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Archive for the ‘best-selling novels’ Category

>A Marriage of Science and Humanities


It wasn’t until 1981 that Alan Lightman began publishing essays about science, the human side of science, and the “mind of science,” beginning with Smithsonian Magazine and moving to Science 82, The New Yorker, and other magazines. Since that time, Lightman’s essays, short fiction, and reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, The Atlantic Monthly, Boston Review, Daedalus, Discover, Exploratorium,ta, Harper’s, Harvard Magazine, Inc Technololgy, Nature, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, Science 86, The Sciences, Smithsonian, Story, Technology Review, and World Monitor.

In 1989, Lightman was appointed professor of science and writing, and senior lecturer in physics, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From 1991 to 1997, he headed the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT. During this period, he helped create a new Communication Requirement at MIT (first instituted in 2001), which requires all MIT undergraduates to have a course equivalent in writing or speaking each of their four years. In 1995, he was appointed John E. Burchard professor of humanities at MIT, a chair named after the first dean of humanities at MIT (1948 – 1964). In 2001, Lightman cofounded the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT, which accepted its first students in the fall of 2002. In the same year, he resigned his chair to allow more time for his writing and became adjunct professor at MIT. In 2004, Lightman cofounded the Catalyst Collaborative at MIT, which is a collaboration between MIT and the Underground Railway Theater of Boston. The Catalyst Collaborative aims to convey science and the culture of science through theater. CC@MIT commissions new plays and produces existing plays that involve science or scientists.

As both a distinguished physicist and an accomplished novelist, Lightman is one of only a small number of people who straddle the sciences and the humanities. He was the first professor at MIT to receive a joint appointment in the sciences and the humanities. His essay “In the Name of Love?” was the first article about love and language published in Nature, the prestigious international science journal (October 8, 2001), and his “The First Law of Thermodynamics” was the first short story published in the physics journal Physics Today (May 2005). He has lectured at more than 100 universities nationwide about the similarities and differences in the ways that scientists and artists view the world.

In his scientific work, Lightman has made fundamental contributions to the theory of astrophysical processes under conditions of extreme temperatures and densities. In particular, his research has focused on relativistic gravitation theory, the structure and behavior of accretion disks, stellar dynamics, radiative processes, and relativistic plasmas. He is best known for his discovery, with Douglas Eardley, of a secular instability in accretion disks, which have wide application in astronomy; for his proof, with David Lee, that all gravitation theories obeying the Weak Equivalence Principle must be metric theories of gravity; for his discovery of the negative heat behavior of optically thin, hot thermal plasmas dominated by electron-positron pairs; and for his work on unsaturated inverse Compton scattering in thermal media, also with wide application in astrophysics. His research articles have appeared in The Physical Review, The Astrophysical Journal, Reviews of Modern Physics, Nature, and other journals of physics and astrophysics. For his contributions to physics, he was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1989 and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science the same year. In 1990, he chaired the science panel of the National Academy of Sciences Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee for the 1990s. He is a past chair of the High Energy Division of the American Astronomical Society.

Lightman has also been interested in science education and the philosophy of science. His work in science studies and in science education has been published in The American Scholar, The Physics Teacher, Science, Science and Children, The Science Teacher, and Social Studies of Science.

Lightman’s novel Einstein’s Dreams was an international best seller.
D.White (material from his web site)

>Alan Lightman–A Rare Scientist, Teacher, Author

>To take the maiden voyage, I turn to the words of a physicist, Allan Lightman.

My friend Alan Lightman is talented and many-faceted and I only wished I lived in close proximity–I’m in Orlando and he is a New Englander. Not only a physicist, Lightman is an eminently successful sixty-year-old best-selling novelist and essayist. He is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of the international bestseller Einstein’s Dreams.

Alan Lightman is a rare find of an individual. He follows his finest instincts, intuition, and logic and becomes extremely successful, no matter what he is doing. Don White

I rarely write about science, though I wrote a very interesting, yet still unpublished 700-page science-religion book called Science and The Restoration of The Gospel that is filed away for the future and has yet to be sent out to a publisher. I would like a well-known man of Mormon religion to come knocking on my door to co-author it. I received approval from the great Alan Lightman to quote these passages and from many of my Mormon sources.

