Dec 5, 2021
This week we are excited to welcome Dr. Stephon Alexander to the WSH to chat about his new book, Fear of a Black Universe: An Outsider’s Guide to the Future of Physics, which was published on August 31.
What lurks beyond the black hole singularity in our galaxy? How did cosmic structure emerge from a chaotic and featureless early universe? Is there a hidden link between the emergence of life and the laws of physics? These questions and other major problems of theoretical physics seem beyond the reach of human knowledge. But cosmologist Stephon Alexander is not so sure. Is the science really too hard, or could it be that a lack of demographic and intellectual diversity—a literal and figurative fear of the unknown—is holding science back?
As Alexander explains, greatness in physics requires transgression and a willingness to reject conventional expectations. For many years, there’s been a consensus that theoretical physics has failed to break new ground in the way that led to the quantum and relativity revolutions early in the last century. Some think it’s because physics has become too difficult, but Alexander argues that the real problem is that most scientists avoid delving into uncharted or forbidden territories out of the fear—often justified—of facing reputational and professional penalties. Furthermore, he explains that the physics community is woefully homogenous, and has a poor track record of welcoming people from diverse backgrounds into the field.
Stephon Alexander is a professor of cosmology at Brown University, an established jazz musician and an immigrant from Trinidad who grew up in the Bronx. He is the 2020 president of the National Society of Black Physicists and leads Brown University's Presidential Scholars program, which boosts underrepresented students. In addition to his academic achievements, he was the scientific consultant to Ava DuVernay for the feature film A Wrinkle in Time. His work has been featured by The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, WIRED, and many other outlets. He has been a guest on Nova, the “Brian Lehrer Show”, and Neil deGrasse Tyson's “StarTalk,” among much else.
You can learn more about Stephon by visiting his website https://stephonalexander.com/ and following him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/drstephon.alexander/), Twitter (https://twitter.com/stephstem), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/stephonjazz/), and YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgesReiNx9TH7rQIVhTt5aw).
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