Five or six years ago I spent a lot more time in the car, driving from hospital to hospital. One Sunday morning I chanced upon Krista Tippett’s On Being. The program that day was about Albert Einstein and his spiritual beliefs.
“Einstein held a deep and nuanced, if not a traditional, faith. I did not assume this at the outset. I’ve always been suspicious of the way Einstein’s famous line, “God does not play dice with the universe,” gets quoted for vastly different purposes. I wanted to understand what Einstein meant as a physicist when he said that. As it turns out, that particular quip had more to do with physics than with God, as Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies illuminate. … Einstein did, however, leave behind a rich body of reflection on the “mind” and the “superior spirit” behind the cosmos that has never made its way into popular consciousness.”
On Being is about the spiritual, not necessarily the religious – although they, of course, are intertwined. But a fair number of people she interviews are scientists — both the hard sciences and the social. Two weeks ago she spoke with Carlo Rovelli, a world-class physicist, and author. Here is a portion of their exchange:
DR. CARLO ROVELLI: A thing is something which remains equal to itself. A stone is a thing because I can ask where the stone is tomorrow, while a happening is something that is limited in space and time. A kiss is not a thing because I cannot ask, “Where is a kiss tomorrow? Where’s this kiss tomorrow?” I mean, it’s just happened now.
MS. TIPPETT: I see, OK.
DR. ROVELLI: And I think that we don’t understand the world as made by stones, by things. We understand the world made by kisses, or things like kisses — happenings.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. So, even for you, a stone seen in — with a long expanse of time and an understanding of how it became what it is. It’s a happening; not a thing.
DR. ROVELLI: Yeah. We live 100 years, but suppose we lived a billion years. A stone would be just a moment in which some sand gets together, and then it disaggregates. So it’s just a momentary getting-together of sand.
What a beautiful way to describe interdependencies, not as sterile as statistics, but equally valid. I write about science and health every week. I immerse myself in journal articles with result and discussion sections and lots of statistical analysis that frequently is meaningless to me.
Their conversation continues and includes a discussion of time that borders on physics as well as philosophy. It illuminated for me a bit more about the puzzling physics of time. And I think that is why On Being is important for those of us interested and advocating for science. It provides a moment when we can enjoy the beauty of the science and the scientific enterprise – it is a restorative. In the increasing echo-chamber of the Internet and multiple sources of information, it is worth considering taking a moment to listen to On Being – as Rovelli said, “we understand the world made by kisses.” On Being is, at least for me, one of those moments.
Note: You can download On Being as a podcast through any of the common mobile applications, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or SoundCloud among others.