But now, through that detection of two black holes doing a duet and smashing into each other, and by subsequent observations of that time in the process, it's become clear to us that binaries — black hole pairs doing that dance — are a fairly commonplace configuration. And that's a surprise. My fascination with black holes is to understand the nature of space and time at the edge of a black hole, how quantum physics affects space and time. And that's something that we may be able to get insight into by looking at an extreme environment like the edge of a black hole.
But even further, the dream is that one day we'll truly understand what happens deep inside a black hole. I mean, the edge is cool but the middle is crazy. The middle is where the mathematics of Einstein and quantum mechanics collide, and in that collision there are fireworks and the equations just fall apart. That's what we call a singularity, but a singularity is a euphemism for "we don't know what the heck is going on. They speculated that that might be a gateway to another universe.
Or it may be a place where new laws come into play that we've never even thought of yet. And that's the real wondrous puzzle of black holes. Dark matter is supposed to account for much of the stuff that makes up the universe. Are we any closer to understanding exactly what it is? I thought that we would have detected dark matter by now, and I think many colleagues agree.
So it's more stubborn than we anticipated. And that could mean that we're barking up the wrong tree. Maybe the explanation is not some serious form of matter that we can't see.
Maybe our understanding of gravity itself needs to be revised. That's a possibility. Or it could be that the dark matter is there. It's waiting for us to find and we just haven't yet done so. Some [are on] a larger stage and for a more broad conversation, and some of them are on more intimate stages, allowing the audiences to kind of get in on the conversation.
And then there are our public, outdoor events, which are generally free. We have a stargazing event [at] Brooklyn Bridge Park. We have ''City of Science,'' which is a partly outdoor, partly indoor extravaganza for the festival in the Washington Square Park area where [there will be] all sorts of hands-on undertakings for kids and families and adults. So, it's a wide range of experiences. You've brought up the short explainer film, and you're talking about starting the festival off with — not to sound corny — a Big Bang.
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Is there something that you've gleaned from performing arts that's been helpful for communicating science? Greene: Yeah, I mean, part of the philosophy of the festival from the onset, when Tracy [Day] and I started it, was to not have science be cordoned off on the outskirts of culture, but rather, to create an event that would embrace science as a part of culture.
And to do that, science needs to be brought together with music and film and dance and theater in order that we no longer view it as something that's just done by the folks in the white coats in the ivory tower. They are actually embracing it as part of what makes us human.
And that's the reason why we incorporate as much of the performing arts as makes sense in a given festival. Greene: Well, it's definitely been there since day one, but just at different levels of production. I think we did our first major original piece with [composer] Philip Glass back in '' Icarus at the Edge of Time ,'' [about] a boy heading to the edge of a black hole. And Philip Glass wrote an original orchestral score.
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I wrote the words to the piece, and two filmmakers, AL and AL [Al Holmes and Al Taylor] created a beautiful film, and we premiered that at Lincoln Center with a full orchestra and [actor] John Lithgow doing the narration on stage live. And, you know, from that moment forward, it became so clear that audiences have a new manner of engaging with difficult ideas, if — perhaps I can say it this way — if it's a more full-body experience as opposed to just a cerebral experience … you have a fuller engagement with the ideas, and that's something that we have pursued ever since.
Related: Eureka! Scientists Photograph a Black Hole for the 1st Time. Greene: Well, it's focused attention, where you care about the ideas that you're encountering, and that is not often the case with science in the classroom. You know, I see it with my own kids and I remember it as well from when I was a little kid. If the charge is to memorize qualities of the cell or just to be able to solve mathematical equations, without really having a sense of it mattering in a deep, visceral way, then it's just a collection of ideas that rattle around your brain.
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But engagement is when those ideas lock into a matrix of meaning, where you recognize that it matters to know how the world works, it matters to know where the universe came from , to understand where life came from. It helps us understand ourselves. Quantum geometry differs in substantial ways from the classical geometry underlying general relativity.
For instance, topology change the "tearing" of space is a sensible feature of quantum geometry even though, from a classical perspective, it involves singularities. As another example, two different classical spacetime geometries can give rise to identical physical implications, again at odds with conclusions based on classical general relativity. Superstring theory is most relevant under extreme physical conditions such as those that existed at the time of the big bang.
Recently, we have formed a new institute at Columbia called ISCAP Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics dedicated to understanding the interface of superstring theory and cosmology. One primary focus of ISCAP is the search for subtle signatures of string theory that may be imprinted in the precision cosmological data that will be collected through a variety of experiments over the next decade.
Greene, M. Parikh, and J.enter
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Greene and A. Greene, K. Schalm, G. Shiu, J.