodies of their philosophies, in ridiculous accents, and (as you can see from the photo above), look equally ridiculous to an audience that sometimes laughs along, sometimes doesn’t, as will happen in live comedy. The actors are game, ad-libbing with ease and confidence and clearly having a great time. The only moments that aren’t improvised are when the actors playing Nietzsche and Lovecraft read from the writers' actual texts. In this context (and in these voices), the two both indeed make little sense. They’ll survive the takedown—these are two dead authors who tend to be taken far too seriously by their devotees. So, go ahead, listen to Nietzsche huff and puff his way through his bombastic and oracular pronouncements; hear Lovecraft hiss through his florid and paranoid prose. It’s all for a good cause. The Dead Authors podcast benefits 826LA, a non-profit writing and tutoring center for kids age 6-18.

You can find real works by Nietzsche and Lovecraft in our collection of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books.

Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

Pink Floyd Provides the Soundtrack for the BBC’s Broadcast of the 1969 Moon Landing

Did the United States of America lose much of its will to explore outer space when the Soviet Union's collapse shut off the engine of competition? Critical observers sometimes make that point, but I have an alternative theory: maybe the decline of progressive rock had just as much to do with it. Both that musical subgenre and American space exploration proudly possessed their distinctive aesthetics, the potential for great cultural impact, and ambition bordering on the ridiculous. Though we didn't have mash-ups in the years when shuttle launches and four-side concept albums alike captured the public imagination, we can now use modern technology to double back and directly unite these two late-twentieth-century phenomena. Behold, above, Pink Floyd's jam "Moonhead" lined up with footage of Apollo 17, NASA's last moon landing.

But given the recent passing of astronaut Neil Armstrong, none of us have been thinking as much about the last moon landing as we have about the first. Pink Floyd actually laid down "Moonhead" at a BBC TV studio during the descent of Apollo 11, the mission on which Armstrong would take that one giant leap for mankind. The band's improvisation made it to the ears of England's moon-landing viewers: "The programming was a little looser in those days," remembers guitarist David Gilmour, "and if a producer of a late-night programme felt like it, they would do something a bit off the wall." British rock's fascination with space proved fruitful. David Bowie put out the immortal "Space Oddity" mere days before Apollo 11's landing (to say nothing of "Life on Mars?" two years later), and the BBC played it, too, in its live coverage. Even as late as the early eighties, no less a rock innovator than Brian Eno, charmed by American astronauts' enthusiasm for country-western music, would craft the album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks. If we want more interesting popular music, perhaps we just need to get into space more often.

via NYTimes and BoingBoing

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

The Crimson Permanent Assurance: Monty Python’s Comic Fantasy of Revolt Against the Corporations

In art, certain themes are evergreen. They never go out of date. Among them are love, death, and the intrinsically dehumanizing nature of corporations.

In 1983 Monty Python tapped into one of the Great Themes with their short film The Crimson Permanent Assurance. It tells the story of a group of elderly accountants, "strained under the oppressive yoke of their new corporate management," who rise up against The Very Big Corporation of America and set sail on the high seas of international finance as a marauding band of pirates.

The film was originally conceived by director Terry Gilliam as an animated sequence for inclusion in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, but as the idea grew he talked the group into letting him develop it into a live-action film. The Crimson Permanent Assurance was eventually shown both on its own and as a prologue to The Meaning of Life. The title was inspired by the 1952 Burt Lancaster adventure film The Crimson Pirate. The cast is made up mostly of unknown actors, but if you watch closely you'll catch a glimpse of most of the Python members. Gilliam and Michael Palin have cameo roles as window washers, and Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman appear very briefly at the beginning of the boardroom scene.

The Crimson Permanent Assurance is a delightful little film--and just as relevant now as ever, a reminder of the utter absurdity of the claim that "corporations are people too."

You will find The Crimson Permanent Assurance added to our collection of 500 Free Movies Online.

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