104: Cumrun Vafa: Puzzles to Unlock The Universe!


Cumrum Vafa

Listen to Episode

Join me in welcoming Prof. Cumrun Vafa (Harvard) in his first major podcast interview! We discussed a wide range of topics including what message he'd put into a billion-year time capsule. Plus, we discuss his delightful new book. Beneath all of the complex and formidable mathematical structures that formulate physical laws rest simple but deep nuggets of truth. It is these simple truths, and not the complicated technical details, that scientists strive for when uncovering the laws of nature. Fortunately, these core ideas can often be illustrated with simple mathematical puzzles. These puzzles are so simplified that one can tackle them and appreciate their meaning without using any complicated math.

His book, Puzzles To Unravel The Universe,  includes over a hundred puzzles and their solutions, along with a discussion about how they relate to deep ideas in physics and math. Examples are drawn from classical physics, such as Newton's laws and Einstein's theory of relativity, as well as from modern physics, including black holes and string theory. This book is designed for the general public, and it does not require an extensive background in mathematics or physics--just a sense of curiosity!

For more information about the author see his website: https://www.cumrunvafa.org/ .

Get the book here: https://amzn.to/3mSFGA1

  • 00:00:00 Introduction
  • 00:01:39 The story behind the title and book cover
  • 00:03:55 What is a puzzle versus a mystery?
  • 00:05:48 What puzzles are you most fascinated by?
  • 00:06:26 Black hole entropy
  • 00:07:56 Albert Michelson
  • 00:08:31 Godel's Theorem: Are some puzzles not solvable?
  • 00:10:39 Aristarchos of Samos
  • 00:11:21 Galileo and the Dialogo
  • 00:12:24 Why string theory?
  • 00:17:25 Dimensional Analysis
  • 00:21:35 Singularities
  • 00:28:51 ADS and 5 Dimensions
  • 00:31:08 string theory 00:35:09 Supersymmetry
  • 00:40:42 On Religion 00:53:05 A scorecard for Physics
  • 00:57:30 What would your "ethical will" be?
  • 00:58:30 What would you put on monoliths that would last a billion years?
  • 01:03:10 What have you accomplished that once seemed impossible?

Professor Vafa is world-renowned for his groundbreaking work in string theory and the mathematical technology needed to explore this field. He is one of the founders of the duality revolution in string theory which has reshaped our understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe. He has uncovered mysteries of black holes using topological aspects of string theory and is the founder of `F-theory’ which is one of the most promising directions in connecting string theory solutions known as the `string landscape’ to particle physics. His ideas related to apparently consistent, but ultimately inconsistent, theories of quantum gravity which he initiated in the `swampland’ project has helped narrow down the vast string landscape and is currently an active area of research with an impact on cosmology, as well as particle phenomenology.