SPP: Most kids at one point in their life, whether it be watching Star Wars, Star Trek, or just looking into the night sky looking up at the stars, have thought a lot about science, physics and the unknown. However, most of us leave it at that and just leave it at pure wonder. At what point did you become interested in physics and science? Was there an epiphany that you had?
Dr. Krauss: One of the ways I became interested in science is by reading books by scientist and about scientist when I was a kid. I remember I read a book about Galilee when I was a little kid and it got me excited by the idea of science and the current required time trying to understand the universe, books by people like Albert Einstein and George Kataloff. That’s one of the reasons why I write books kind of to return the favor. I have to say that when a young person comes and tells me a book of mine caused them to become a scientist now, it just happened because some of my books are 20 years old now, it’s an incredible gift. It’s a really, really wonderful thing to know that you have influenced someone in that way. My mother actually wanted me to be a doctor and it was only in high school that I guess she told me doctors were scientists. I got interested in science and then I discovered in high school I guess that being a doctor wasn’t the same thing as being a scientist. I guess by then I was already hooked on science.
SPP: Do you think that when it comes to science the American education system is failing our children?
Dr. Krauss: Well it’s failing many children. I think the good kids do very well but they generally would do well in any system I guess. We don’t do a good job of teaching science because you’ve got to understand in certain if you look at the public school system in this country and especially medical school science today, a large percentage 80% to 90% of those teachers don’t have a training in science. So they’re uncomfortable with science and they’re conveying that to the students. We have to work on that. We have to get people more comfortable teaching science in the classroom.
The problem is that people with a science background tend to be able to get jobs elsewhere and we don’t pay our teachers enough, so it’s a sort of chicken and egg problem I think. The other thing is we’re so bent on teaching kids facts so that we don’t really teach them the process of science. If you ask me what I really want kids to understand I don’t care if they understand all the facts of science because they’ll get a lot of that later on, I want them to understand how we question the world or how to tell something’s false, or how we distinguish truth from nonsense. Those are things that are useful and they’re also going to be useful to them the rest of their lives and it’s one of the great gifts of science.
I think we spend more time on process experience and joy and having fun instead of being uncomfortable and it’s a big problem. I mean it’s easy to say what the problems are it’s harder to think of solutions. One of the ways I’ve advocated and we’re trying to do this through the Origins project is to teach science on questions rather than answers. Kids get this idea that science was done 200 years ago by dead white men. That’s not the way it is it’s an ongoing thing and the same questions that were happening then in many ways are happening now.
There’s lots of exciting unknown mysteries about the universe that relate to the very things that people are interested in. How do we get here? Where are we going? Where did I come from? What’s the universe made of? Is there life elsewhere? The kind of questions that kids are excited about but they don’t think of them. They learn about sliding down incline plains or something boring. So they don’t realize that those exciting questions are not only science but things that they can address and they can actually understand. I think if we work more towards that we’d do everyone a service.
SPP: That was actually a thought/question I had for you earlier was that do you think that it’s because to many kids science seems so difficult to grasp that they eventually just kind of give up on it and take something that’s easier to go with?
Dr. Krauss: Well yeah. I mean that’s a part of the problem too. In fact one of the things I once said when there was a big financial crisis and crash a few years ago was the one good thing that would come out of it is all the good students wouldn’t be going into the finance. Because you’ve got all these kids that are saying “Look I can and become an investment banker on Wall Street with frankly not needing to know a lot. I have to work long hours but there’s not the same intellectual baggage required to be able to do it. Why should I take a degree in engineering or science, which require a fair amount of input and then I’ll earn a fair living when I can make a killing on Wall Street?”
So I think it is true that there is more of an investment required in a number of these fields. I think we’ve also divorced science of culture that somehow we don’t think of science as something that the cultured person should know and it’s unfortunate. So even the good students many of them say “Oh my brain doesn’t work that way. I don’t need to know any science.” Unfortunately we let that go but we wouldn’t if they didn’t know anything about Shakespeare we wouldn’t call them, cultured. So I think there’s this fact that, let’s face it, there are certain thresholds that of course are some mathematics required and a lot of science.
