On April 20, more than 100 people joined us for an INconversation with Alan Lightman and Rabbi Sandy Sasso to kick off Indiana Humanities’ new Quantum Leap theme. We are grateful for the partnership of our host, Butler University, and The DaVinci Pursuit for making the event possible.
Colliding the worlds of the humanities with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is the animating idea behind Quantum Leap. So, pairing a rabbi with a physicist seemed like the perfect beginning to our series of programs. And who knew the event would start with “a rabbi and astrophysicist walk into a bar…” reference—it was good to see that our speakers could combine levity and gravity.
We covered topics such as immortality, spirituality, time, physics, creativity and more. With apologies for what we have certainly left out, here are five takeaways for those who couldn’t join us:
1. Physicists peak at a disturbingly young age. Alan argued that the sciences require agility (of mind) and youth, like an athlete. In contrast, the arts and humanities can be enhanced by life experiences. [Read Alan’s New York Times article that he mentioned writing in 1984 that may have angered some of his colleagues…]
2. Physicists may be more philosophical than other scientists. Physics deals with fundamental questions, like religion and philosophy. Alan noted that religion and science are both seeking truth but science views truth as an endless set of approximations. Most religious beliefs don’t accept the notion of constant revision and rethinking. There may be differences between science and the humanities when considering fundamental truth.
3. The central doctrine of science—that nature is lawful—has to be taken on faith. This is a place where science and religion intersect. The humanities, arts and sciences are also connected in the sense that they are all seeking truth and beauty.
4. Happy people are those who have surrendered to the moment. In one of Alan’s books he writes that “each kiss is a kiss of immediacy.” Last night we heard Alan recommend that to capture immediacy you should turn off your phone, sit in a quiet place and “listen to your mind.” Alan notes that we create our own reality and cited a famous passage from Paradise Lost that “the mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
5. We are happiest when we’re doing something good for other people. Alan humbly noted the negative role of ego in science and art. When you get too personally invested, you see everything as a verdict of your own worth and you’re doomed to unhappiness.