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.

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.

In the current issue of the New York Review of Books, David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman, the president and the director of the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF), respectively, explain why the organization decided to divest its holdings on fossil fuel companies.

Although the divesting decision is broad-ranging, they single out ExxonMobil for its "morally reprehensible conduct."

Spoiler alert: This post refers to key elements of the movie.

The audience around me was stunned silent at the end of Arrival, the new movie about a visit from advanced extraterrestrial beings based on Ted Chiang's short story.

Growing up in a reasonably affluent family in Brazil, I have no doubt that my life changed forever when, as a 10-year-old, I watched the moon landing on live TV.

(*Spoiler alert: This post refers to key elements of the movie.)

"It is not about you," says the Ancient One, marvelously played by Tilda Swinton in the movie Doctor Strange — based on the Marvel comic — released in theaters last Friday.

She is talking to Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is at a crossroads: either return to his previous life as a superstar-conceited neurosurgeon, or use his newly acquired mystic powers to save the world.

As Americans are getting ready to cast their votes for the next occupant of the White House, let's step back from the heated political debate to focus on an issue that should — even if it doesn't — bring people together: the state of our planet.

I was in Rio de Janeiro last week, site of this year's Olympics. I grew up there, and was immensely proud of the spectacular success of the games. Despite the extreme negativity of media reports, the city came through and offered quite a show for the world to enjoy.

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: