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A Physicist Explains Why Parallel Universes May Exist
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Our interview today is about discoveries in physics and cosmology, but
it may sound more like an episode of this.
(Soundbite of television program, "The Twilight Zone")
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. ROD SERLING (Writer/Narrator): You're traveling to another
dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind, a
journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.
At the signpost up ahead: Your next stop, the twilight zone.
GROSS: If "The Twilight Zone" expanded your notions of reality, wait
'til you hear what Brian Greene has to say. His new book is about
parallel worlds, the theory that our universe might be one of several
universes. Our universe may be just part of a multiverse.
Although the idea of hidden realities may sound like science fiction, it
comes out of very advanced mathematics. Brian Greene is a professor of
physics and mathematics at Columbia University. He's conducted important
research on string theory and wrote a bestselling book explaining string
theory, called "The Elegant Universe." It was the basis of a PBS series
and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Green's book "The Fabric of the
Cosmos" was also a bestseller.
Brian Greene, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
Professor BRIAN GREENE (Author, "The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes
and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos"): Thank you.
GROSS: So does everyone compare the concept of multiple universes to an
episode of "The Twilight Zone"?
Prof. GREENE: You know, not everyone, but it certainly is the case that
the science we're talking about is touching upon things that science
fiction has explored, has made use of, in a great many different
So the kinds of science we're talking about is, in some way, bordering
along science fiction.
GROSS: And that's what makes it sound both possible and absolutely
impossible to me at the same time. Possible because I've heard that
story in fiction and impossible because that's fiction.
Prof. GREENE: But the wonderful thing about fiction is, if you look at
some of the ideas that have come out of science fiction, oftentimes they
are just ahead of their time. It's fiction in the time that the piece is
written, but some science fiction becomes science fact.
GROSS: So I'm having a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around the
concept of parallel universes because it seems like a contradiction in
terms. As you point out in the book, I mean, I thought universe meant
everything. I thought the universe was infinite, and that infinite was
beyond any amount that you could possible imagine: Everything,
everything, everything was included in infinite. So how can there be
more than one of those?
Prof. GREENE: Well, to some extent, it is a question of language. If you
define the universe as truly being absolutely everything, then you're
right, to talk about more than one universe would be a contradiction in
The reason why we have introduced a new term called the multiverse -
which basically means multiple universes - is because as we have studied
physics ever more deeply, we have found that what we have long thought
to be everything is only a small part of a grander whole, only one piece
of a much wider cosmos. And to really kind of communicate that idea,
we've introduced this new terminology that our universe is just one of
many universes populating, possibly, a grander multiverse.
GROSS: And when you talk about many universes, there's lots of different
theories about what those universes might look like, right?
Prof. GREENE: Yes, the wonderful thing about the subject is that there's
not one monolithic notion of what a multiverse would be. As we have
studied a whole variety of different areas of physics, from relativity,
quantum mechanics, cosmology, unified physics, it seems to be the case
that whenever we follow the mathematics of these deep theories
sufficiently far, we bump into one or another variety of parallel
And to me what makes it so compelling is, it's not that we physicists
are sitting at our desks saying what kind of crazy idea can we introduce
into science now - it's not like that at all. What we're doing is
sitting at our desks, trying to do what we always do, which is trying to
understand the universe, come up with theories that can describe our
observations, our data. And when we follow those theories far enough, we
come across some version that our universe is one of many.
GROSS: Okay, so in one model of parallel universes, of a multiverse, in
one model, I am interviewing you right now in another universe.
Prof. GREENE: Absolutely.
GROSS: What's that model?
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: And how's interview going there?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. GREENE: Well, I hope it's going well. But there are a couple of
variations on the multiverse theme, which would be compatible with that
idea. The simplest is basically the idea that you began with, that our
universe may be infinitely big, that is, space may go on forever. And if
that's the case, it turns out that you can establish, using pretty basic
mathematics, that there's only a finite number of different ways that
matter can arrange itself.
So if you have an infinite expanse with only a finite number of
different possibilities, the possibilities have to repeat. I mean, if
you think about having a deck of cards, when you shuffle that deck,
there are just so many different orderings that can happen.
So if you shuffle that deck enough times, the orders will have to
repeat. Similarly, with an infinite universe and only a finite number of
different complexions of matter, the way in which matter arranged itself
has to repeat.
So our collection of matter right now, with you interviewing me, that is
repeating itself out there in the cosmos.
