Astrophysicist Mario Livio: A Twitterscript

Sunday, May 23, 2010 - 5:30 am

Astrophysicist Mario Livio: A Twitterscript

For the past few interviews, we have been diligently tweeting away while Krista converses with our guests. We hope that this is a unique way for you to experience some of the highlights — and get the conversation started — before you experience the full edited (or unedited!) show.
After our interview with Mario Livio, we all sat down to discuss what constitutes a good tweet. So, this week, we ask you: seeing the entire tweeting transcript below, what tweets are helpful? Do links help? Is it too much to break information between tweets?

  1. For the next 90 minutes, we’ll be live-tweeting Krista’s ISDN interview with Mario Livio, a Romanian astrophysicist who grew up in Israel.
  2. Mario Livio’s latest book is “Is God a Mathematician?”
  3. Livio asks if mathematics discovered or is it an invention of the human mind. Picks up from Krista’s interview with two Vatican astronomers.
  4. “Mathematics turns out to be too powerful in describing all these things.” -Mario Livio
  5. Mario Livio: Newton takes observations that aren’t so accurate, + his mathematical equations are more accurate than the observations!
  6. Livio: the theory of knots are very important application for string theory even though it was initially thought to have no application.
  7. Livio: The conclusion I reached about math being discovered or invented is that the question is being posed wrong. It’s a mixture.
  8. Ex. of mixture: imaginary numbers like square root of -1. We invent the concept and then we discover the relationships among these concepts.
  9. Ancient Greeks invented concept of prime numbers. And then the discoveries were forced upon us.
  10. Livio: Roger Penrose, mathematical physicist: three worlds and three mysteries – physical world, consciousness, mathematical forms.
  11. Penrose’s 3 mysteries: 1) out of the physical word, consciousness 2) consciousness gives access to math forms 3) math explains phys. world
  12. Livio: Chomsky will tell you that there is more universality to languages than we think.
  13. Livio “The Microsoft Effect”: once a particular OS starts to dominate, all have to adapt it. Mathematical notation is a little bit of that.
  14. Mario Livio: “Our perception system is universal. This had to help in inventing natural numbers like 1,2,3,4,5…”
  15. “Like beauty in the arts, it is somewhat more vaguely defined [in mathematics] …but perhaps it is a little bit more defined.” -Mario Livio
  16. We try to formulate a few laws of physics + try to explain all phenomena. We do the same thing in mathematics – like in symmetry. -M. Livio
  17. “I have heard very few people think that Einstein’s general theory of relativity is not beautiful.” -Mario Livio, astrophysicist
  18. Mario Livio: You could argue that the principal behind Einstein’s general relativity is simpler than Newton’s gravity.
  19. M. Livio: Symmetry is a quantity that does not change. Mathematicians came up with a system to describe ALL these symmetries. Group Theory.
  20. Funny moment where Krista starts to ask Livio about his love of art and Mario Livio responds, “You seem to be well prepared.”
  21. Mario Livio, in response to Krista’s question: “I don’t have a good explanation for my passion for art.”
  22. Livio: “…it would be false to say that science + art have influenced each other. Or that science + religion have influenced each other.”
  23. M. Livio: “A person who feels a need for God does not want a God that created the universe and then left the universe to its own devices.”

  24. M. Livio, picking up on that last point: “Science has nothing to say about this. … People try to force the connection.”
  25. M.Livio-ppl who try to say Genesis is completely accurate scientifically does science & religion a disservice
  26. M.Livio-Is God a Mathematician? “I mean God as an Einsteinian God-synonym to the working of the cosmos.”
  27. M.Livio-Physics has changed over time but “Mathematics has evolved, but the math the ancient greeks did is still true today.” Eternal truth?
  28. M.Livio-As physics became more predictive, people went away from religion to talk about nature – talked about precise sciences
  29. M.Livio-cont. a development of 20th century-with quantum physics, things are no longer deterministic, can only calculate probabilities
  30. M.Livio-“Biology today the state physics was…..-many of the major breakthroughs are yet to be made”
  31. Krista tells a funny story of Goedel, accompanied by Einstein, applying for US citizenship –
  32. M. Livio – About math and life… well “in science, unless you have a well defined problem it is virtually impossible to try to answer it”
  33. Livio-“Things like life these are inherently complex situations where..often I don’t..know what question to pose, let alone find the answer”
  34. Livio-April 24 is Hubble 20 year anniversary. He talks about the importance of Hubble images –
  35. Krista and M. Livio recall SOF interview about human & mathematical limits with Janna Levin –
  36. M.Livio-pushing boundaries-we used to think the earth was the center of a universe, and now “200 galaxies like ours just in the observable”
  37. M.Livio – but each discovery we make, we find out there’s something “even more mysterious”
  38. M.Livio-In all this, our physical selves seem more&more minuscule, but our minds making the discoveries are more&more important & central
  39. Thank you Mario Livio! For more information on him and his book :

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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