Lawrence Krauss on Seeing What’s Really There

October 26, 2017

Lawrence Krauss gave us the first formal presentation of CSICon 2017, and it really did set just the right tone and frame a good mindset for this whole weekend. He opened with a quote from J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine, “The hardest thing of all to see is what is really there.” And this is certainly true, particularly in the context of the very human penchant for denying some of the more difficult or less scrutable realities.

But what I took away from Krauss’s talk had less to do with accepting unappealing truths, and more to do with appreciating how the process of asking questions and investigation can open up countless avenues of discovery, “seeing what is really there” both in the sense of finding the utterly unexpected as well as the confirmation of the predictions of science.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend I understood every bit of physics eloquently and passionately described by Krauss, but I did find Krauss’s enthusiasm infectious as he laid out the astounding implications of phenomena observed and theories proven.

He talked about neutrinos, those subatomic particles that are constantly careening through the universe (Krauss advised we take tonight to ponder how they are right now shooting through our walls, our beds, and our bodies), that are responsible for the fact that the matter and antimatter after the Big Bang didn’t result in a universe devoid of anything other than radiation.

He talked about the sun, and how asking questions about its nature leads us to understand why we human beings, and all other things, exist. “Stars died so you could be here,” he reminded us. “You are connected to the universe in an immediate way.”

We even learned that gold is the result of neutron stars colliding. Imagine how many neutron stars were sacrificed for Trump’s apartment! (I’m sorry, I should have left Trump out of the second post. I’ll do better, I promise.)

And it all came down to an incredibly simple principle. “If we’re willing to go where nature takes us, even if it’s somewhere we don’t wanna go,” we are given the opportunity to find “the poetry of reality.” Rather than stubbornly cling to old beliefs that at first blush seem more pleasant (or “believe in all the garbage”) we get to experience the awe and wonder of the universe for what it truly is.

It just so happens that the reality of the universe we inhabit is, all on its own, full of wonder and beauty and complexity. It didn’t need to be, but really, I suspect we’d find it to have all those qualities anyway, because, well, it’s what we are.

A commitment to following the threads wherever they might lead. “That’s what makes a conference like this so great,” said Krauss. That’s a good thing to remember.