GROSS: But isn't that a kind of Earth-o-centric notion of infinity,
that, like, space is endless, but the ways that matter can organize
itself is finite? I mean, if space is endless, isn't there matter beyond
our comprehension? Aren't there particles or ways of organizing
particles beyond our comprehension?
Prof. GREENE: You are right. There are potential loopholes to this way
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. GREENE: We are definitely imagining that the physics that we have
understood here on Earth does apply everywhere throughout the cosmos.
And the reason we believe that is when we look out as far as we can in
the cosmos, and that's pretty far, we can look out billions and billions
of light-years from Earth, very, very far away, everything we see seems
to be describable using the laws of physics that we humans have been
able to develop.
And what we're basically saying is: Let's therefore extrapolate and
assume that those laws really do work everywhere and, really, everywhen.
If that's the case, then the reasoning that yields this idea that matter
must repeat is something that's a consequence of that mathematics.
GROSS: On the other hand, isn't there another theory of the multiverse
that says in other universes, there are different laws governing matter
and space and time and gravity? There might be principles we don't even
Prof. GREENE: Yes, there's another variation on the multiverse theme
that comes from our thinking about cosmology, the origin and the
evolution of the universe, that those yield a somewhat more robust
version of the multiverse than the one that we're describing.
And it's coming from something called inflationary cosmology. Now, most
people have heard of the big bang theory, this idea of how our universe
began and a very, very small nugget that, about 13.7 billion years ago,
erupted with space and time being flung outwards, matter and energy
coalescing into stars and galaxies over the course of billions of years
of cosmic evolution.
But the thing that we don't often stress enough about big-bang cosmology
is the big bang leaves out the bang. The big bang theory does not tell
us anything about what actually happened at time zero itself. It doesn't
tell us what caused that explosion, that outward push, to happen.
And this new theory, inflationary cosmology, is what fills in that
detail. It tells us that there was a configuration of energy in the
early, early moments of the universe that could give rise to something
that sounds very strange, something called repulsive gravity.
We're all used to that gravity is attractive: You let go of something,
it falls to the Earth. Earth pulls things toward it. But there's a kind
of gravity that does the reverse. Repulsive gravity pushes outwards. And
we believe that in the early, early universe, repulsive gravity was in
operation, and that repulsive push is what drove everything apart.
And the reason I bring this all up is when we study that repulsive push
in detail, we find that it's not a one-time event, the kind of big-bang
outward push. There could be many big bangs, many outward pushes at
various and far-flung places throughout this wider cosmos, giving rise
to different universes. It's like a cosmic bubble bath of universes. Our
universe is one bubble in this big cosmic bubble bath.
GROSS: So there are lots and lots of big bangs. One bang led to another
bang, to another bang, and each of those bangs created a different
Prof. GREENE: Yes, exactly, and to get back to your original question,
when you study those universes in a little bit more mathematical detail,
you do find that their features can differ widely.
They don't have to have the same kind of particles. We know about
electrons and quarks, protons and neutrons. Those are the kinds of
particles we are familiar with, and those other big-bang universes, they
don't have to have those particles. They don't have the forces that we
know about, the electromagnetic and the nuclear forces, for instance.
They may not be in operation in those universes. Other forces, instead,
may take their place.
GROSS: So in this repeating big bang theory, I am not interviewing you
in another universe.
Prof. GREENE: Well, it doesn't rule out that there could be other bubble
universes in which the laws are very similar, maybe identical to ours.
So we could in fact be having this conversation out there. But it allows
for a wider variety of possibilities because the laws can, in principle,
GROSS: Now, you said something that really baffles me. You said: When we
study those universes in mathematical detail - what do you mean by that?
I mean, we don't even know those universes exist. So when you says when
we study them in mathematical detail, what are you talking about?
Prof. GREENE: Well, that is a confusing idea, I think, for people who
don't actually engage in the kind of research that I'm talking about
because what we do is we sit down with equations, equations that
describe space and time, equations that describe how matter can move
through space and time.
And using those mathematical equations, we can get a sense of what it
would be like to be in one of those other universes, even if we can't
actually visit or see or interact with that universe in any real sense.
That's the power of mathematics.
