Category Archives: Krauss

Great science talks in Auckland

There’s some great talks coming up in the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival involving science writers. Unfortunately they are selling out quick – so if you are interested I recommend booking right away.

Here are the details:


In the mere span of a human lifetime, our understanding of the universe has changed completely.

Celebrated prize-winning scientist, public intellectual and accomplished speaker Professor Lawrence Krauss is one of the leading figures in this golden age of cosmology.

Currently based at the Arizona State University, he is the author of The Physics of Star Trek (1995), Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science (2010) and, most recently, the New York Times bestseller A Universe from Nothing (2011).

Krauss speaks with Dr. Grant Christie about the big bang, the expanding universe, the rich and mysterious world of cosmology and our place on the sidelines.

Professor Krauss is in New Zealand as a Hood Fellow in association with The University of Auckland.

Event Details

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  • Date: Friday 11 May 2012
  • Time: 05:30 p.m. – 06:30 p.m.
  • Price: Earlybird $20, Standard $25, Patrons $16, Students $12.50



American physicist and intellectual Lawrence Krauss, in his new book A Universe from Nothing (2012), argues that quantum physics has clearly established no God is required for the creation of the universe.

In an age where public debate rages on the teaching of science vs religion, an argument that Krauss is at the forefront of in America, is religion a valid view or mere superstition, and does it matter either way?

Krauss comes together with theologian Lloyd Geering to discuss the existence of a deity, the need for God in the 21st century and whether the religious beliefs that have underpinned our societies for so long are dangerous or useful in finding meaning and shaping a future.

Chaired by Tom Bishop.

Professor Krauss is in New Zealand as a Hood Fellow in association with the University of Auckland.

  • Date: Saturday 12 May 2012
  • Time: 04:00 p.m. – 05:00 p.m.
  • Price: Earlybird $20, Standard $25, Patrons $16, Students $12.50


Free Event

Danny Vendramini’s book Them + Us: How Neanderthal Predation Created Modern Humans expounds the controversial theory that Eurasian Neanderthals hunted, killed and cannibalised early humans for 50,000 years, with modern human physiology, sexuality, aggression, propensity for inter-group violence and human nature all emerging as a direct consequence.

It’s a theory that seems both preposterous and intriguing, taking, as it does, the core of Darwinian biology and cladding it with challenging ideas about trauma, the genetic transmission of emotions and the origin of instincts.

An illustrated talk chaired by historian Paul Moon

Supported by the Australia Council for the Arts.

Event Details


Until recently, theories of neuroscience have posited that the brain can not be changed but the emerging field of neuroplasticity is challenging this view.

In The Woman Who Changed Her Brain (2012), Canadian Barbara Arrowsmith Young reveals how she developed a series of innovative brain exercises to conquer her severe learning disabilities.

She speaks with Michael Corballis about overcoming major brain dysfunction and some of the clinical mysteries and fascinating stories she has encountered in her research.

Event Details

Book this event

  • Date: Sunday 13 May 2012
  • Time: 04:00 p.m. – 05:00 p.m.
  • Price: Earlybird $20, Standard $25, Patrons $16, Students $12.50

“Other ways of knowing” – some sense at last

There’s been a lot of rubbish written about “other ways of knowing”. So it’s quite refreshing to read Richard Carrier’s classification of methods of knowing. This is from his book Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Well worthy reading by the way.

He starts by pointing out that no method of obtaining knowledge can produce absolute certainty. We can always be wrong, make mistakes. But we can list possible methods in order of reliability:

What is rational is to assign degrees of conviction to degrees of certainty established by a tried-and-tested method. What is rational is reasonable certainty, not absolute certainty.”

The methods of logic and mathematics are well-developed and provide the greatest certainty we have yet been able to find regarding anything, other than a present, uninterpreted experience. The next greatest certainty has been found in the application of scientific methods to empirical problems. In third place is our own daily experience, when interpreted with a logical or scientific mindset. Fourth is the application of critical-historical methods to claims about past events. Fifth is the application of the criteria of trust to the claims of experts. Sixth is the untested but logical application of inferential generalizations from incomplete facts—that is, plausible deductions. Such is the scale of methods that we have historically been able to discover and confirm as effective.”

“Experience shows that our degree of certainty will generally be weaker with regard to facts at each stage down this six-rung ladder, though within each category lies its own continuum of certainty and uncertainty, and the ladder itself is a continuum of precision and access to information: the more data we have to ground our conclusions, the farther up the ladder we find ourselves. Thus, mathematics is just perfected science; science, perfected experience; experience, perfected history; and history, perfected attention to experts; while plausible inference is what we are left with when we have none of those things.”

“Lacking any of the above approaches to the truth, we are faced with untrustworthy hearsay and pure speculation, where only the feeblest of certainty can ever be justified, if at all.”

Carrier writes that accurate methods of knowing have the properties of predictive success and convergent accumulation of consistent results.  However, these should be evaluated intelligently. Even the best method may produce faulty knowledge if used incorrectly.

So how do the different methods rate?:

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Science and morality – a panel discussion

This is the panel discussion at the Great debate “Can Science tell us Right from Wrong?” (See Telling right from wrong? for more details of this debate and workshop).

The panel includes Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, Patricia Churchland, Lawrence Krauss, Simon Blackburn, Peter Singer and Roger Bingham. They respond to questions from the audience (and the size of the audience for such a subject is heartening).