Alan Lightman knows his physics well enough to teach and write about it. In fact, this talented novelist fascinates by weaving science into his plots, narratives, and essays which requires a rare talent. I would love to visit this professor unexpectedly in his Massachusetts Institute of Technology classroom and see how he does it firsthand. He is author of the international bestseller Einstein’s Dreams which I fell in love with. He is my friend and one of the most engaging, enlightened, intelligent seekers of truth I know of today. I highly recommend anyone purchasing or borrowing at least two of his books: the bestseller “Einstein’s Dreams and his most fascinating work—at least to me—called The Discoveries”, both of which I’ve read and enjoyed greatly. I have not read his latest novel, Ghost, but I understand it’s hardly a disappointment. I really wanted him to co-author a book with me, but he refused–too busy, he said. And now I can understand why. I’ll read and review the “Ghost” book as soon as possible. Meanwhile I recommend reading a review done by Anthony Giardina October 31, 2007 for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Some of Lightman’s statements and quotations:
1) “In a world of fixed future, there can be no right or wrong. Right and wrong demand freedom of choice, but if each action is already chosen, there can be no freedom of choice. In a world of fixed future, no person is responsible. The rooms are already arranged” (Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams, Warner Books, 1994, 161, 162).

2) Even as Alan Lightman described it: “…with distant galaxies flying away from each other like dots painted on the skin of a swelling balloon” (Alan Lightman, The Discoveries, Random House, Inc., 2005, pp. 230, 231).

3) As Lightman said: “…when the universe returns to its hottest and densest state [under the oscillating universe theory], the temperature must reach at least 10 billion degrees, high enough to destroy all the heavy elements and begin over with nascent hydrogen. And at 10 billion degrees, as we have seen earlier, there will be so many electrons that space will be filled with black-body radiation, that is, the cosmic background radiation.”

4) “…In the late 1960s, biologists found that some bacteria developed immunity to antibiotics by changing the position of their genes on the chromosome. The position of a gene, in fact, partly governs its function, the function of neighboring genes, and the gene’s interaction with the rest of the organism” (Alan Lightman, The Discoveries, Pantheon Books, New York, 2005, p. 343).

5) “Mutations could occur in the standard theory of inheritance, but they were thought to be permanent rather than transient, and they were also thought to be random,” said Lightman (Ibid p. 332)

6) “Something was altering the genes on the maize chromosome in a regular and systematic way,” said Lightman. “That idea, already, was a revolution.”
Lightman summed up these findings: “No longer could one think of genes as fixed links on a chain, or of the chromosome as a static warehouse of instructions. The chromosome and genes on it were a dynamic system, changing during a single lifetime, both controlling and being controlled by the rest of the organism. McClintock fathomed some of these ideas, but not all, at the time. Even today, biologists don’t understand the details of how the information from the developing organism is relayed back to the chromosomes.”

7) As Alan Lightman reported, “In a rare and remarkable comment to Keller [Evelyn Fox Keller, who conducted extensive interviews with her in the late 1970s], McClintock described her creative moments of discovery: ‘When you suddenly see the problem, something happens-—you have the answer before you are able to put it into words. It is all done subconsciously. This has happened too many times to me, and I know when to take it seriously. I’m so absolutely sure. I don’t talk about it, I don’t have to tell anybody about it, I’m just sure this is it’ ” (Ibid).

8) Speaking of the central nervous system whose signals are believed to be transmitted via chemicals, not by electrical transmission, Lightman commented, “Such chemical controls provide a far more elaborate and finely balanced system than would be achieved by electrical transmission of nervous impulses” (Ibid p. 185).

9) According to Lightman, “it occurred about the time Einstein had his ‘thought experiments.’ Rutherford had his wildly intuitive ‘damn fool’ ideas, but very few scientists have reported receiving their great ideas in a dream” (Ibid p. 175).

10) Einstein’s findings led to “a wholesale reshaping of physics, called quantum mechanics, along a radically new conception of reality,” according to Lightman. (Ibid p. 14).