Lisa Randall – Knocking on Heaven’s Door

October 08, 2012

Our guest this week is Lisa Randall, the Harvard theoretical physicist and one of the most heavily cited and influential researchers in her field. She’s a member of a number of distinguished scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences—but she’s also a very popular science author, behind the bestselling Warped Passages: Unraveling the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions, and more recently Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, which is just out in paperback.

Between the hardback and paperback release of Knocking on Heaven’s Door, a subject much discussed in the book—the quest for the discovery of the Higgs boson—was actually completed. Or at least, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider found a particle that sure looks like the Higgs.

Randall has a new e-book about this entitled Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space. So we were thrilled to speak with her about the Higgs, and what the discovery means about the ability of physics to continually peel back new layers of the universe.

Photo credit: Julian Dufort

Today’s episode of Point of Inquiry is brought to you by Saigon, the conference dedicated to science and skeptical inquiry happening this October 25th through the twenty eighth in Nashville, Tennessee. Visit CSI conference dot org for more information and by audible visit audible podcasts dot com slash point to get a free audio book download. This is Point of Inquiry from Monday, October 8th, 2012. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and the grassroots. At the outset of this show, I want to let you know that this episode of Point of Inquiry is sponsored by Audible Audible’s, the Web’s leading provider of spoken audio, entertainment information and educational programing. The site offers thousands of books for download to your computer, your iPod or to a C.D.. And today it’s willing to give you one of them for free to participate. All you have to do is go to the following Web site, audible podcast, dot com slash point. Once again, that’s audible podcast, dot com slash point. And if you want a book download recommendation, it turns out that one of our very recent guests, Dan Ariely, has all of his books on Audible, and that includes the honest truth about dishonesty. So I’d check it out. It’s right there. You can download it for free. Our guest this week is someone I’ve wanted to have on the show for a long time, and the paperback release of her most recent book presents a great opportunity. I’m talking about Lisa Randall. She is a leading theoretical physicist at Harvard. One of the most heavily cited and influential researchers in her field. She’s a member of numerous distinguished scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences. But at the same time, she’s also a popular science author and she’s behind the selling Warped Passages, Unraveling the universe’s hidden dimensions. And more recently, Knocking on Heaven’s Door how physics and scientific thinking illuminate the universe and the modern world. That is just out in paperback. The really cool thing is that between the hardback and the paperback release of Knocking on Heaven’s Door, a topic that is much discussed in the book, the quest for the discovery of the Higgs boson actually made some major news. Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider found something that sure looks like the Higgs. So Randall is the expert on this and she even has an e-book out that’s new entitled Higgs Discovery The Power of Empty Space on the Matter. Lisa Randall, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Thanks for having me here. 

It’s a pleasure to have you and to read your book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, which is just out in paperback. It reminds me how exciting a period this must be for people in physics and in cosmology like you. And then the book was written before the discovery of the Higgs goes on. 

So you guys must be like even more psyched now. 

Well, of course, yeah. I mean, it was funny because I was actually one of the challenges when I wrote the book. I actually wanted to write it before anything was discovered. So when discoveries happen, people can really know what’s going on. And it is funny because you see some of the comments I get and they like well, they actually correctly predicted what the mass would be. And and, you know, I think it just makes it more understandable if you have a lot of background. Of course, now that they’ve discovered it, it makes it that much more meaningful. But I did update with the e-book just to make sure. 

Right. And for our listeners, the e-book is called The Higgs Discovery The Power of Empty Space. 

So you’re going to be able to get that through our Web site. Poile Inquiry, dawg, as well. But I need your help here. So let me paint a scene of contrast. 

On the one hand, I heard this amazing joke that totally made me understand with the expose on wasn’t. I’ll just I’ll just I’ll tell you the joke in a second. But on the other hand, I recently sat through a talk about it that was completely incomprehensible. And I’m a well-read guy. I’m a science reporter. I’m not I’m not that strong in physics, but usually I understand things. But this was just like it was way over my head. You had to understand twelve increasingly difficult concepts in physics in order to benefit a talk for specialists. 