Their interaction is useful as it helps to overcome any misunderstanding any participant may have had about others points of view. Its a useful supplement to the individual presentation I have posted during this week (see Telling right from wrong – unreligiously, A philosopher comments on science and morality and A physicist comments on science and morality).

This video is 42 min long.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
TSN: The Great Debate Panel, posted with vodpod

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A physicist comments on science and morality

Another video from the Great debate “Can Science tell us Right
from Wrong?”
(See Telling right from wrong? for more details of this
debate and workshop).

This time a physicist, Lawrence Krauss. He is always a stimulating speaker.

He starts by claiming that it is impossible to tell right from wrong without science. And then goes on to explain. I find myself agreeing with a lot he says.

Listen for his explanation for the intriguing slogan on his T-shirt.

Again, only 14 min long.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
TSN: Lawrence Krauss, posted with vodpod

Lawrence Krauss is a Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Department of Physics in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He also is director of the ASU Origins Project. He is the only physicist to have received the highest awards from all three major U.S. professional physics societies. His popular publications include The Physics of Star Trek,” “Quintessence,” “Atom : An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth…and Beyond,” “Hiding in the Mirror: The Quest for Alternate Realities, from Plato to String Theory (by way of Alice in Wonderland, Einstein, and The Twilight Zone),” and due out in 2011,Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science (Great Discoveries) and “A Universe from Nothing.”

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Are religious scientists worried about their brethren?

There were two public statements on science recently which seem to have disappeared into a vacuum. They were the ‘Public Statement Concerning Science and Christian Faith’ by New Zealand Religious Scientists and ‘A message to the Christian communities of New Zealand from scientists in their midst.’

I am not interested in the first statement. It’s basically a sour-grapes response to the recent visit of Richard Dawkins to New Zealand. I would think that those disagreeing with Dawkins’ religious views would attempt to ignore him. After all, he was on a promotion tour for his book The Greatest show on Earthwhich is not about religion. Bringing up the religion question only provides him a platform to pontificate on the subject. Mind you, these sorts of criticisms do help build the public interest in Dawkins’ lectures, which are always crowded. This, and the inevitable book sales, must be a good thing for the public understanding of science. So, in a sense, I am all for such irrelevant statements.

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A Universe From Nothing

The origin of the universe is one of the biggest questions there is. Some people resort to easy answers – which don’t answer anything. But its good to know that others do take the question seriously and actively research it.

Here is a great lecture from Lawrence Krauss – “A Universe from Nothing”.

He is always an informative and entertaining lecturer. He injects quite a bit of humour into this talk he gave at the Athiest Alliance International Convention held in California earlier this month.

‘A Universe From Nothing’ by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009.


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Whether we like it or not

Another discussion from the Origins Symposium held recently by the Arizona State University. This one a discussion between cosmologists Brian Greene and Lawrence Krauss. These are also authors of popular science books (selections for Greene here and Krauss here).


These two have debated issues like string theory before. However, I much prefer the discussion format. It allows ideas to be presented more honerstly and helps eliminate problems with egos.

This is a great discussion, covering issues at the forefront of scientific discovery. Fields like cosmology, particle physics, scientific education, intelligent design and the scientific process are discussed.

A few gems:

“We should call “string theory” the “string hypothesis”. To call it a theory is unfair to evolutionary theory – given the way this word is misunderstood.”

“Scientists most often want to be wrong. or they want their colleagues to be wrong.”


“The Universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not.”


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Where did we come from?

Anyone interested in this question (and aren’t most of us) could not do better than watch the videos coming out of the Origins symposium. With a mission statement of “Exploring Questions at the Edge of Knowledge: From the Universe to Humanity” this has got to be fascinating.

Add to this the high calibre of the participants. These include names like Lawrence Krauss, Steven Weinberg, Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking, Andrei Linde, Richard Dawkins, Alan Guth, David Gross, Alex Vilenkin, Peter Ward, Steven Pinker, VS Ramachandran, Paul Davies, Patricia Churchland, AC Grayling, J. Craig Venter, Frank Wilczek, and many more.

The Symposium Sessions include:

  1. The Universe, Multiverse, Physical Laws
  2. The Galaxies, Planets, Life
  3. Origin of species, Evolution, Human Origins
  4. Consciousness, Complex Cognition, Language to Culture, Cooperation, Morality and Institutions.

The Science Network is currently uploading videos – pretty efficient seeing the Symposium occurred over April 3 – 6. Currently five videos are online (introductions and panel on “How Far Can we go Back?”)

I know what I will be watching over the next week or so.


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My favourite podcasts

I guess many people now download podcasts for easy listening while relaxing or exercising. I have listed my favourite and regular audio and video podcasts below.

These seem to fill my time (and mp3 player) but I am always interesting in hearing about, and trying, new science-related podcasts. Continue reading

Fiddling with “fine-tuning”

In The ghetto of apologetics “science” I described the role that apologetics and creationist/ID groups, institutes and web sites play in distorting scientific findings to support their particular ideological and religious beliefs. Here I give an example of how these groups distort the “fine-tuning” argument because of their pre-conceived beliefs – their confirmation bias.

The cosmological constant, often equated with dark energy, influences the expansion of the universe so it’s value is important to us. The fact that this expansion has enabled the formation of stars and therefore life (as evidence by our existence) provides a limit on the values it can take. This from In his book Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution Neil de Grasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and Director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, concludes “our existence limits the cosmological constant to a value between zero and a few times its actual value, while ruling out of play the infinite range of higher values.” Not too high, but a reasonable range.

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