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Physicist to speak on relationship between science, humanities


Alan Lightman
January 20, 2015

How do fiction and physics go together? This question is a recurrent theme in the works of Alan Lightman, a physicist, novelist, essayist and author of international best-seller "Einstein’s Dreams," whose scholarship frequently investigates the relationship between the sciences and the humanities.

Lightman, the Institute for Humanities Research 2015 Distinguished Lecturer at Arizona State University, will delve even deeper into this question in a free public lecture at 5 p.m., Feb. 3 at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Great Hall on the Tempe campus.

In his talk, Lightman will explore the mutual impact of the sciences and humanities and arts on one another, and will discuss how he lives with these two realities at the same time.

Lightman is Professor of the Practice of the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he was the first faculty member to receive an appointment in both the humanities and sciences. Through works such as "The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew" (2014), Lightman explores everything from multiple universes to the perception of time to the question of God’s existence, illustrating along the way the value of being a& humanist and physicist simultaneously.

Lightman’s prolific writing reflects his long engagement with both the sciences and the humanities, with works of fiction (such as "Good Benito" and "Song of Two Worlds") and nonfiction (such as "Great Ideas in Physics" and "The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th Century Science") counting among his more than twenty books published to date. Lightman is also the founder of the Harpswell Foundation, a nonprofit institution whose mission is to empower women leaders in Cambodia through housing, education and leadership training.

In his scientific work, Lightman has made significant contributions to the field of astrophysics, particularly to theories of processes occurring under extreme temperatures and densities. Much of his work has focused on stellar dynamics and the structure of accretion disks. His discoveries and proofs, such as the structural instability of accretion disks (the proof that gravitation theories obeying the principle of Weak Equivalence must describe gravity as a warping of space and time), have been shown to be widely applicable in astronomy and astrophysics.

A reception will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Armstrong Hall, to be directly followed by the lecture at 5 p.m. The ASU Bookstore will be offering a number of Lightman’s books for sale, and the author will sign books after the lecture.

For more information on the 2015 Distinguished Lecture with Alan Lightman or to RSVP, visit: https://ihr.asu.edu/news-events/events/crossroads-science-and-humanities. Space is limited, so please RSVP as soon as possible to ensure your seat.