Or was it. 

It was a it was a it was a science cafe. And I’m just like way over my head. And so help us out here. And then I’ll tell you, the joke is, I think it’s I could just say also, though, that when I wrote or passages which. 

Well, you know, covered that was my first book. And I covered a lot of things with string theory, gravity, quantum mechanics, particle physics. And actually explaining the Higgs boson and the Higgs mechanism was one of the most difficult things because it is so abstract. I mean, any analogy you come up with is necessarily quite limited. So so it is a hard thing to understand. But I think if you see see it several different ways, you begin to understand it better. And of course, understanding mathematically is really the simplest in this case. But let me tell you what’s going on. Say the first of all, there’s a few misconceptions. So I’m going to actually say those first and then I’ll play what’s going on. One is that the Higgs boson gives mass to everything. It’s not actually true. First of all, it’s six fields that gives mass. Not the Higgs boson. Those are different things. And I’ll explain what I mean by that in a minute. And the other thing is that it’s getting masses to elementary particles so protons and neutrons have a lot of mass. Just because they’re bound up, feel the strong force. So a lot of the mass in the universe actually doesn’t come because of the Higgs mechanism. But it is responsible for things like the electron mass or an individual quark mass, which sits inside the proton in the near term. And without those masses, you wouldn’t have bound state atoms or anything. So it’s quite important, but it isn’t all the mass of the universe. And even even among ordinary matter. No. To get back to the point about that, Higgs both on versus the Higgs field. This is why things get abstract. But if you think about it, it would be very disconcerting if Massive came from the expose, because then when we make Higgs boson methods for change. But that’s not what’s going on. What’s going on is that there is something called a field. What a field is, is it’s something spread throughout space. I mean, think about your you know, when you have a magnet near your refrigerator, there’s a field in between. There’s no actual particles. But there’s a magnetic field in that case. In this case, it’s something called the Higgs field. And what it is, is something like it’s not exactly but like. Charges spread throughout the universe. That particles can bounce off of. And the ones that interact more with that Higgs field those charges and get a bigger mass. The ones that interact less, get a lighter mass. So you basically have it spread throughout the universe. That’s what I called it, the power of empty space. It’s empty of particles, but it does have this field in it. And that’s a big deal. And since field is a big deal and what gives it the masses is hitting both on tells us that to expose on is an actual particle. And that particle tells us that this idea is right. And furthermore, it tells us where that charge came from. Go ahead and ask your question. 

Well, it just means that the joke was actually wrong, because the joke is Higgs goes on, walks into church and the priest says, you can’t be here. 

And the Higgs replies, But without me, you can’t have mass. 

So I know that the joke is actually wrong. I think it’s kind of wrong. Yeah, it’s funny. 

It’s part of the e-book. Right? My British publishers convinced me to do Twitter competition. And, you know, I said and, you know, they wanted you to have them explain the Higgs boson in 140 characters. I said, I can’t do that. I can’t have a contest to do that. So we’re gonna be silly. Let’s let’s be really silly. There was a time of the Olympics. I said if there’s going to be an Olympic competition, which eventually to expose on, enter and win the best responses. Was it to enter weightlifting? But it’s going to lose to the gluon person was smart enough to realize that a lot of the mass inside the proton, a neutron isn’t coming from the Higgs program or I should say the Higgs field. So it was a cute answer. 

Well, yes, we’re being delightfully geeky right now. What do you make of this phenomenon, though? We have an entire culture world celebrates this discovery that actually not that many people quite get it. If you guys sort of left us behind in a way. 