And I have to say, underlying everything that we're talking about, in
fact underlying everything I do with my entire life, pretty much, is a
firm belief that mathematics is a sure-footed guide to how reality
works. If that's wrong, then all bets are off.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Brian Greene. He's a
professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University. He's author
of the very popular books "The Elegant Universe" and "The Fabric of the
Cosmos." His new book is called "The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes
and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos." Let's take a short break here. Then
we'll be back and talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Okay, if you're just joining us, my guest is Brian Greene, and he
is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia. He's also a very
popular writer. He's written a couple of bestsellers about cosmology.
And his new book is called "The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and
the Deep Laws of the Cosmos."
Earlier in our conversation about the multiverse, the idea that there
are parallel universes, our universe is not the only universe. You were
describing how, in one model of the multiverse, everything that we are
doing now is happening in another universe. So the interview that we're
doing now is happening in another universe. What is the theory that
backs up that model of the multiverse?
Prof. GREENE: Well, there are two. I mean, one is, I wouldn't quite call
it a theory per se, but it's the notion that space may go on for
infinity. And that fits within the general theory of relativity, which
is Einstein's theory of gravity, which is the force most relevant on the
largest scales of the cosmos.
And according to that theory, the universe could be, doesn't have to be,
but it could be infinitely big. It could also be that if you head out
into space, you might sort of circumnavigate the cosmos and return to
your starting point, much like what would happen if you walked on the
surface of the Earth in one fixed direction: You'd come back. You
wouldn't keep on going forever in one direction.
If that's the case, then space wouldn't be infinite, and the ideas that
we're talking about wouldn't be true.
There is another way that you can come to the conclusion that variations
of this conversation are having a realization out there in the cosmos.
And that comes from a theory called quantum mechanics, a completely
different set of laws that are not as relevant, at first sight, to the
largest things in the universe, they're relevant to the smallest things
in the universe.
GROSS: Yeah, quantum mechanics is the study of all those subatomic
particles that make up matter.
Prof. GREENE: Yes.
GROSS: And this is where, I guess, the laws of probability come in?
Prof. GREENE: That's the key idea. The sharp break from the older,
classical physics that arose when we learned about quantum mechanics, is
that in Newton's day, his way of thinking about the universe was: You
tell me how things are right now, and I will tell you with absolute
precision how they will be in a minute or five minutes or an hour from
now. It was absolutely, definitive predictions.
Quantum mechanics came along in the early part of the 20th century and
said: Actually, that idea is only approximate. That idea is not fully
correct. When you study the universe with greater precision, you learn
that you can't make those kind of definitive statements. The best you
can do, according to quantum mechanics, is predict the likelihood, the
probability of one outcome or another.
So if you're studying, say, the motion of a little particle like an
electron, the math of quantum mechanics might say there's a 50 percent
chance that the electron is over here and a 50 percent chance that it is
over there. And that is the best you can do in terms of delineating
where that particle will be.
Quantum mechanics says there's this inevitable portion of the world
that's described in terms of probabilities.
GROSS: And how does that connect to the idea of multiple universes?
Prof. GREENE: Well, here's the puzzle. The idea that the world is
governed by probabilities is strange enough. When you actually do these
experiments to, say, figure out where that electron is, you always find
it in one location or another.
And indeed, if the math said there was a 50 percent chance it was one
place and 50 percent at another, if you do that experiment 100 times,
then pretty much, 50 times you find it one location and 50 in the other.
So the math is borne out by the experiments.
The little dark secret that doesn't get, perhaps, as much play as it
should: When we study the mathematics of quantum mechanics, we still do
not understand how to go from the fuzzy probabilistic description that
the particle might be here, and it might be there; we don't know how to
go from that description to the single, definite, absolute reality that
we see when we do the measurement.
We never find the particle partly here and partly there. We always find
it definitely here or definitely there. How do we go from the
probabilities to the definite outcome?
People have struggled with that. They continue to struggle with that.
I've struggled with this problem.
Back in the late 1950s, a fellow named Hugh Everett suggested a radical
way to deal with this problem. He said: The idea that only one outcome
happens in a given experiment, that's just not right. He said: Follow
the math of quantum mechanics. Take it very seriously. And it is telling
us that there are two possible outcomes. The particle can be here or
Therefore, what happens is there are two universes. In one universe, the
particle here; in the other universe, it's over there. And there's a
copy of you in each universe measuring that particle and thinking,
incorrectly, that that particle's unique location is the only reality.
But, in fact, there are two of you thinking that. There are two
realities, two parallel universes.
