Marcelo Gleiser

Marcelo Gleiser is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. He is the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College.

Gleiser is the author of the books The Prophet and the Astronomer (Norton & Company, 2003); The Dancing Universe: From Creation Myths to the Big Bang (Dartmouth, 2005); A Tear at the Edge of Creation (Free Press, 2010); and The Island of Knowledge (Basic Books, 2014). He is a frequent presence in TV documentaries and writes often for magazines, blogs and newspapers on various aspects of science and culture.

He has authored over 100 refereed articles, is a Fellow and General Councilor of the American Physical Society and a recipient of the Presidential Faculty Fellows Award from the White House and the National Science Foundation.

13.7: Cosmos And Culture
10:48 am
Wed December 17, 2014

Black Holes And Our Cosmic Future


Originally published on Thu December 18, 2014 10:06 am

With the movies Interstellar and The Theory of Everything out, black holes are in the news, exciting people's imagination.

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
12:16 pm
Wed December 10, 2014

Space, Time, Love And Stephen Hawking

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in 2006.

Stephen Hawking is the world's most famous scientist. I can't think of another example of a scientist who has had so many headlines and, now, a biographic movie while still alive.

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
7:53 am
Wed December 3, 2014

A Quest For The Unattainable Unification Of Knowledge


In his recent book, The Meaning of Human Existence, the celebrated evolutionary biologist, entomologist and essayist Edward Wilson sets off to chart a possible path toward the unification of the sciences and the humanities — taking off from his 1998 book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. If we are successful, claims Wilson, we should arrive at a deeply transformative understanding of the meaning of our existence.

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:14 am
Wed November 19, 2014

The Little Comet Probe That Could

This combination photo produced with different images shows Philae after landing on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Even with all the drama — and now the prolonged silence, possibly permanent — the European Space Agency's (ESA) mission to land a fridge-sized probe on a comet zipping at about 80,000 miles per hour, some 300 million miles from Earth, was a resounding success. This first ever comet landing has captivated the world as very few events in the history — certainly the recent history — of space exploration have.

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
11:07 am
Thu November 13, 2014

The Science Of 'Interstellar'

Actor Matthew McConaughey poses with a model spacecraft at the premiere of the film Interstellar in October.
Joel Ryan AP

Originally published on Thu November 13, 2014 8:06 pm

Every child must leave home one day — but rarely because he has destroyed his home.

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:49 am
Wed November 5, 2014

Despite Disasters, Explore We Must

File photo of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo.
Reed Saxon AP

The crash of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo over the Mojave Desert last Friday, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injuring pilot Peter Siebold, has renewed discussions on the value of commercial space exploration. Should we continue to do this at the unavoidable cost of human life? Is this simply a moneymaking enterprise so that a few people that can afford the $250,000 price tag can float for a few minutes at the edge of Earth's atmosphere?

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
7:51 am
Wed October 22, 2014

The Void Is A Busy Place

A computer-generated image of the distribution of matter in the nearby universe, as determined by means of galaxy motions in the region.

Originally published on Wed October 22, 2014 1:46 pm

At least when it comes to physical reality, which I define here as that which exists in the cosmos, there is no such thing as complete emptiness.

Quite the opposite, it seems that the more we learn about nature, the busier space becomes. We can, of course, contemplate the idea of a metaphysical emptiness, a complete void where there is nothing, what some people like to call absolute nothingness. But these are concepts we make up, not necessarily things that exist. In fact, calling nothingness a "thing" automatically makes it into a something, a curious paradox.

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:11 am
Wed October 15, 2014

The Never-Ending Climb Of Mount Science

Alexandru Sava iStockphoto

The other day, I was giving a public lecture when someone asked me a question that I wish people would ask me more often: "Professor: Why are you a scientist?"

I answered that I couldn't do anything else, that I considered it a privilege to dedicate my life to teaching and research. But what's really special in this profession, to me at least, is that it allows us the space to create something new, something that will make us matter. It gives us an opportunity to engage with the "mystery," as Albert Einstein called our attraction to the unknown:

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:07 am
Wed October 8, 2014

Superintelligence: Triumph Or Threat?