Well, you know, it’s funny, actually. We had had a dinner with a speaker last night where we were actually talking about that. What an exciting think it is that people are excited about this. I think there is a sense I mean, it’s not that that people understand everything, but there is a sense in which they understand that there really is something fundamentally new that’s been discovered. And it’s an amazing thing. We collide together. These particles is enormously high energy. The fact that these collisions happened all is remarkable engineering feat. And then that we can predict what should happen, that this new particle should be made. I mean, it’s really an incredible thing. And so even if you don’t understand everything about it, I think there is something just very meaningful to just knowing that there’s something fundamentally new, a fundamentally new ingredient of matter in some sense that’s been found. And then, you know, through through through logic, you know, through theoretical reasoning, in conjunction with measurements, have made people able to predict what should be there. I think that’s that’s kind of neat and not necessary precisely what should be there. But they knew what to look for. And so there was an actual discovery. So I think there’s a real sense of satisfaction. Of course, that’s one of the reasons I wrote my books and I wrote the e-book for those people who really do understand it better. I mean, you can only do so much in a newspaper article. You can make an analogy. You can tell a joke. But to really understand what’s going on. I mean, to really understand it. Of course, you want to be doing the physics, but you can get much closer if you’re willing to make the effort and actually read through the whole story. And that’s what I tried to do. I tried to offer the story for those people. I really want to understand. 

Well, I understand. I mean, just to just to emphasize what a good validation of science this is. This is something this idea of the Higgs is proposed. What? In the 60s. Right. It takes until 2012 to actually find it. So in a sense, some science is makes a prediction. Eventually, technology catches up and. And the test is performed. And then the theory is validated. It’s pretty striking example of why we should be confident in science’s methods. Right. 

I think that’s right. And, you know, and also, I mean, we pointed out that, you know, it’s it’s a combination of other factors, political factors as well. I mean, we could have built a machine in the United States that started 10 years earlier and they would have found the Higgs both on. So it’s you know, the technology, of course, had to be developed, but it could have happened faster if there were more resources, if there were more investment in it. But the fact that it happens at all, of course, is a real, really amazing validation of the scientific method. I totally agree with that. 

Let me just remind our listeners that Lisa Randall’s latest book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, is just out in paperback. It’s available through our website Pwint Inquiry dot org. There is also an update. An e-book update is called Higgs Discovery The Power of Empty Space. 

And we will list that, too. And you got ahead of me a little because I didn’t want to talk about the politics in the background of all this, which you discuss in the book. I mean, it Wheatly we didn’t do the superconducting supercollider. And you say in the book it would have not only got there faster, it would have been able to do more. Right. It would have been in some ways a more powerful machine. 

That’s right. Because, I mean, you know, we’re not done finding the Higgs boson is is one step. For various reasons that I can explain and explained in the book, we do really believe that there’s more to the story than just the simple Higgs boson, just this one individual particle. And then that other stuff can be exotic. It could be an extension of spacetime symmetry. It could be extension of space itself into a new dimension. So it could be an amazing thing. But to. That you have to be able to reach high energies. Why? Because equals empathy squared. So to get to have your mouse particles with bigger math. And you need more energy that the superconducting supercollider would have had almost three times the energy of of what the Large Hadron Collider will ultimately achieve. That’s a big difference. That means they can access because this is the region. We know the particles should exist. But we don’t know precisely what their masses are. So having access to those higher masses would have been tremendous. 

So is there a possibility then that you’ll sort of I don’t know if this is the right concept, but you’ll max out the Large Hadron Collider. In other words, you’ll you too. You’ll figure out its potential to the max and a lot of science will be done, but then somebody will come along and say, well, actually, that gap in capacity between the LHC and super got these supercollider. The the discovery we need now is right in that gap somewhere. 

It’s quite possible. I mean, you know, if we don’t meet again very soon at the dinner, it’s really funny. But if they don’t teach me a Large Hadron Collider, it surely doesn’t mean that doesn’t exist. It means that you might just not have had quite the energy. And I know that sounds ungrateful. You know, the Large Hadron Collider is such a tremendous machine. It’s going to high energies. But tell me more from the point of view of theory. 

A factor of two doesn’t matter that much in terms of how the series are put together, what happens from the point of view of an experiment? It can make the difference between having no signal at all and making an important new discovery that sheds light on our universe. 

The book does a great job of telling what a giant project it is, what an amazing, staggering investment and collaboration building the Large Hadron Collider turned out to be. And yet you also say there’s a statistic that stuck in my head that the cost ended up being about 15 bucks per European. So it was like a beer in an expensive city. So, I mean, why shouldn’t everybody support that? 

