June 01, 2009

AWRF 2009: Marcus Chown


Marcus Chown is the author of Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You and the only guest at the Festival whose media release doesn’t contain his picture.  He wears a t-shirt, jeans and trainers and is neither nerdy nor scary. He is able to speak very rapidly and keep a quizzical tone at the same time. If he were a particle, this superimposition of states would make him a schizophrenic entities quantum bit, or qubit. I learned this from reading his book.

My favourite piece was about why the night sky is black. It's not because the sun is on the other side of the earth. Think about it. On all sides of us the universe contains quadrillions of stars as bright or brighter than the sun. The reason the night sky is black is because the universe was only born 13.7 billion years ago, so the light from stars more than 13.7 billion light years away (the majority of them) simply hasn't reached us yet.

"Ever since the dawn of human history," Chown writes, "the fact that the Universe had a beginning has been staring us in the face in the darkness of the night sky. We have simply been too stupid to realise it."

That our Universe was born has always been impossible for me to comprehend even though I know it is so. I remember as a kid, lying in bed at night, trying to realise it, concentrating hard in a semi-pleasurable, semi-tormenting sort of tickling bout of the brain. The same thing with reading these books. Atoms can be in two places at the same time.  Nothing can catch up with light, even though its speed is not infinite. Maybe there is only one electron in the whole universe, just moving incredibly fast.

What I really like about Marcus Chown, in his book and even more so when I got to speak to him in person, is the way he is sincerely happy about all those things out there which we cannot explain because we simply lack the language to do so.  "I find it exciting”, he says to me. “The universe we’ve discovered is far stranger than anything we could have invented or imagined."

Will we ever know the answer to the question, where did our Universe came from? Not only is Marcus Chown absolutely sure we will, but you won’t believe what he says about when.

Read the whole conversation at the top of the Crowne Plaza Hotel (from which we descended a little less old than had we been down with the festival-goers at the ASB).

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 02:30
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