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.


Wed October 1, 2014
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

Should We Live Life, Or Capture It?


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.

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Wed September 24, 2014
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

A Liberal Arts Curriculum In 2 Minutes

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

ESO/Sergey Stepanenko

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:

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Wed September 17, 2014
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

If We Create Life, Who Will Control It?

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

Genetically modified soybeans from a farm in southern Brazil.

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."

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Wed September 10, 2014
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

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."

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Wed September 3, 2014
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

The Challenge Of Betting On A Scientific Idea

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

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

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.

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Wed August 27, 2014
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

The Universe Is Still Dark After All These Years

Originally published on Wed August 27, 2014 4:54 pm


Well into the 21st century, it is indisputable that we know more about the universe than ever before.

So that we don't get lulled into a false sense of confidence, today I provide a short list of open questions about the cosmos, focusing only on its composition. These are some of the mysteries that keep many fundamental physicists and astronomers busy and hopeful.

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Wed August 20, 2014
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

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?

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Wed August 13, 2014
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

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.

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Wed July 30, 2014
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

No End In Sight? No Problem!

Originally published on Wed July 30, 2014 7:44 am

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.

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