Well, I certainly think so. I do think that there is a sense in which many people have their pet products, but I think there’s nothing that replaces just a fundamental advance in knowledge and you can’t shortcut it. And so I do think it’s a worthwhile investment. And also we’re where that’s happening. People do have education. They have better technological achievements. If you look at where science advances, a lot of other things advance to. So it’s not I mean, it’s it’s it’s tremendous that we understand the universe. But it’s also tremendous that we actually care about understanding our universe. 

Is there any sense of foot that now that Europe is in such troubling financial straits? There may not be so generous about science any longer. Is there any concern about that? I confess I don’t know whatsoever. But you could imagine it being the case. 

Well, when I’ve talked to the people in charge of CERN, they seem fairly confident, at least in the short term. One of the really nice things in Europe. I think it’s more true than in America is that when they commit to a project, they sort of see it through. No. Yes. They’ve had ups and downs, but they found ways. I mean, it took 25 years to build the Large Hadron Collider. And they saw it through. And a lot happened near during that time, the German unification, et cetera. There are many things. And still they sort through, you know, like we’ve been talking about the fact that we might have one higher energy that would require a big future investment. So I think that’s where the question is going to be, will this big future investment happen? And so I think they are fairly committed, as far as I can tell, to running the Large Hadron Collider. They have the machine. It’s it’s operating beautifully. They’re going to shut it down and come back on with a lot more energy. So I think I think that will happen. The question is, what will they do in the future? 

Building the machine? I mean, you know, you have several chapters narrating it and it’s the most complete. And I think the most intriguing account of the whole story that I’ve that I’ve ever heard. I mean, underground, they they run into Roman ruins and they have to stuff the brush. 

There’s all these. Pretty hilarious. Yeah. Tell us something Soza. More about just what kind of an endeavor it was. 

Well, I mean, there just are so many components, because the one thing that did exist already was the tunnel. When they built a different machine, they actually had this large 27 kilometer tunnel there. But you then have to design it so that protons go around, protons go round in opposite directions. Enormous magnets, fifteen kilometers longer put in place and thousands of them to direct those protons around the ring. These enormous caverns. Hold the experiments. That’s that’s where they ran into these rooms. As you point out and you know, it was. I have to say it was really exciting to visit CERN during the period when these things were happening as those experiments were being put together, because, you know, you can see it in pieces. You can get a size sense of the enormity of it. You get a sense of just precision engineering that goes into it. I mean, they’re not just big. I mean, you know, if you’re in New York, you see big things all the time, big building for other big human constructions. But it’s the fact that it’s put together in a way they can measure to measure things that the micron level. That’s what makes this so amazing. 

Let me ask you a philosophical question that always pops into my mind when I’m reading about physics, that I confess that I try to understand, but sometimes I fall a little short or I feel like I do. I mean, you guys are always, you know, sort of peeling back layers of how it all works. And the question is, what guarantees that we’ll always be able to keep peeling back layers? I mean, who’s to say that the math will always describe reality? Who’s to say that the calculations will always be something we’re capable of? 

I say we do not know the answer to the question, and it’s quite remarkable that it’s worked so far. And how are we going to answer the question? Well, really, we just keep trying. You know, at some point it’s possible it fails. But so far, it’s been a very fruitful endeavor. So far, people have been able to understand and predict things at different scales and be able to put together. And it’s not just looking for new stuff. You know, really find new new lines of nature, really understanding what’s going on in this deep and fundamental level. And it’s possible there will be limits, but there’s just no indication that that that that’s happened. So, of course, we’d like to keep going as long as it works. 

I want to remind our listeners again that Lisa Randall’s latest book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World. It’s just out in paperback. It’s available through a Web site, Pluma Inquiry dot org. 

In an update on the book called It’s an e-book, it’s called Higgs Discovery The Power of Empty Space. We’re also linking to that there. Now, this show our listeners are I would characterize many of them, at least as, you know, skeptics, free thinkers and not religious believers. And so we’re constantly doing a lot of debunking of nonsense. And that is also an aspect of the book that I that I really liked, which is that, you know, there’s all these misconceptions. 

