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 ancient Greek and Indian philosophers who first conjectured that matter was made of tiny little bits of stuff would not believe that now, more than 25 centuries later, we can actually see them.

Granted, modern atoms are quite different from their old counterparts, given that they are actually not indivisible but, instead, made of electrons orbiting a positively-charged nucleus. Still, visualizing such tiny structures has remained a challenge since the idea took hold in modern times, during the turn of the 20th century.

In his 1936 classic Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin alerts society to the dangers of excessive automation.

There is a famous scene where the Little Tramp is put to work on an assembly line and, after tightening screws for a long time, can't stop repeating the turning motion.

The movie's point is that modern industry is all about efficiency and output, with little concern for the workers. Chaplin saw rapid industrialization turning us into robots, triggering a massive dehumanization of society.

Imagine this: You enter a car with no steering wheel, no brake or accelerator pedals. Under a voice-activated command, you say an address.

"The fastest route will take us 15.3 minutes. Should I take it?"

You say "yes" and are on your way. The car responds and starts moving all by itself. All you have to do is kick back and relax, presumably watching the news on a screen mounted in front of you, or surfing the Internet.

I start with a remarkable quote:

"I believe the intellectual life of the whole of Western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups ..."

So wrote the British physicist and novelist C. P. Snow in his famous "The Two Cultures" Rede Lecture delivered at Cambridge University in 1959.

There's no question that running changes your heart.

The issue is whether these changes are good or bad. I don't mean the occasional 3 miles once or twice a week, although even this minimal amount of exercise seems to have positive health benefits.

On Aug. 15, the news broke that a Russian radio telescope detected strong signals from outer space.

Opinions may diverge initially — but once we start to think about it, no question is harder than figuring out the origin of everything.

The more popular phrasings go something like, "Where did the world come from?" or "Why is there something rather than nothing?" This is the question of creation, of how the universe and everything in it came to be. And, although we've made great progress towards understanding the universe and its history, we are still far from understanding its origin.

Sounds like the usual narrative of sports events: the long hours of training and complete devotion, the expectation of results that may define new records or new ways of looking ahead, the excitement preceding the meet. Then, when the time comes, it can be total frustration or glory. Equipment failure, miscalculations, human error; or triumph, new heights achieved, new horizons revealed, old records broken.

There is a herolike narrative in science that, perhaps surprisingly, is not that far from a sports narrative.

Sometimes things seem to happen for a reason. Some people call these events happy coincidences, others call them the work of God, or of many gods, while yet others see them as manifestations of one's karma.