how-einstein-heisenberg-and-godel-used-constraints-to-rethink-the-universe-with-janna-levin

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Interactive video lesson plan for: How Einstein, Heisenberg and Gödel Used Constraints to Rethink the Universe, with Janna Levin

Activity overview:

If you can't break through a wall, you climb over it. Janna Levin, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College, points to three genius scientists who embraced limitations. Levin's latest book is "Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space" (http://goo.gl/dFrzuz).

Read more at BigThink.com: http://bigthink.com/videos/janna-levin-on-benefits-of-restraints-in-science

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Transcript - I became interested in this phenomenon of constraints inspiring creative outbursts. And if you look at the last century there were three really profound examples of that. I would say the earliest that I found incredibly interesting was the limit of the speed of light leading Einstein to the theory of relativity. Where a lot of other scientists wanted to remove the limit, they wanted to say, 'There is no limit to the speed of light. That doesn't make any sense. That's impossible.' Einstein actually, despite the word relativity, adhered to a very strict absolute. And that absolute was the speed of light. He took that to be his guiding constraint. And by sticking to it rigidly he said, 'I'll give up anything else but the speed of light, the constancy of the speed of light.' And by doing so he gave up on the absolute nature of space and time.

I mean that's just much harder to let go of intuitively and a much greater violation of our common sense, but it was right. And so this was an example where this tight constraint led to a creative outburst. From this one constraint you could trace the line, not only to the relativity of space and time but the expansion of the universe; the existence of black holes; the ideal that the entire space has a shape, all of these things burgeoned from this really tight constraint.

Another great example is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. So Heisenberg begins to believe that we can't precisely know the location of a particle and its motion and its momentum. And this seems to violate what we believe that things objectively exist, that there should be no such limit, but he takes it very seriously. He doesn't just say, 'Oh it's often cast in this way; oh disturb a particle when we observe it therefore we can't also know it's momentum once we've located it because in the process of measuring it we've somehow disturbed it.' That's not really true. It's much deeper than that. Read Full Transcript Here: http://goo.gl/UAhcO5.

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