Sometimes someone’s willful and someone’s people are profiting from them relating to physics, ranging from. 

I don’t I guess we could take some of them in turn. But the but the biggest is, of course, this idea that the the collider was going to destroy the world. 

Right. Right. Right. You know. But I really want to do in the book, as you point out, is not just talk about what’s happening at the Large Hadron Collider, but really talk more generally about science and how it’s understood. I even have a couple of chapters, you know, contrasting science and religion to really clarify what what the differences are and and to understand how we build up our knowledge. And so in the case of this idea that the earth would be destroyed by black holes, it was this kind of an interesting phenomena because people said we should worry about this. In fact, the physicists did worry about it, at least to the extent that they knew they had to respond. And we knew basically that it was safe. But then people went ahead and did rigorous studies showing not just based on theory, but based on what’s been observed in the universe, in the sky so far, where collisions like the ones that the Large Hadron Collider are actually happening all the time. We just don’t get to them based on the fact that those didn’t produce dangerous cycles. We know that they weren’t going to get produced here on Earth. So people did respond. And I think it’s fair for scientists to be responsible, to acknowledge any concerns. But in this case, they were two very easy and straightforward to clear them up. But it was fascinating to me how excited people got about this idea of how many times I was asked about it. But it’s also great that science can clear it up and we can see that it won’t be a danger. 

Wasn’t this really all just about the word black hole having too meaning? I mean, not two meanings, but in a sense, there’s, you know, black holes that people know exist out in the universe that, you know. And then there’s sort of a mini black hole. Right. Which I think was you write this. 

I mean, actually, there’s a research paper that I’ve written with postdoc at the time where we showed that actually these many black holes probably won’t even get produced based on the numbers. I mean, if we built the SNC, you’d have a much better chance. But at Large Hadron Collider. I wanted to make them. But whatever you do make it’s not going to look very blackhall like it really is going to look like a particle because it’s going to just be produced and decay. Cave right away. Black holes. They they became much more slowly when they’re bigger. But this tiny black holes basically disappear immediately. So in some sense, though, they act very much like just another particle. I mean, of course, if you could make a black hole, it would be fabulous or the great single and it would be safe because, of course, it would decay and all this kind of stuff. But that it would do kind of very distinctive manner. But the stuff you’re actually very likely to make, given the parameters, won’t even look that black hole like even. It’s a theory, right? 

It just strikes me as such a classic case of, you know, the gap between science and popular culture just really leading to a big misunderstanding. It’s like the word theory, right? It’s just that it means something so different to scientists and to nonscientists that you’re just setup for confusion from the game. From the get go. Because why is. 

Right. And I actually I mean, that’s one of. One of the goals of writing this book. I mean, it’s theater. It’s it’s a lot of work. It’s to try to clear these up. Of course, I will clear it up for people who pay attention, but at least for people who want to understand, it’s nice to be able to clear up some of these ideas and to really get straight. I agree. You know, there’s the way we talk about science in popular culture. And, of course, there’s a big overlap of words because we all use English, but sometimes we’ll have very precise meanings that might not be applicable to what you’re using in your daily life. And you have to be really careful about it. In fact, my first book was an extra extra mentions, among other things. And it’s amazing just how much of our language is formed by just spatial analogies. And so I really had to be very careful about the wording just to not inadvertently be confusing. 

Another confusion that you address and you dispel, although I don’t think it’ll make people stop having the confusion, at least some of them. But I mean, is this this idea that events on the quantum scale somehow influence our lives? And you just say that you just got the scales wrong, like it doesn’t work that way. 

But if you if you think about people talking about quantum healing or people trying to. I don’t. People trying to rescue freewill. Through quantum events like Think or this book, The Secret. 

I don’t want to overstate. Yeah, I mean, I you know, it’s a somewhat of a simplification where I say quantum mechanics is relevant at the atomic scale. On the scales that we’re living on, we see classical effect and we can describe things classically. I mean, in principle, you can make a completely coherent state where quantum effects would be applicable on larger scales. And in fact, people design experiments to do that or that. But in ordinary life, all of those fact, all those quantum effects wash out. That’s why we didn’t notice quantum mechanics for so long. The reason we didn’t notice that is because the effects average out and it’s a very good approximation on a scales we’re familiar with. To ignore them. So but that doesn’t mean you can never have effects on large scales. But you’re not going to have it randomly. You’re going to have it in very specially prepared systems. 

So that has actually been been created in effect, as I was saying, because I didn’t actually for example, there are photons that are correlated over large distances. 

So you can do things of that nature. And there are quantum effects in the universe, such as the fact that you don’t fall through the earth, but you can just approximate them by saying, I’m solid in the earth is solid and we don’t go through each other. But if you want to go to if you want to really understand what’s going on. Of course, there are quantum mechanical effects at work, but you don’t need to take those into account to make predictions on the scales of what you’re actually measuring things in your daily lives. 

And I guess this book, The Secret, you talk about that all of that is, is that it actually ultimately a theory behind it? Is that something people are able to influence things on the quantum scale through what? Positive thinking? 

I know that’s not going to happen. Yeah. So I would not be an example of a carefully prepared experiment. 

What is the lesson if I go back to the black holes or the many black holes? You do this whole chapter. I think it’s very in-depth and it’s very complex. 

But I think it’s great about what that means for using science to assess risks, for instance, because you ultimately say this is a risk that we can do away with. And you say it’s a quote. It’s close to a quote anyway. You say if something wouldn’t happen once in the lifetime of the universe, you probably don’t have to worry about it. But you then go on to drive all these risk assessment principles from that. 

Well, you know, it was sort of a little bit of a teaser, but I mean, because, you know, I was writing this book at the time of the financial crisis and, you know, there’s all this news about climate change. And it was just interesting. Just help people think about risk and evaluate risk. So something that was in the news a lot. And then I was thinking about. So I sort of just use this sort of loosely as a departure point to to address some of those issues and to address some of the frustrations I’ve had in the way people were. You know, when we when we do an experiment, we don’t do an exact prediction. We do a prediction. As often there’ll be a range of predictions based on the fact that other things have never been measured. Absolutely. Precisely. That’s not to say they’re not extremely accurate. But one of the things you do when you do an experiment is you present what’s called the uncertainty, which is it could be extremely small. It could be one part out of 10000. But there is always going to be some uncertainty because you never measure anything perfectly. In the case of the economic crisis, it was just interesting because one of the things you have to do when you’re assessing risk is just to say, well, suppose this happens. Suppose the economy went down by 20 percent or whatever, and they didn’t do that. So they didn’t allow for all the possibilities when they made their prediction. And then, of course, something happened that they hadn’t anticipated. But if you had really allowed for all the full range, you could have seen some of these risks were going to either. 

Although people some people were saying these things, which is the other thing you point out, right, is and that’s not true. 

I mean, what people said was that they should be evaluated. I don’t know how much people did in evaluating global risk, but it was certainly something people said it should be. People should pay attention to. 

Well, I just meant that. I mean, people were predicting a housing collapse long before it happened. 

So in other words, it’s not like it’s partly a communication issue, not a risk assessment issue, because some people knew the risks and it’s just that somehow the system didn’t take the risk. 

Well, also, as I say, it’s a question of scale. You know, if you’re worried about the overall, if you’re worried about the entire U.S. economy, you’ve got to be worried about that. If you’re working at some investment bank and you can make money tomorrow, you might not be worried about it. So it’s a question of the scale on which you’re thinking to both in terms of time, scale, in insurance of individual talent, the country, the world. So, yeah, there’s there’s sort of different questions and they have to be evaluated differently. 

Well, with global warming, which I write about endlessly, I was I mean, I always end with just saying. 

His people who are skeptical like you could be wrong. 

In fact, you almost certainly are wrong. Given the weight of scientific opinion. 

But if you’re wrong, the stakes are so high that, you know, it’s effectively not worth taking your opinion into account because just because of of that downside risk, I mean, put another way, it sounds awfully risky to do an experiment on the entire planet, which is essentially what we’re doing. 

