Activities

My Schedule

Things I Do (Or At Least Think About)

Much of what I do fits comfortably under the categories of research, talking, blogging, or writing books (The Particle at the End of the Universe, From Eternity to Here, Spacetime and Geometry). Here are some other things I dabble in when I have the time.

Science and Religion

I am an atheist, although I prefer "naturalist" because it seems like a more constructive and forward-looking term. Furthermore, I believe that conventional Western religious beliefs are straightforwardly incompatible with what science has taught us about the universe. And I think it matters -- religion is an important force both socially and philosophically, and getting these things right is important to how we live our lives. But I also think it's possible (and advisable) to speak respectfully to people with whom we disagree, and I've attempted to live up to that ideal myself.

I have two longer articles on the subject: "Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists," based a talk I gave at a conference on "God and Physical Cosmology," and "Does the Universe Need God?," prepared for the upcoming Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity. I participated in a debate sponsored by the Skeptics Society, pitting Michael Shermer and myself against Dinesh D'Souza and Ian Hutchinson. I was also part of a panel discussion on the Discovery Channel a special in which Stephen Hawking proclaimed the death of God. In 2004 I co-taught (with Shadi Bartsch) a course on the history of atheism at the University of Chicago.

In October 2012 I organized a small workshop, "Moving Naturalism Forward," which brought together philosophers, biologists, physicists, and others to talk about ongoing challenges. Complete videos of the proceedings are now available.

Philosophy and Literature

I have a longstanding interest in philosophy, dating from my undergrad days when I got a philosophy minor. I haven't done any "serious" work in philosophy, but I hope to someday. In the meantime I've been lucky enough to mingle with philosophers fairly often, and to give talks at several philosophy conferences. My research interests in physics overlap strongly with issues in philosophy of science, especially foundations of statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics. But I'm also interested in metaphysics and ontology (especially issues of causation and emergence), not to mention ethics and moral philosophy. I did an interview about science and philosophy at 3:AM magazine. And hare some informal thoughts on various topics: physics and ethics, why there is something rather than nothing, contingency, ought vs. is, free will, Zizek, determinism, moral realism, and downward causation.

I'm also very interested in fiction and literature, and have occasionally used my credentials as a scientist to worm my way into meetings on those topics. Here's a short paper I wrote on science as a source of metaphors. I've given a few talks at theater companies to accompany plays with scientific themes.

Media and Outreach

I'm a big believer that science is something everyone can follow and enjoy, and that scientists should make some effort to share what we discover about the universe. That feeling is a major motivation behind the blog, the book, the Teaching Company lectures, and the various talks. I've had the pleasure of appearing on a number of radio and TV shows, including The Colbert Report, NOVA's The Fabric of the Cosmos, Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole, and NPR's Science Friday. Sometimes I appear on the DVD extras for a movie or TV show, such as the LOST University package that was part of the Blu-Ray for Season Five of LOST.

In 2003, 2004, and again in 2007 I went on dinosaur expeditions to Wyoming with Project Exploration. I found an edmontosaurus, or at least part of one. Every paleontological outfit needs a team cosmologist.

Science and Entertainment

Since moving to LA, I've had the opportunity to serve as an informal science consultant for a number of film and TV projects, in part through the efforts of the Science and Entertainment Exchange. TV shows I've been involved with include Bones, The Big Bang Theory, and Fringe; movies include TRON: Legacy, Thor, and Angels and Demons. Plus there have been a number of consults for projects that are still in development, with directors and writers such as Ridley Scott, Joseph Kosinski, Michael Mann, Ian Brennan, Timur Bekmambetov, and Gavin O'Connor. In 2011 I served on the Sloan Prize jury at the Sundance Film Festival. I strongly believe that scientists and Hollywood can work together to both improve the portrayal of science and tell better stories. This article in Popular Mechanics tells of the glamorous life of the science consultant, and this interview with SEE talks a bit about my experiences.

Teaching

My job here at Caltech doesn't call for much teaching; but I've enjoyed it when I have taught, and hope to do it again at some point. This teaching page relives some past glories. I've also done a set of lectures for the Teaching Company, about dark matter and dark energy, not to mention more general topics in cosmology, gravity, and particle physics. The lectures are aimed at a slightly broader audience than the aforementioned textbook (anyone at all, really). I'm currently recording another set of lectures, on mysteries of time.

Organizing

I've organized a number of conferences, workshops, and symposia.