There’s a lot you can understand without that. I think we want to ask ourselves what should an educated person know someone who’s not going to be a scientist. We tend to unfortunately teach physics and other things as if we’re trying to phone scientist, but we’re not we’re just trying to get people who may never decide to get in their lives some appreciation. If we change that then we’ll change our expectations for all we need them to know. We can do a lot of fun things without mastering things. You don’t have to master all of science.
That’s what I think of when I think of that’s one of the reasons people aren’t interested in science they say “Well it’s too hard.” The point is you tend you think you have to be a scientist to understand and appreciate science. We don’t say you have to be a musician to enjoy music or a painter to enjoy art. We basically say “Look without being an expert you can appreciate it and enjoy it.” I’d like more of that for science.
SPP: For those that aren’t aware you base a lot of your works and everything around, and you specialize I think in creation of the earth and the early universe and things like that.
Dr. Krauss: Well before the earth yes.
SPP: Okay correct. You have fought to keep evolution as part of their curriculum in school. Does it bother you that, perhaps this is just my opinion, but parents and teachers oftentimes neglect teaching kids about the early universe and evolution? They have no problem teaching their kids about the religious aspect of how we came to be here and man and the creation of the earth.
Dr. Krauss: Oh of course it’s ridiculous. It’s just ludicrous. There was a recent study that just came out that said that I think it was only 20% of high school teachers teach evolution as a basis of modern biology in spite of the fact that there’s supposed to. It’s a tragedy. It’s one of the most beautiful scientific and significant scientific ideas that’s ever been developed. It describes life on earth and helps us understand an incredible amount. The fact that we turn our backs on this it’s just literally a tragedy, of course it upsets me.
It’s one of the reasons I spend a lot of time trying to defend it, mostly because people miss out. It’s just people miss out on the beauty of the universe by being afraid of reality. If they are afraid of reality how can we expect to compete as a nation against a world of people you are technologically literate if we take our kids and try to keep them illiterate, scientifically illiterate anyway.
SPP: You mentioned the beauty of the universe, I don’t think that many people truly understand just how big the universe is, and how you’ve explained before that the universe is expanding. Can you go into a little bit about what you’ve said there on the expansion and just how big the universe is?
Dr. Krauss: Well I mean the universe is so large that the most amazing things happen all the time even if they’re extremely rate. Stars explode once per 100 years per galaxy. As I’ve often said every atom in your body comes from a star, in fact many stars of atoms in your left hand come from a different though than your right hand, because in order to get in your body all of those atoms are made in stars. So every atom of your body has experienced the most cataclysmic explosion in nature – a supernova.
So there’s so many stars there’s more than one happens every second in the universe. There’s a hundred billion stars in our galaxy. They’re over a hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. It’s almost unfathomable. As a result the universe is about 14 billion years old and therefore almost 30 billon light years across. That means when we look at objects that are 10 billion light years away we’re looking at the light that was admitted 10 billion years ago. So there’s five billion years before our sun even formed.
It’s amazing and because of that vastness the most incredible things can happen. The universe is so big as I say that even the rarest most unexpected things are happening all the time as we look out. Every time we open a new window on the universe we’re surprised and enlightened. It’s just an amazing place. What saddens me is that the excitement of the real universe is so much more exciting than the myth people convey about university. That if people just understood what was going on and saw the pictures of Novus based telescope and of the kinds of things that are going on. The things that are beyond the wildest dreams of humans are happening all the time.
SPP: How did we come to the I guess realization of how old the universe is? How old the earth is?
Dr. Krauss: Well I mean there’s lots of independent ways to determine the age of the universe. One of the simplest ways is that the universe is expanding and if you work backwards and ask how fast it’s expanding and you work backwards you come out with the universe, which is still 10 to 15 billion years old. If you’ve been going between Phoenix and Tucson and you’re traveling 60 miles an hour and you’ve gone two hours or you have a 120 miles. So if I measure your car traveling 60 miles per hour and I see you’re a 120 miles away I can say you’ve been traveling for two hours.
