A Day with Nobel Laureates

Published On: July 4, 2021 07:13 PM NPT By: Arun Sharma

Arun Sharma

Arun Sharma

The contributor for Republica.

Who are we? Where did we come from?  What is our address in this universe? Where is it (the universe) going?  Are we alone and lonely in the cosmos? How did life begin? Are there more dimensions besides space, time, and mass? Profound questions, they raised without the help of God.  Is God, too, a creation of the human brain; questions were raised by the laureates. 

Phoenix, Arizona (USA) in early April attracts visitors every year just as it did many living Nobel laureates a decade ago. With moderate day temperature, clear blue sky, tall majestic Saguaro cacti   in   the background of red and gray sedimentary mountains, the desert blooms with abundance of yellow, pink, red and white varieties of cacti flowers. Visitors come for warm weather, pristine golf courses and natural wonders of Sedona and Grand Canyon close by. While some of the global towering brains enjoyed Arizona’s unique beauty, we the locals relished the assembly of super brains that came as a rare opportunity a decade ago.

Eight Nobel laureates along with other 30 world famous scientists assembled inside the famous historic Gammage auditorium, to a full capacity of 3,000 audiences, one of the lasting landmarks of   the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. They pondered over some big questions we have been asking for about 10,000 years as to where it all began and how about God?

Who are we? Where did we come from?  What is our address in this universe? Where is it (the universe) going?  Are we alone and lonely in the cosmos? How did life begin? Are there more dimensions beside space, time, and mass? Profound questions, they raised without the help of God.  Is God, too, a creation of the human brain; questions were raised by the laureates themselves including myself. Luminaries of mathematics, cosmology, biology, anthropology, genomes and genetics pondered over for a week among themselves and then with a live audience for over 12 hours on that April day.

To say the thrill of the intellectual discourse was an ongoing excitement exploding with continuous firing of neurons inside our brains is not an overstatement. For me, this was one of the best investments of time and one hundred dollars in my lifetime with the memories lasting forever to cherish for life.

Why the human brain evolved to be so big was one of the profound questions raised as it is capable of exploring, investigating the how and whys or even creating innumerable images of the gods. Would God roll dice? Einstein asked a while ago. Did god have a choice in what he did, Craig Lawrence a physicist asked?

Baruch Blumberg, a distinguished Scientist at Fox Chase Cancer Center and Professor of Medicine and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976 for discoveries concerning   new mechanisms for the origin of infectious diseases and, specifically for the discovery of Hepatitis B virus. He along with Brian Greene used buzz words such as “string theory” which connects with Einstein’s theory of relativity or quantum mechanics, the theory of super small particles as waves interchangeably we hardly understand.

Brian Greene is a theoretical physicist and mathematician at Columbia University whose string theory leads us to parallel universes but how do we comprehend a parallel one when we hardly know enough about the one we live in? One of the questions!

“Trying to judge string theory is like trying to judge a block of wood that has not been turned into a violin yet.” Greene said.

New particles will have to be discovered and measured as we only know and can measure 4% of the particles in the universe. That is how little we know about the universe. The rest is so-called, “dark matter” , the stuff we just do not know about, the unknown mysterious matter we continue to look for.

The physicist was looking forward to the Large Hedron Collider (LHC) coming on line that year. Michael Turner, a theoretical physicist at University of Chicago called the new LHC a “dark matter factory” and chided a newfound particle “neutrolino” will be renamed because members of the focus group do not like this name.

Stephen Hawkins hospitalized in California sent a live message with his daughter Lucy Hawkins. Hawkins, the pop icon scientist was known as the biggest living brain in the ranks of Newton and Einstein. Hawkins made his case suggesting we use moon as base for next space explorations. Exploring space and the outer solar system would be a program for next 50 years and making it a long term pursuit.  We must do it – his strong recommendation a decade ago.

“By long term I mean next 200-500 years.” He clarified life seated in a wheelchair in a California hospital.

Hawkins’s presentation broadcast from his bed in California was literally a psychedelic experience with huge, blowup images of moon, earth and mars in the background, spectacularly colorful real, round objects mystifying the symposium attendees. I felt like I was taking a supersonic plane ride to the moon and mars while seated inside the earth’s atmosphere and its gravity. Fascinating oh my! Thrilling ride in virtual space! Amazing feeling!

The origin of life if it began on our planet was also questioned as meteors have bombarded mother Earth countless times since eons. What if we (life) came from somewhere else? The question rose.

One of the science super stars and an icon Richard Dawkins of Cambridge dressed in cool Hawaiian shirt (while everyone else was sporting at least a jacket) kidded and excused himself for his informal attire as he said, “Pardon me for my attire, you may understand I don't get to wear this kind of outfit at Cambridge”, his academic home in the UK. Dawkins himself is a god-like figure in evolutionary biology.

Dawkins of Oxford with unparalleled standing is famous for his nine published books including The Selfish Gene and the God Delusion.

Walter Gilbert 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry argues the genes are created through exon shuffling. Now what really is that? I didn’t quite understand.

Paleoanthropologist Don Johanson who discovered 3.18 million years old Lucy in 1981 established unquestionably we all are descendents of Lucy as he joked she must be bewildered to see her offspring,  billions of us  scattered around in all shapes and colors but we all are Africans as he emphatically concluded. How shocking it was at one time that apes, chimpanzee rang-tang are all our genetic relatives. Africa is the most probable place of our origin. The biggest wonder of all is with a huge 1400 cubic cm brain we humans have unique attributes of fascinations, wonderment, impulse to reach out, explore and question very basic of our beings. And, the never-ending journey of this exploration continues.

Craig Venter is an expert in sequencing human genomes. He dwells on genes and genomes and attempts to digitize life. Can we regenerate or generate new life is his perennial question and the search he attempts to resolve. There are 6.5 billion varieties of species from closer ones to far apart ones between 50-60% differences.  Some 200 organisms reside inside our bodies and in our oral cavity alone we have 1,000 or more bacteria. In each meal we import 500 chemicals inside our system. Intricately complicated yet there are many similarities among the species which adds complexity yet we have the fears of unknown outcomes rattle our existing notions, concepts and ethical foundations including our system of beliefs when we ponder on artificially created lives.

Craig Lawrence postulated there are 400 billion galaxies expanding and moving away faster than we can measure. There is no center to the universe. We are not it (the center) and the universe has a curvature. What we believe is empty space is really not empty. The particles pop in and out so fast we can’t see or measure them. Vacuum energy is the grand sum of all energies in the universe. He raises a cosmic question as to what was the intent of God in creation. Did he have or was he even given a choice? Was it even a creation?

Paul Davies, director of “Beyond Center” at Arizona State University joked if we are the only planet that harbors the kind of life as we know it. “That would put an awesome responsibility on us.”

Davis is one of the 70 scientists worldwide pondering on the origin question.

Only four percent of this make up of this universe can be measured; the rest 96% is the dark mystery also known as “dark matter.” We need new particles to be able to measure the rest of the stuff out there.

God being away not to be seen or heard (as usual), the living gods continued questioning themselves and each other.

It is all about questioning! It is all about exploring an important function and the dilemma of the biggest brain God (or whoever else) has given us. Darwin seriously attempted to reveal. He had some clues! He was a pioneer!

But, why is it (the human brain) so big? And, the question continues! Yet, this is still the tip of the iceberg- plethora of questions continues.

However, they all agreed along with the biggest human brain God itself is a fantastic creation of a human mind. The utility of this majestic creation is a fascinating topic to ponder coming soon!!

(Arun Sharma is an engineer and writer with seven published books.)

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