Brian Gallagher in Nautilus:
Jim Al-Khalili has an enviable gig. The Iraqi-British scientist gets to ponder some of the deepest questions—What is time? How do nature’s forces work?—while living the life of a TV and radio personality. Al-Khalili hosts The Life Scientific, a show on BBC Radio 4 featuring his interviews with scientists on the impact of their research and what inspires and motivates them. He’s also presented documentaries and authored popular science books, including a novel, Sun Fall, about the crisis that unfolds when, in 2041, Earth’s magnetic field starts to fail. His latest book, The Joy of Science, is his response to a different crisis.
“The Joy of Science was motivated by this sense that a lot of us have, that public discourse is becoming increasingly polarized,” Al-Khalili tells Nautilus. “There seems to be a rise in irrational, anti-scientific thinking, and conspiracy theories. And there’s no room for debate, particularly amplified by the internet and social media.” His message is that we should all be thinking more critically. “If we could export some of the ideas of science, when science is done well, into everyday life, I think we would all be happier, more empowered.”
Al-Khalili tells me that doling out advice is quite the departure for him. But after a long career in physics and science communication, he says with a laugh, “I’ve reached that stage where I arrogantly think I can impart wisdom to the world.” In our interview, Al-Khalili discusses, among other things, the unprecedented level of cognitive dissonance nowadays, what’s wrong with Occam’s razor, and whether ideological thinking conflicts with a scientific mindset. He also defends “scientific realism,” and walks me through a puzzle about light that Einstein dreamt up as a teenager.