Now, I should say when you frame this in terms of the position of
electron, it might sound kind of curious, but it also might seem, well,
not that relevant to everyday life. Who really cares about where one
electron is, here or there?
But when you take account of the fact that everything you think,
everything you do, everything you experience amounts to particles moving
around inside your body, moving around inside your brain, every aspect
of reality has to do with how particles move, what we're learning from
quantum physics, if you take the math seriously, is that every possible
reality consistent with the laws actually happens in its own separate
GROSS: Now, are you convinced by that?
Prof. GREENE: No, I'm not convinced by that, not yet. I find it the most
attractive way of dealing with this puzzle in quantum mechanics - going
from the fuzzy possibilities to the definite outcomes - but when I study
this theory in detail, mathematically, I find various holes in the
Holes is perhaps too strong a word. I find various points in the
mathematics that I'm not yet convinced that this is the right way of
dealing with the issue.
There are other physicists in the world who, if you were talking to
them, they would say: I am absolutely, positively convinced there is no
other way that this problem can be solved, this is the right answer. I
have not gotten to that point yet.
I find this a wonderfully compelling idea, but I am not a full convert.
GROSS: So, you know, we've been talking about this idea that we live in
one of several universes, there are other universes out there that we
can't detect, but the math, the very, very, very high-level math, is
showing that there really might be other universes.
When you write about this, when you do research on it, do any of your
fellow physicists or mathematicians think that you've flipped, that
you've kind of gone over to the other side? Or is this idea of a
multiverse pretty commonly accepted in your field?
Prof. GREENE: I'd say it's highly controversial, but there are a lot of
people on both sides of the aisle. It's not as though it's a fringe
theoretical study with just a small number of people thinking about the
possibility that we might be part of a multiverse. There are many
researchers, many top researchers, who are taking the idea seriously.
I mean, the reason why the people who are not fond of this idea are
critical of it is quite sensible. We're used to science giving
explanations of a different sort than a multiverse can give.
We're used to sitting down, looking at data and coming up with theories,
doing our calculations and showing that our mathematical calculations
yield the answer that agrees with what the experimenter or the
observational astronomer has found. That's the way science has
progressed for a very long time.
If we are imagining we're part of a multiverse, we're changing, in some
sense, the way in which our theory and our observations affect one
another. After all, we can't see those other universes, we can't touch
them, we can't visit them, and that is uncomfortable to many physicists
and scientists who are used to the more traditional way of doing
GROSS: But if it is true, if you and others are doing research now that
will show we live in a multiverse, not just in a universe, then you're
on the verge of a scientific revolution.
Prof. GREENE: This would be, of course, a huge revolution. It's a
revolution in a way that would complete a metarevolution that's been in
the making for five centuries.
I mean, a long time ago, we all know that we thought that the Earth was
the center of everything. Then Copernicus comes along, and we learn that
no, the Earth is going around the sun. And then later, we learn the sun
is one of many stars in our galaxy, one of hundreds of billions of stars
in our galaxy. Then we learn that our galaxy is not the only galaxy,
there are hundreds of billions of galaxies out there.
If you take the Copernican revolution further, it would suggest that
what we have long thought to be the universe might also just be one of
many universes in a grander cosmos.
GROSS: My guest, Brian Greene, will be back in the second half of the
show. His new book is called "The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and
the Deep Laws of the Cosmos." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross back with Brian Greene. We're
talking about his new book, âThe Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and
the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.â It's about new research in mathematics and
cosmology that suggests we live in a multiverse, that our universe is
just one of several. Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at
Columbia University. His book about string theory, âThe Elegant
Universe,â was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the basis of a PBS
When we left off, we were talking about different visions of a
multiverse and the theories behind them.
Is there a multiverse theory that you find most convincing?
Prof. GREENE: Itâs a great question and I think it really does speak to
what makes the whole subject of interest to me, which is as I was saying
before, you almost can't avoid having some version of multiverse arise
in your studies if you push deeply enough in the mathematical
descriptions of the physical universe. And that to me is really the
hallmark of what makes this an interesting subject.
I mean the stakes are very, very high because there are many of us
thinking about one version of parallel universe theory or another. If
it's all a lot of nonsense then there's a lot of wasted effort going
into this far-out idea. But if this idea is correct, this is a fantastic
upheaval in our understanding. Which of the ones is most likely to be
say tested in the next few years, which is the only way that I'll be
convinced of any of these is that you really can have some sort of
experimental support behind them, is a version of the multiverse that
comes from string theory.
