Saturday, November 12, 2005

Simon Singh's Universe

I went to listen to a lecture by Simon Singh last night, sponsored by Emory's Department of Physics and Astronomy. I've been getting very interested in science fiction recently, so it was nice to make a little visit to the realm of science fact. Dr. Singh is an absolutely brilliant speaker--the lecture was a huge amount of fun. He talked about the Big Bang theory, and was equally at home with complicated cosmology, Led Zeppelin, and Calvin and Hobbes. Not least among his tricks was the incandescent something he did with two forks and a pickle. His mastery of the medium of Powerpoint was also very impressive.

He mostly talked about the history of the Big Bang theory. Of course in order to talk about it, he had to explain it somewhat, and I found this very instructive. He made it sound very simple, which obviously it is not. I was interested not only in what he said in order to make it comprehensible, but how he said it. Despite his obvious sophistication, he constantly alluded to popular culture, and turned extremely mundane artifacts into powerfully persuasive metaphors. At first I thought that this lecture must have been something he spent quite a bit of time preparing, because it was so full of aptly-chosen illustrative devices. Listening to his responses in the Q & A afterwards, in which he responded to every question in a way that interwove sciency tech-speak with cocktail-partyish funny anecdotes, I stopped being so sure. He seems to have made a habit of thinking about hard, remote things in terms of the easy and immediate. He presents them both simultaneously, in a way that neither cheapens the hard thing nor distorts or denigrates the easy one.

Finding dignity in the everyday, revealing the essence of the stars that is present in the objects of ordinary life--what could be more like haiku?