You can simply of any of the theories. We are going to have been during a big experiment. And that’s irreversible. So it seems like a completely for anything. 

But you’re saying that with the black hole thing, and I guess you must get this question all the time. Why wouldn’t why wouldn’t it be the same? And I’m just being those advocate here because I agree because. 

Yeah, we actually I mean, you know, there’s different ways things can be hard in terms of science. One is that it could be sort of mathematically difficult or in another way is that it could be just a very complex system where you have very simple ingredients, but they’re put together in complex ways. So in the case of particle physics, what we’re really trying to do is get at the simplest elements where we can really understand in detail how those interacts, et cetera. Getting there is quite a challenge. But when you were talking about these elementary particles, you know how to make predictions. You know what’s happening. And that was the case in this sort of black Kosner, which, by the way, is a speculation. It’s based on the idea of an extra dimension of space. But if you assume that, we could talk about that. But if you assume that, then you know how what kind of predictions you should have. And on top of that, even if you didn’t know how to predict it, you can say, you know, similar collisions are happening in the universe all the time. And you can say that they produce dangerous black holes in the universe. And the existence of objects like neutron stars tells you that they weren’t dangerous. So there you had two things going on. One is that it was simple enough to make predictions. Another is that you had other places you can look where the same things were happening. The difference it was climate is that it’s just a very complex system. So a lot depends on your models. Now you can vary the parameters or models and say this is the range of possible predictions, but there are non-linear feedback effects that can be quite complicated. Nonetheless, it’s certainly true that there’s a very definite trend in what most the models predict. So that’s certainly worth paying attention to. But it’s not like we can look elsewhere. I mean, we can learn a little bit by looking at other plants and decide, you know, we don’t want to end up looking like Venus, for example. But but really, we don’t have those other places to look. So we really have nothing else to rely on other than our models of how things should work. And you can you can get pretty far with that. But you can’t say I know everything. 

So no. Yes. So this the certainty, the certainty is just a whole different thing, I guess, in that sense. 

Well, like I said, there’s always uncertainty in science. But in this case, the uncertainties are sort of in your models. So it’s sort of it’s it’s built in. It’s going to be. But that’s not so bad. You just said there’s going to be a range of predictions. And you can’t say precisely what will happen. 

Let me remind our listeners again that Lisa Randall’s latest book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door How Physics and Scientific Thinking Liberate the Universe and the Modern World, is just out in paperback and available through our website point of inquiry dot org. 

Well, so so, Lisa, thank you so much for being with us. I just want to ask you sort of a final question that I always ask of people like yourself and, you know, Neil Tyson, Brian Greene, people who have really succeeded in mass science communication. 

And that is what have you learned about how to make it work and what doesn’t work? 

Well, a few things. One is that really there are many different audiences. And the idea that there’s going to be one way that everyone learns from is is not true. I mean, there’s going to be some people that want to get more advanced knowledge and people that just want to get the big picture. But I think it is important to tell people why they’re learning about this. What what makes it interesting, what makes it important? I try to do that in my books, at least why we as scientists care about these questions. Another thing, I guess, is, you know, people like to connected to things that they do know. So that to the extent that you can make analogies to extent you can build on what they know. It certainly helps a lot. But the other is, you know, it’s very rewarding. People really are curious. So, for example, even with this mock whole thing, when I go to a talk and people would ask the question, I’d give them the answer and they’d be happy. You know, people just want to know answers. And so and sometimes they will understand right away, sometimes not. But I think there is a real curiosity. So that makes it rewarding to do this. 

Well, thank you very much. And thank you for. For the whole conversation. It’s been great. So, Lisa Randall, we really appreciate having you on point of inquiry. 

Thank you. It’s been great. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to join the discussion about this show, please visit us at point of inquiry dot org. You can also send questions and comments to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. You can find us on Twitter at point of inquiry and on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. 

One of inquiry is produced by Adam, Isaac and amrs New York, and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Wailin. Today’s intro featured Debbie Goddard. I’m your host and Chris Mooney. 

Chris Mooney