GROSS: And thatâs your specialty.
Prof. GREENE: That's the theory that I've been working on for now 25
years. Yes. And that's a theory that is attempting to realize Einsteinâs
dream of a unified theory of physics, that is in essence one master
equation that might be able to describe the big, the small, and
everything in-between. And as we studied this theory, we have run into
the idea that everything that we know about, again everything that we
have long thought to be the universe, might actually be taking place on
a membrane. And the image that I like to have in mind is, imagine that
our universe is like one slice of bread in a much grander cosmic loaf
with the other slices of bread being other universes. It's called the
brain multiverse, and again it comes directly from the mathematics of
this attempt to realize the unified theory that Einstein sought but
GROSS: Okay. Let's backtrack just a little bit. So the unified theory
that Einstein sought and never found, thatâs a theory that would explain
both subatomic particles but also explain, like, the laws of gravity and
speed and light and the cosmos and make the large coincide with the
Prof. GREENE: Thatâs exactly right. What we have found is that in the
20th century there are two major developments in physics. One as you
mentioned, general theory of relativity, Einsteinâs theory of gravity.
It does a fantastic job for big things, stars and galaxies and so forth.
The other development we were talking about, quantum mechanics, and it
does a fantastic job at the other end of the spectrum for small things -
molecules, atoms and subatomic particles. The big problem for 70 years
is that each of these theories does fantastically well in its own realm,
but whenever these theories confront one another, they are ferocious
antagonists. The math completely falls apart.
Now you might say when would they ever confront each other, oneâs for
the big be other is for the small? But there are realms in the cosmos,
such as at the center of a black hole, where an entire star is being
crushed to a very small size. A star is big and heavy. You need the
theory of gravity. It's being crushed to a fantastically small size. You
need quantum mechanics. In that domain you need both of these theories
and when you bring them both to bear, everything falls apart.
GROSS: So, yeah.
Prof. GREENE: String theory is an attempt to fix that.
Prof. GREENE: Well, we have found rather surprisingly that a seemingly
modest change to our picture of how the world is constructed allows us
to sidestep the problem. In the older days, the older theories of
physics, we envisioned that when you spoke about molecules and atoms and
subatomic particles, when you got down to the particles, the electrons
and the corks inside the nucleus of atoms, we envisioned that those
particles were little tiny dots that had no structure, no size. They
were really infinitesimal.
If we change that idea and envision that these particles are actually
not little tiny dots but little tiny loops, little loops of string, a
little piece of string that can vibrate at different frequencies, that
change from a dot to a string is able to cure the mathematical
inconsistencies between general relativity and quantum mechanics at
least on paper. We haven't tested. We have not been able to test these
ideas yet. Thatâs the big issue. But at least on paper that modest
change from a dot to a loop cures the problem.
GROSS: How does it cure the problem?
Prof. GREENE: Thatâs a very interesting and difficult question but
GROSS: Yeah, I figured it would be difficult.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. GREENE: I'm absolutely willing to give it a shot.
Prof. GREENE: So first let me just give you what the problem is in a
touch more detail. Einstein's vision of space was that it was malleable,
it was flexible, sort of like a trampoline. That's a metaphor that we
physicists typically use. So the reason, for instance, that the Earth
goes around the Sun is that the Sun is sort of like sits like a bowling
ball on the trampoline of space. And because it creates an indentation
in space, as the Earth moves, it's nudged around by the curved surface
of the warped space that the Sun creates. That's the way gravity,
according to Einstein, works: warps and curves in space.
Now go to quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics on the very small scale
says there's something called the uncertainty principle at work. And the
uncertainty principle basically says that you can't ever fully know both
the positions and the speeds of all the particles and microscopic realm
so there's a certain amount of chaos, a certain amount of tumultuous
frenetic behavior happening in the microscopic realm because you can't
ever fully nail down what's going on.
The frenetic behavior of quantum mechanics is very much at odds with the
nice gently curving space picture that Einstein had for general
relativity. And in fact, if you follow quantum mechanics and examine a
little patch of space, magnify it with a fantastic magnifying glass, it
says that if you magnify space to fantastically small scales, way down
on small scale spaces, not gently curving, as Einstein had in mind, it
looks more like the surface of a violently boiling pot of water, a
completely different image of space and one that makes Einstein's
mathematics fall apart. That's the problem. The wild jitters of space
and microscopic scales.