Originally published on Wed October 8, 2014 9:59 am

I recently started reading Superintelligence, a new book by Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom, who is also director of the Future of Humanity Institute. (Now, that's a really cool job title.)

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
11:48 am
Wed October 1, 2014

Should We Live Life, Or Capture It?


Originally published on Wed October 1, 2014 7:10 pm

A recent article in The New York Times explores the explosive wave of smartphone recordings of events, from the most meaningful to the most trivial.

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
10:54 am
Wed September 24, 2014

A Liberal Arts Curriculum In 2 Minutes

ESO/Sergey Stepanenko

Originally published on Wed September 24, 2014 11:44 am

Some of you may have seen "Our Story in 2 Minutes," a 2012 video edited by Joe Bush and with music from Zack Hemsey. As of this writing, it had more than 17.2 million views on YouTube from people all over the world. If you haven't seen it, here is your chance:

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:11 am
Wed September 17, 2014

If We Create Life, Who Will Control It?

Genetically modified soybeans from a farm in southern Brazil.

Originally published on Wed September 17, 2014 3:20 pm

Perhaps I shouldn't have used a conditional in the title. After all, we are already creating life.

Recently, Craig Venter, from the J. Craig Venter Institute, announced the creation of a living, self-reproducing bacterial cell with a DNA sequence produced in the laboratory. According to Laurie Garrett's article in Foreign Affairs late last year, the creature "moved, ate, breathed, and replicated itself."

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
3:48 pm
Wed September 10, 2014

Science And Spirituality: Could It Be?


Originally published on Thu September 11, 2014 2:52 pm

It was the Roman poet Lucretius, writing around 50 B.C., who famously proclaimed reason as a tool to achieve individual freedom, as a means of breaking free from superstitions that enslave the human mind:

"This dread and darkness of the mind cannot be dispelled by the sunbeams, the shining shafts of the day, but only by an understanding of the outward form and inner workings of nature."

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
8:36 am
Wed September 3, 2014

The Challenge Of Betting On A Scientific Idea

A view of the Large Hadron Collider in its tunnel at CERN in Switzerland.
Martial Trezzini AP

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 10:43 am

Given that science is believed to be about certainty, betting on a scientific idea sounds like an oxymoron.

Yet scientists bet on ideas all the time, even if mostly for jest. Of course, this only makes sense before we have any data pointing toward the correctness of the disputed hypothesis.

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
11:43 am
Wed August 20, 2014

Soft Immortality: Would You Do It?


Originally published on Wed August 20, 2014 1:46 pm

Mortality is humanity's blessing and its curse.

Because we are aware of the passage of time, because we know that one day we won't be here — and neither will everyone we love (and everybody else) — we have always searched for an answer to this most painful of mysteries: Why do we die?

However painful death is, to many people immortality is not any better. Why would someone immortal want to live? Where would his or her drive come from?

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
1:22 pm
Wed August 13, 2014

We Don't Need To Be Created To Be Relevant


Originally published on Wed August 13, 2014 2:42 pm

The origin of life remains one of the most challenging open questions in science.

We don't know (yet) how lifeless molecules self-organized to become a living entity. We do know it happened at least here on Earth some 3.5 billion years ago, possibly earlier. Perhaps "self-organized" is the wrong word, as it gives the impression that there was some kind of intention, that life is a cosmic goal and not an accident.

Read more
13.7: Cosmos And Culture
7:44 am
Wed July 30, 2014

No End In Sight? No Problem!

All of our scientific tools have limits. These limits ensure that we will never see the whole picture. We can never have complete knowledge of the universe. Above, the ESO's APEX radio telescope probes the heavens from its lonely perch on Chile's Chajnantor plateau.
Gordon Gillet ESO

Last week, I came across George Johnson's piece for The New York Times, "Beyond Energy, Matter, Time and Space," where he writes, in his usually engaging style, about two recent books with opposite viewpoints concerning what we can and cannot know of the world.

Read more