Alan Lightman on the Artfulness of the Cosmos
In Conversation with Andrew Keen on the Keen On Podcast
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In this episode, Andrew is joined by Alan Lightman, author of Probable Impossibilities, to consider humankind’s role within nature and the universe as a whole.
From the episode:
Andrew Keen: What you’ve done so brilliantly in your career is bring together creativity and science. Did you know, even as a child, that the cosmos was an artful thing? Was that the residing experience of existing outside yourself?
Alan Lightman: Well, I can say that that I was very interested in the arts as a child. I wrote poetry and short stories. And I had two groups of friends: I had my science friends, and those are the people who relish doing their math homework, and then I had my art friends; those were the friends that like ambiguity and wrote for the literary magazine and so on. And I knew that there were these two different ways of being in the world and were both important, both vital. So I guess in that sense, you could say that I realized that the cosmos was artful. I wasn’t thinking that hugely when I was a child, in terms of the cosmos as a whole. But I knew there were people who were more tuned in to other people, and there were people who are more tuned in to their math homework.
You asked whether that experience that I related of getting out of my body, that it was not a scientific experience. Of course, being a scientist, I have great admiration and respect for the power of science, but I also think that there’s territory beyond science that’s very meaningful, that there are questions that science can’t answer, that we have transcendent experiences, like the one I described with the ospreys. That experience, I had a feeling that I was outside of my body. Those kinds of experiences that are not really reducible to just the firings of neurons in the brain. Even though I am a materialist, I think that everything is material, I do believe that we have experiences that are not easily understood in terms of material.
Alan Lightman is the author of six novels, including the international best seller Einstein’s Dreams, and The Diagnosis, a finalist for the National Book Award. He has taught at Harvard and at MIT, where he was the first person to receive a dual faculty appointment in science and the humanities. He is currently professor of the practice of the humanities at MIT.