Now how does string theory fix that? It basically spreads things out.
When you go from a point particle to a string, you're spreading it out.
You're spreading that point particle out into a loop. And when you
spread anything out, you dilute it. Similarly, as you spread out the
particle to a string you spread out space and the wild undulations of
space that were the cause of the problem, they get spread out, they're
still there but when they spread, they dilute. They dilute to a level
that allows the math of general relativity and quantum mechanics to
GROSS: Okay. So I'm really working hard to absorb all of this.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. GREENE: Me too.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: And now I want to take it a step further and have you connect
everything that youâve been saying about string theory and a unified
theory and relativity and apply that to the multiverse.
Prof. GREENE: Sure.
GROSS: To the vision of the multiverse that arises out of your
understanding of string theory, and if anybody understands string
theory, it's you.
Prof. GREENE: Well, there are a couple of multiverses that come out of
our study of string theory. One is something that emerged oh, about 10
years ago or so which was a realization that within string theory the
strings that we're talking about are not the only entities that the
theory allows. It also allows extended objects that look like membranes
which are two-dimensional surfaces. There also are three-dimensional
surfaces within string theory and so forth. And what this has opened up
within string theory is the possibility that we might be living on one
of those gigantic surfaces. And that gets back to the metaphor that I
was mentioning before where we were imagining our universe being a slice
of bread in this big loaf.
What that meant is our universe is living on one membrane and there
could be other membranes floating out there in space. And that is what
is known as the brain multiverse, that what we have long thought to be
everything is actually confined to living on one of these giant surfaces
and there are other giant surfaces out there. That idea actually may be
testable in the next few years with the Large Hadron Collider, this big
accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland.
GROSS: How would you test that idea on this accelerator?
Prof. GREENE: Well, if we are living on one of these giant membranes,
then the following can happen: when you slam particles together, which
is what happens at the Large Hadron Collider, protons are slammed
against each other violently. They're sped up near the speed of light
and have these head-on collisions. Some debris from those collisions can
be ejected off of our slice of bread, off of our membrane and be ejected
off into the grander cosmos within which our membrane floats.
If that happens, that debris will take away some energy, which means
there'll be less energy for our dictators here on our slice of bread to
measure. So if we measure the amount of energy just before the protons
collide, and compare it with the amount of energy we record just after
they collide, if there is a little less after and if it's less in just
the right way, that would indicate that some had flown off, indicating
that this brain picture is correct.
GROSS: Wow, okay. So it must be so both exciting and frustrating for
you. Youâre theorizing that there could be other universes. And it's
conceivable that you can mathematically prove that. But you wouldn't be
able to get there to actually experience it with your own senses.
Prof. GREENE: Yes. So you can ask yourself is it really worth thinking
about if it's something that is purely intellectual. It seems esoteric
and perhaps even standing outside of what we want to call nuts and bolts
And the reason why we are compelled to think about these ideas is well
one, itâs just wonders and interesting. But beyond that, there are
certain problems, certain problems that we have struggled with for
decades, which when you reframe them in the context of a multiverse
theory some of those problems simply evaporate. And that capacity to go
from complete lack of understanding of certain problems to the problems
simply going away when you think about them in this other setting is
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is Brian Greene. And we're
talking about the concept of a multiverse, that we live in one of
several universes. And it's kind of hard to wrap your brain around but
physicists are doing math that shows this might be possible. So Brian
Greene is the author of the books âThe Elegant Universeâ and âThe Fabric
of the Cosmos.â His new book is called âThe Hidden Reality: Parallel
Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.â And he's one of the people
who have done a lot of research on string theory and has also written
about it in a way that ordinary mortals can kind of comprehend.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: So let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is Brian Greene and we're
talking about the possibility that our universe is just one of several
universes. The idea that we live in a multiverse. And that concept is
the subject that he explores in his new book âThe Hidden Reality:
Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.â He's a professor of
physics and mathematics at Columbia University and his previous books
are âThe Elegant Universeâ and âThe Fabric of the Cosmos.â
Well, one of the things people love about space travel is that it gave
us Teflon and Tang.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: And all kinds of, you know, like materials that are used now. It
had practical applications in addition to being like fantastic and, you
know, mysterious and all of that. Are there practical, I think a lot of
people would want to know, are there practical applications of the kind
of really abstract research that you're doing?