Well we do that with galaxies we measure their speed, we see how far away they are and we know how long it took them to get there from the big bang instead of one rough way. The earth we can date from, not only radioactive materials and geological formations, but in fact we can determine the age of the sun. Which is formed around the same time by building stars on a computer which we can do and running them just finding out exactly how long it takes for them to look exactly like the sun. We find that it’s 4.55 billion years. It’s one estimate that all the estimates come in at exactly the same number. It’s four and a half billion years is the age of the solar system and the universe we now know is 13.72 billion years old where all the decimal places are significant. That’s amazing that we can determine the age of the universe to that accuracy.
Again it’s not just from one technique it’s from many, many different techniques and they all agree. There’s no doubt about it some people get the sense that the Big Bang is controversial or that the age of the universe is controversial it’s not and they’re not. It really happened, we know it, and all the data is consistent. We know in some sense more about the universe than we know about ourselves.
SPP: Which is incredible when you think about it.
Dr. Krauss: It is. It is.
SPP: I was just curious what current developments in your field that you’re really excited about now.
Dr. Krauss: Well the discovery of dark energy is the most exciting thing in my field and also may be the most important mystery in physics if not all of science the fact that the energy of the universe, the dominant energy of the universe resides an empty space and we have no idea why it’s there. It will determine the future of the universe so it’s kind of an amazing mystery and extremely exciting.
SPP: I know for a lot of us we don’t understand kind of dark matter, I guess dark energy. Could you help us understand that a little bit?
Dr. Krauss: Yeah sure. Well the theory that describes the evolution of the universe is Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity that tells you that space responds to the presence of matter and energy by expanding or contracting or curving. The amazing thing is if you put energy in empty space that means you get rid of all the particles and the radiation and everything else you have, nothing but empty space and yet that empty space weighs something. It’s gravitating to your repulsive it’s not like the rest of everything else in the universe which is attractive.
What we’ve discovered is that the expansion of the universe is speeding up and the universe is expanding faster and faster because there’s this repulsive energy dominating the universe. So there’s three times as much energy in nothing as there is in all of the energy associated with all the galaxies and stars that we see. And even that isn’t everything because the galaxy and stars are visible matters of galaxy and stars is only about 5% of all the matter in galaxies, but 95% of the matter in galaxies is stuff we can’t see which we call Dr. Matter when we think of some new type of elementary particle.
So you add up all the matter and dark matter it adds up to 30% of the energy in the universe, but 70% resides in the empty space between galaxies. We think it’s there due to quantum mechanics but we don’t understand it, we don’t know how to calculate it and it is indeed the biggest mystery in science.
SPP: I wanted to ask you about the book you wrote “Quantum Man” which is about Richard Feynman. Dr. Krauss: It just comes out this month in fact.
SPP: Oh great okay. Then we’ll make sure to put a link to that on our site.
Dr. Krauss: Great.
SPP: Because I know when I was in college I took a science class and we actually had to read one of Richard Feynman’s book and I can’t remember the exact one. I’ll never forget a story where he talked about how a microwave works. At the time I didn’t know how it worked I’d gone my whole life using them and didn’t understand it.
Dr. Krauss: Ah that’s great.
SPP: Yeah it was one of the first times I was really like wow that’s a cool explanation of something in science. So I wanted to know why you chose to write about Feynman and what was your favorite aspect of his work?
Dr. Krauss: Well I chose to write about him because well I was asked to actually. There was a series called “Great Discoveries” biographies of well known scientists throughout the years. I was thrilled to be able to ask to do it because for me like most other scientists Feynman is kind of an idle. We look up to him. He was certainly the most significant physicist in perhaps the second half of the 20th Century an incredible teacher and charismatic individual as well.
So when I was asked I thought great I can read all those papers, which most people don’t realize that we tend to not read the original papers of scientists because that’s just not the way science works. It gets refined and resolved in the original papers or often not as easy to read. So I thought this would be a chance for me to read all those papers which would be fun. What’s fun for me was learning about some of the things that he did that I never knew about his discussion to super fluidity and liquid helium. The real heart of the book and the reason it’s called “Quantum Man” is that Richard Feynman changed the way we think about quantum mechanics and the way we understand quantum mechanics.
So he’s changed the way we really think about the universe. I wanted to be able to convey that to people because it’s so remarkable and it really captures the weird and whacky aspects of the quantum universe that really nothing else does. He’s really admirable and the way he discovered things, I mean what I tried to do is explain the science that’s seen through the author’s life. There’s a lot of books and biographies of him, sort of anecdotal biographies, but nothing explaining a science which of course is essential to his being. So as someone said as Austrian Noble Prize Winner he said “This is a set of immune science discovery this is a biography find one would like.”
