The Alder Grove

"In my sleep thought that I was standing in an alder grove of the straightest and fairest trees which the heart of man could think of or imagine."

Science vs God

I finally did something I've wanted to do for *ages* ... I got to see Lawrence Krauss up close and personal at a live event. So, here's my disclaimer: it's entirely possible that I have a teeny tiny nerd-crush on Prof. Krauss. (And anyone who knows me is either laughing or snorting derisively...I know who you are!) Just because he's incredibly brilliant, handsome, charming, witty and I love not only his books but hearing him speak does NOT mean... (/p>
Fine, whatever. At any rate, it was a nice day for hoofing it around Toronto so I walked up for some food at Caplansky's (like I could pass up smoked meat and latke's) and got to the event fairly early. Proceeded to make new friends who were as masochistic as I was for standing outside in the chilly weather to get really good seats. We chatted about Prof. Krauss and his various partners in crime, the upcoming Reason Rally and Non-Conference, cool places to learn about science-y things and eventually went in to get seats. Front row with all my new peeps from the line to make sure the people who live in the real world were well represented. I have to admit that he had made a comment on Twitter that got me thinking a few days before the event, "What if I am alone in a crowd of religious zealots and creationist????" So, thankfully that was not the case!

It would have been much more enjoyable just to hear Prof. Krauss but this was a Science vs God debate so there was also a guy named Stephen Meyer going on about Intelligent Design and a creationist "scientist" named Denis Lamoureux. Same tired old claims from the creationist side and this ridiculous thing about combination locks from the IDer, though I will give Meyer props for struggling through the debate with a migraine. He gets credit for being a trooper but not for anything he actually said. And before he made his argument...Prof. Krauss just dismantled Meyer. It was pretty fantastic to behold. "Stephen will come across as an interested scholar, and I want to disabuse you of that right away." and just took off after that. (I'll put a link to the debate at the end, you should watch it.) I'm not going to go into the meat of the debate as you should see it and judge the arguments for yourself. I will just say that science wiped the floor with the religion based crap the others were spouting.

Unbeknownst to me prior to the even, there was a reception after the debate. I didn't have a lot of time between the end an the last bus out of Toronto but decided that I had to go. It could be ages before he's back in Toronto for an event, especially since it's likely going to be at least a year until his next book comes out. I was in there for a bit, signed up for CFI Canada membership which I've been meaning to do for a while -- goes well with my membership in the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science as well as in The Planetary Society. Then I noticed Prof. Krauss came in and had a small crowd around him.

Granted, I have a little nerd-crush on him...but he was also pretty important in changing my life. I wrote a blog post a while back about how important Richard Dawkins was (along with Christopher Hitchens) in exposing me to this wonderful world of scientific inquiry, skepticism and more reasonable thinking. But I don't think that I actually would have had the courage to actually even admit to *myself* let alone anyone else that I was an atheist without Prof. Krauss. He was this incredibly forthright and passionate communicator of science and critical thinking and unabashedly atheist. I'm not exactly sure what it was that really resonated so much with what he said but there it is. He's taught me so much about physics that I had NO idea about...made me so excited about things like gravitational waves and just gave me the feeling like I could be really honest about who I really was and how I really saw the world. So...when I was standing a few steps away from him and he finished talking to a cute little retiree about how Prof. Dawkins was doing I thought to myself, "I'm going to thank him for everything he's brought into my life...." And as he was going to go and get a drink, he looked at me and said, "Hey, I saw you sitting in the front row! Thanks for coming."

I probably looked like I'd been hit in the back of the head with a board right at that moment. Let's be honest, doesn't matter how embarrassing it is...I had one thought sprint through my mind. "Lawrence Krauss just talked to me." Granted I was sitting right in his line of view and I did have my RDFRS membership pic quite visible (and again, anyone who knows me also knows that I'm never the quietest person in any room. EVER) but I will take what I can get. And although I did not get to have what I'm sure would have been a very witty and erudite conversation between the two of us (hey, one can dream...don't ruin the little picture I have built up in my mind about that), I did get him to sign my book and to listen to him mentioning his current areas of research and talking physics with people. Plus, I did not say anything that I would be mortified about at a later date. Not yet anyway, lol. It was an amazing night and I'll look forward to the next time he comes back to Toronto for an event. I will end, giving the last word to him and not myself...

And a link to the debate -

Addendum: One thing that came out of this debate..and out of even following Lawrence Krauss' Twitter is that I seem to get in a hell of a lot more online arguments than I used to. Which it turns out can sometimes be fun. But if you are viewing the debate you are going to see me in the comments section calling a couple of people idiots. I think I've been drinking the Kool-Aid a lot. ;-)

Messenger of the Universe

So...recently I had VIP tickets to see Neil deGrasse Tyson at the Sony Center in Toronto. And it was awesome.

He gave us a choice of topics for current events and the audience chose gravitational waves. He had this gorgeous video of exactly what happened when the black holes collided. "Those two black holes up there? Represent...two black holes". He went on to go over the mass of them and what happened when they collided, which I blogged about quite a bit in a previous post. But it sounds awesome when it comes in NDT's voice. Then when they showed the collision and the formation of the waves, he shouted, "See that! That's what formed!" as he pointed at them while running with them and off the stage.

He went on to show us a rather life-altering picture of Pluto (that which can never been unseen), and then talked a bit about evolution. Did you know that we are more closely related to mushrooms than either we or they are related to green plants? Yeah, me neither actually. :) And he talked about the importance of science being such a large part of a country's consciousness that it even appears on it's money. We got some props for replacing kids playing hockey with the Canadarm and an astronaut. He says that's Chris Hadfield...because Chris Hadfield told him so.

What is really going to stay with me though, more than anything is the end. I am always struck with "the bug" whenever I hear someone in their field who is wonderful in presenting science to the public in a clear and concise manner while still infecting you with the passion that they feel for it. The closing of the night...the auditorium went incredibly silent and an amazing picture of Saturn filled the screen. He talked about how we truly only discovered the Earth, by leaving it. And as the picture shifted from Saturn to the small speck that it our planet - Neil deGrasse Tyson read a passage from The Book of Carl. As he read the words, in that resonant voice, that seems as big as the universe itself, the picture came closer and closer to earth and showed Earth's moon in comparison before going back out to the original, as he read:

If you look at earth from space, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It's up to us.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

-- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

I can never say anything better than that.