Prof. GREENE: Really hard to answer. I certainly can't think of any,
because the stuff that we're talking about is so far removed from the
everyday. But what I think needs to be said is if you were to have asked
that very same question to the people that were developing quantum
mechanics in the early part of the 20th century, people like Neal Booher
or even Einstein or Schrodinger, I think they would've said I don't see
any applications of these ideas. We're talking about atoms and
subatomic particles. Thatâs just too far away from everyday life to
really affect anything that we do in everyday life. But now 80 years
later, 90 years later, the equipment that we make use of, the fact that
you have a cell phone, your personal computer, all manner of technology
that has an integrated circuit relies upon quantum physics. Without
quantum physics there wouldn't be any of that stuff.
Someone actually estimated that something like 35 percent of our gross
national product comes from quantum physics, which is all just to say
you don't know where science will go 80, 100 years, 500 years after
fundamental discoveries are made. So this kind of science, if it's
correct, and I really need to emphasize, this is cutting-edge stuff. We
don't know that it's correct. But if it is, it could have a major impact
on the way we live.
GROSS: What got you interested in investigating this kind of
cosmological level of physics? Was it the math itself, or was it a
desire to find answers to really profound questions?
Prof. GREENE: There are people who are driven from different angles.
Some are driven by the mathematics, and it just takes them wherever it
does and they just find it exciting to follow the equations. I'm not
like that. For me, it is the ideas. I mean, I love the idea that what
we're studying is something that is so big, so transcendent. We're
trying to talk about not even the universe. We're talking about,
perhaps, other universes, but all within a rational, logical framework
that allows us to make some definitive statements. To me, that's
enormously exciting, to step outside the everyday and really look at the
universe in these mathematical terms on its grandest of scales.
GROSS: What do you most hope to learn in your lifetime?
Prof. GREENE: I'd love to understand how our universe began. If indeed
there is one universe, or if there are many universes, I'd still like to
know how this one got started. And associated with that is the most
puzzling question to me of all which is: What really is time? What is
the nature of time? I mean, we all think about time. We all live within
time, but we are still struggling to figure out what time actually is.
And if our mathematics, if our theories could answer that, I think that
would be a profound step forward.
GROSS: Well, Brian Greene, it's been great to talk with you.
Prof. GREENE: Thanks.
GROSS: Brian Greene's new book is called "The Hidden Reality: Parallel
Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos." You can read a chapter on
our website, freshair.npr.org.
Greene is a professor of mathematics and physics at Columbia University.
Coming up, our rock historian Ed Ward talks about a Memphis record label
that produced great soul records in the '60s, but remains almost
This is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Goldwax Records: A History Of '60s Memphis Soul
TERRY GROSS, host:
Memphis has always had great record labels, especially for black music.
But Goldwax, a company that issued some of the greatest soul records
ever made in that city, is almost unknown.
Rock historian Ed Ward says that given the quality of what they
released, they had very few hits, but the legend has lived on.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Singer: (Singing) The statue of a man is like a tree
standing tall. But a sweet little woman, yeah, can make a big man fall.
He can be strong like Samson and big like Hercules. But two sweet lips
can put a man down on his knees. That's the power of a woman. Oh, that's
the power of a woman. Oh, yes it is. Oh, yeah. Dig this.
ED WARD: Quinton Claunch had quite a music business career behind him
when he and Rudolph "Doc" Russell started Goldwax Records in 1963. He'd
been a country songwriter and guitarist, played rhythm guitar on some of
Carl Perkins' first hits, been a talent scout for Sun and Hi Records,
and had written "White Silver Sands," a national Top 10 hit for Bill
Black's Combo in 1960. He ran into Doc Russell at a recording session
for rockabilly singer Charlie Feathers, and Doc mentioned he'd like to
invest in a record label. Claunch took his $600 and got to work.
(Soundbite of song, "Darling")
THE LYRICS (Soul Band): (Singing) People say I didn't leave you no good.
But I just want to let them know that I was doing the best that I could.
You said you loved me, right from the start. Now you're telling me you
gonna break my heart. You said you loved me.
WARD: "Darling," by The Lyrics, was unlike anything anyone in Memphis
was doing: an odd combination of doo-wop and James Brown. And,
predictably enough, it wasn't a hit. It made just enough noise locally,
however, to bring a young hematologist, Roosevelt Jamison, to his door
one night after midnight. Jamison had a small tape recorder, a tape and
two members of a local gospel group who'd been moonlighting some secular
material Jamison had written, and which he'd recorded. One of them was
named Overton Vertis Wright.
