Shut Up and Measure: A Conversation With Brian G. Keating

Brian G. Keating at

ScreenHunter_2887 Nov. 11 12.00What is this cosmic hubris that makes us feel so important about the Universe and our place within it? This is the question that I'm grappling with right now. I'm trying to experimentally shed some light on these extremely heated discussions that have taken over cosmology in the last few months with a debate about the deep past of cosmology and the implications for the future.

Specifically, what concerns me is whether we can drill down to the first moments, nanoseconds, microseconds, trillionths of a second after the Big Bang. And if we do, is it really going to tell us something about the origin of the Universe, or is it merely tacking decimal places onto the primordial collection of stamps? My question is one of bringing data. When people were waxing philosophic and having existential crises of faith about their equations, Feynman used to say, "Shut up and calculate." And that meant that the implications of what you were doing metaphysically, philosophically, and otherwise didn't matter; what mattered were the answers that you got at the end of the calculation.

A lot of what my colleagues and I do is shut up and measure. We build equipment that you can’t buy online. We have to design things from scratch that have a very specific purpose. I’ve noticed lately, and it's of grave concern to me, that many of the scientists, especially young scientists, are in the mode of trying to prove a theory. And that is a very dangerous aspect of science. The thought of being associated with the physicists who have created these ideas that are speaking to the essence of meaning as a human being is intoxicating. How did it all begin? It’s the most primitive question the human mind can ask. It’s natural to want to be associated with that. And further, it’s natural to think that we live in the first time in the history of humanity in which it’s possible to answer these questions using modern technology.

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