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.

The alliance between science and state is ancient.

Archimedes, the great Greek mathematician and inventor, designed weapons to protect the city of Syracuse from attacking Roman fleets. For thousands of years, blacksmiths developed new, more powerful alloys to make arrows and swords for their king's army.

To go to space we need math. Lots of it.

Most of us look in awe at the towering rocket ship strapped to the launching platform and forget the tremendous amount of work it took for it to get there — and, from there, to get into Earth's orbit and beyond. Engineering, math, physics, chemistry, computer science: It's all there, waiting for blast-off.

Some physicists, mind you, not many of them, are physicist-poets.

They see the world or, more adequately, physical reality, as a lyrical narrative written in some hidden code that the human mind can decipher.

Nearly everyone has had weird experiences, things that happen in life that seem to defy any sort of rational explanation.

It could be strange sightings, events that apparently challenge the laws of nature, that evoke the supernatural, or feelings of being possessed by some kind of universal awe, that elicit a connectedness with something grander, timeless.

What are these events — and what are they trying to tell us, if anything?

A mere two years after completing his daring General Theory of Relativity in 1915 — where gravity is interpreted as resulting from the curvature of space and time around a massive body — Albert Einstein wrote a daring article, taking on the whole universe under his new lens.

When we see actors like Helen Mirren, Will Smith, Kate Winslet and Keira Knightley starring in the same movie — and with a theme centered in how to re-find yourself after a terrible personal tragedy — the expectations are understandably high.

In these closing days of the year, a year where so much controversy and distrust bubbled up in the U.S. and abroad, it is a relief — and I'd say even therapeutic — to look at the reliability of science as a harbor, a place to anchor our expectations for the future.

Around this time of year, we often pause and take stock of where we are on many levels: emotionally, financially, professionally, politically and, at least here at 13.7, cosmically.

Where do things stand these days, when it comes to the universe?

Judging from the deluge of recent movies featuring aliens of all sorts — Dr. Strange, Arrival, the upcoming Star Wars movie Rogue One — we can't help but be fascinated with these imaginary creatures.

They live deep in our collective unconscious, mirroring the good and evil we are capable of. In a real sense, the aliens are us. They reflect what we know of the world and ourselves, our expectations and fears, our hopes and despair.