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From Strings to Stars: ARMENPRESS Exclusive with American physicist Brian Greene


 American physicist Brian Greene is undeniably one of the most renowned science communicators in contemporary times.

The professor at Columbia University is recognized for his theoretical work in the field of string theory. This intricate physical framework, aspiring to be a theory encompassing quantum gravity or a "theory of everything," seeks to explain the fundamental nature of the universe, the origins and interactions of its fundamental forces. Greene has taken it upon himself to elucidate these complex concepts, at the forefront of physics and cosmology, to the broader public using accessible language.

His books, written in a scientifically understandable manner, have been translated into approximately 40 languages worldwide. His debut work, "The Elegant Universe," which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, has sold over 2 million copies globally. It inspired the Washington Post to call him "the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today."

Greene was among the speakers at the STARMUS VII festival in Slovakia. Drawing from his book of the same title, his presentation titled "Until the End of Time" captivated hundreds of attendees from start to finish. Following his speech, ARMENPRESS had the opportunity to converse with Professor Greene about String Theory, black holes, the necessity of space exploration, and the significance of inspiring a passion for science among young people.

- In one of your interviews, you said that black holes are the prime theoretical laboratory for pursuing our ideas to the limit, and the essential thing is just to understand them. In your opinion, how close are we to that?

- Pretty far. But we are making enormous progress and so the journey from here to full understanding nobody could really predict. But we still don’t really know what happens right at the center - the singularity of a black hole. And until we fully understand how gravity and quantum mechanics talk to each other which we’re working out now and making great progress, until that story’s fully settled I don’t think we will be able to truly understand what happens at the center of a black hole. Once we do, the Big Bang will likely also be something we can talk about with a level of precision that we’ve been unable to master to this point. So, it’s not just understand black holes; it’s to understand the fundamental principles necessary, and black holes are a wonderful proving ground to determine if we’ve got in there.  

- You are very well known for your work on string theory. I remember reading one of your interviews where you mentioned that this theory could be the "Theory of Everything." How did you come to that conclusion, and how close are we to understanding this?

- It’s a good question. I typically don’t use the language "Theory of Everything”, maybe in some off-the-cuff interview I may have. The reason I don’t is because it’s really a theory of the fundamental ingredients and the fundamental forces by which those ingredients interact, how they behave. Then we need to take that theory, if it’s correct, and determine how those ingredients build the structures of the world around us – the stars, the galaxies, the planets, the people, brains, consciousness. There’re so many open questions, even if we had the string theory in hand. And so that’s why I don’t like to call it a "Theory of Everything."

But how close are we to that? Well, we’ve been making again enormous progress over the 60 years that we’ve been working on this theory. There’re things when I was a graduate student, I would have hoped that we would’ve solved by today. First, we had to test this theory.  But the other things like applying the ideas to understand how space and time behave in extreme realms, we’ve made great progress. So, it’s an exciting, vibrant, dynamic field of study, and we just have to have patience to allow researchers to push on forward.

- We, humans are trying to solve the deepest questions of the Universe, such as where the Universe begins and how the forces integrate into the Universe. And we’ve made a quite big progress in the last 50 years. What do you think we can achieve in the next 50 years?

- If the past is any guide to the future, it’s going to be an exciting time. I think it’s possible that we will fully understand the singularities, like what happened in black holes and the Big Bang. I think we might have a deeper understanding therefore of how the universe really began, if there’s a time before the Big Bang. Maybe we’ll understand that. Or is the Universe somehow cyclical, does it go through cycles of expansion and contraction. I think we’ll have an insight into a question like that. Perhaps even a question such as are there other universes; our theoretical developments may rule out that possibility or may heighten that possibility, maybe give us an explanation for the dark energy and the dark matter. So hugely exciting prospects for where the next 50 years will take us if we have the will to keep on going. And I hope that we do.

- What do you think is the main role of a scientist as an educator in terms of encouraging the young generation to engage in science?

- It’s vital. The only way the next generation thinks of science as something they want to be part of is if we present it in a way that’s compelling and exciting, a dramatic story of adventure that you can be part of. And so, it’s up to us to get the next generation excited. And I think a lot of physicists and scientists were generally pretty good at doing that. We have to continue to inspire the next generation.

- Do you think it will ever be possible for humanity to go beyond Earth and establish a presence beyond our planet?

- Oh, no doubt, if we don’t blow ourselves up or ruin the planet before we reach that technological capacity. Even now, in principle, we could start small settlements on the Moon, possibly on Mars. So in the next 50, 100, 500 years, do I anticipate that happening? I do. I do anticipate our spreading out through Space in a way that we’ll have a presence far beyond planet Earth.

- What do you consider the biggest scientific achievement of the 21st century?

- I would say that the detection of gravitational waves is probably the one that would top my list, not because it was surprising. We expected the gravitational waves for real. What’s surprising is that we can actually build equipment sensitive enough to actually measure their presence. And that is something many of us doubted. We thought, yeah, they are real, but we are never be able to detect them, and yet we’ve done that. And now, the plan is to use gravitational waves as a new tool for observing the Universe. The LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) experiment, set to go up in the 2030s, these three satellites in Space forming a triangle that will be highly sensitive to gravitational waves rolling by. We may be able to detect the gravitational waves from the Big Bang. Wow! How wonderful would that be.

- You know, many people may ask why is it important to explore the Space or try to understand the origins of the Universe? There’re so many problems here on Earth right now that need to be solved…

- Yeah, and there’s a lot to that. One wouldn’t want to say that scientific exploration is more important than solving the problems here on Earth. But nor would one want to say that we have to solve all problems on planet Earth before we can explore the wider Cosmos for two reasons. Number one: sometimes it’s deep scientific exploration which unexpectedly yields insights that helps us solve Earth’s problems, whether they are medical problems, or climate problems, or food shortage problems. These kinds of things can benefit from fundamental scientific research. But even more than that, you have to ask yourself; what is it that makes life worth living? And I think, if you spend enough time contemplating that, yes, family and personal presence in the world, and trying to help others, all that’s vastly important. But understanding who we are is also important. Understanding where we came from, understanding where we’re going. Understanding the context within which life on planet Earth happens. I think that is so vital to a full appreciation of life that we need to continue that exploration in parallel. 

- And what will be your advice to the younger generation of scientists?

- To allow your curiosity to roam widely, to not be afraid of taking risks, to be willing to take a chance, to be willing to trust yourself and go where your intuition suggest the big prize may be. Because if you look at the history of the great scientists, they did just that

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