(Soundbite of song, "That's How Strong My Love Is")
Mr. OVERTON VERTIS WRIGHT (Singer): (Singing) If I were the sun up
there, I would glow with love everywhere. Even be the moon when the sun
go down. So you could see, so you can see that I'm still around. Ooh,
that's how strong, that's how strong my love is. That's how strong my
love is. One more thing I want to say.
If I were a beach...
WARD: Unfortunately, this wasn't the break Claunch or Jamison was
looking for. Don Robey, of Duke/Peacock Records in Houston, unearthed a
contract O.V. Wright had signed as a member of another gospel group, and
took him away. Wright went on to make many great records, but not for
No, it was the other singer who would put Goldwax on the map.
(Soundbite of song, âYou've Got My Mind Messed Up")
Mr. JAMES CARR (Singer): (Singing) I said I wasn't gonna tell nobody
else. But I just can't keep it all to myself now. For as long as I've
been running around I finally met a little girl that really got me down
now. Baby, you've got my mind messed up now little girl, little girl.
You sure got my mind messed up
I go to bed alone and I can't sleep. Sit down at the table, ooh, Lord, I
can't eat now. Somebody, please, please, help me now, oh, oh, oh. Sugar
plum dancing on in my mind.
WARD: It took a couple of tries, but "You've Got My Mind Messed Up"
confirmed everyone's faith in James Carr, who, in the next couple of
years, would produce a string of soul masterpieces, including "Love
Attack," "Pouring Water on a Drowning Man," "Dark End of the Street" and
"Life Turned Her That Way."
Claunch had an ear for great voices, that's for sure. Louis Williams and
the Ovations were one of those groups that could barely sell a record,
although they did very well on the road and had small regional hits.
It's hard to say for sure, but it could be that Williams' greatest
asset, was also his biggest problem.
(Soundbite of song, âI Believe I'll Go Back Home")
LOUIS WILLIAMS AND THE OVATIONS: (Singing) I believe I'll go back home.
I believe I'll go back home. I believe Iâll go back home and admit to my
baby that I was wrong. All right. I believe Iâll telephone. I believe
Iâll telephone. I believe Iâll telephone. I got to tell my baby that I'm
coming home. All right.
WARD: Granted, "I Believe I'll Go Back Home" is an extreme example: The
writers Goldwax got to come up with the Ovations' second single
apparently figured that cloning a Sam Cooke song would get them the hit
they needed, when in fact the real problem was finding a way for Louis
Williams to use his Sam Cooke sound in a way Cooke wouldn't have. The
group continued for years, and left behind dozens of wonderful
recordings for Goldwax and other labels.
The other great voice Goldwax had was Spencer Wiggins, who was
performing at the Flamingo Lounge with a combo that included Isaac Hayes
on organ. Claunch heard the possibilities and got him some material from
good writers, and a string of soul classics resulted.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. SPENCER WIGGINS (Singer): (Singing) Now tell me what do you think
about my baby? Sheâs all right. Now tell me what you think about my
baby? Sheâs all right. My baby, she ain't like those other girls to me.
She don't play for other guys. She just do it to me.
Claunch heard the possibility and got him some materials from good
writers and string of soul classics resulted.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. WIGGINS: (Singing) Now if I were the wind that blows then I would
follow you every every every where you go. Iâll even eat the sugar baby
thatâs in your cake so I could be near every bite you take. But I want
you to know...
WARD: Problems began for the label around 1968. Claunch and Doc Russell
to fall out, and a few records were leased to other labels because of
what Claunch called cash-flow problems. And there was another problem.
They also had a label called Timmy(ph), for Memphis country cusic,
although a couple of minor country stars began their careers on Timmy or
Goldwax, most of these records were doomed. The soul records by selling
as much as they should have, the country records weren't selling it all
and Goldwax's last record was, believe it or not, James Carr singing
"Row Row Row Your Boat." Goldwax closed its doors in 1970, and Memphis
GROSS: Ed Ward lives in the south of France. The music he plays from
âThe Complete Goldwax Singlesâ on the British label Ace Records.
I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, we talk with Noble Prize-winning economist
and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman about Europe's economic
crisis, how it connects to the euro, and what it would mean if the euro
Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
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