SPP: You mentioned earlier how all living things, I think it was all living things, are compromised from matter from stars.
Dr. Krauss: Everything on earth, everything we can see on earth, not just living things but non living things.
Dr. Krauss: Every atom that makes up the earth essentially the carbon, the nitrogen, the oxygen, the iron, all the important stuff that was only made in the center of stars that exploded.
SPP: Wow that’s just I can’t even grasp that.
Dr. Krauss: We’re all Stardust. It’s really amazing at the beginning of time the only elements that existed were hydrogen, or near the beginning of time, were hydrogen, helium and lithium. The rest of it the only place it could be created was in the fiery furnaces, nuclear furnaces of stars that burned and died over the years so that we could be born. Although a course of the Milky Way history about 200 million died, stars have died so that we could be born, as I like to say. So I said in something “Forget Jesus, stars died so you would be born.” It is truly one of the most poetic things I know about the universe. The atoms in your left hand could come from a different stars in your right hand which is great.
SPP: How do you think we need to use science and logic in the way that people that you have to go about proving things as a guide to our thinking and our morals, and basically how we should act as humans?
Dr. Krauss: Well I think without science we can’t be moral in a sense because to act morally we have to understand the consequences of our actions. The only way to really understand them is with science is empirical understanding of the universe around us to know how the world works, being able to predict what will happen if we do some action.
So in some sense the process of empiricism, which is really the heart of science, is really the heart of morality too because we really can’t even know what’s right and wrong without knowing how the universe really works. If you lock someone in a room and never know anything about the universe it’ll be very difficult to have a consistent moral framework. I think that science and rationality together combine to help us in a vast majority of cases divide what’s right and wrong.
SPP: Yeah that’s a great way of putting it. Forgive me for this next question. I feel like you probably know the most about the universe out of anyone I’ll ever speak to so I kind of have to ask. What do you think about the possibility of aliens?
Dr. Krauss: Well I’d be very surprised if the universe wasn’t full of them. There’s 400 billion stars in our galaxy and 400 billion galaxies in the observable universe and that’s a lot of stars. Most of the stars have planets around them we discovering. So it’s a lot of solar systems. Since life on earth began about as soon as it could have given the laws of physics within a few hundred million years of years formation it’s hard for me to imagine that that process hasn’t occurred elsewhere or is occurring elsewhere. At the same time, it’s a big universe therefore even if life exists elsewhere in the universe it’s not obvious to me we’ll ever know about it unfortunately.
SPP: Last question I had for you. You speak at a lot of events, you’re a professor, what do you find people, or particularly students, are most interested in? What lecture kind of grabs their attention the most?
Dr. Krauss: Well it depends on the time. I give a lot of different lectures, as you say, and it’s sometimes depends on the client, sometimes when I talk about science and politics in the political year that’s important. When there’s a Star Trek movie out is when I talk about Star Trek. On the whole the most popular lecture that’s been available to the public is certainly a lecture I get called The Universe from Nothing. I think about 700,000 people have watched it on YouTube.
SPP: Yep I’m one of them.
Dr. Krauss: In fact it’s so important that I just finished on Sunday the new book that I’ve just written “The Universe from Nothing” it’ll come out a year from now based on that lecture. I think it’s a lot of fun. It expands some stuff in the lecture and I’m very pleased with it. As I say it’s less than a day old in terms of being completed.
SPP: Wow then we get to be the first ones. You heard it here first folks. We’ll be sure to put up a link to the video on YouTube. As you mentioned it’s The Universe from Nothing and it’s fantastic. I have to recommend it to everyone.
Dr. Krauss: Well thanks. Then yeah link it up and you can say the book’s coming out next year.
SPP: Definitely we’ll do that. Well I know we’ve taken up enough of your time but again thank you so much. We’re so appreciative to get to talk to you.
Dr. Krauss: No problem. You can give me the link whenever your podcast. Okay. SPP: Will do.
Dr. Krauss: Great.
SPP: Thanks Dr. Krauss.
Dr. Krauss: Thanks