Design for Living

A theoretical physicist weighs in on a hot-button topic

" 'Einstein?' he said. 'Yeah, Einstein.' For a full minute he stood silent, in deep thought. Then he said, 'Are you any good at this stuff?' "

Susskind wasn't actually comparing himself to Einstein, but it illustrates a point—everyone knew Einstein. No physicist today can claim the same status in the public imagination. There are famed British physicists like Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, and physicists who have recently written well-received popular books, like Columbia professor Brian Greene; there's Case Western University professor Lawrence Krauss, who routinely speaks out on public issues, and a handful of others. "I think physicists these days are less public figures than they were 40 or 50 years ago," Susskind observes. "They're less comfortable interacting with the press and political structure. There's so much out there that requires expertise, and requires the input of experts and scientists.

"When I was very young, the great scientists I knew were really public figures. They had come out of Los Alamos, they had come out of the Manhattan Project, and they were used to being taken seriously as authorities, as experts."

Susskind of Stanford: The future of an illusion
photo: Michael Winokur/winokurphotography.com
Susskind of Stanford: The future of an illusion

Granted, it's no longer World War II. But today, there's a different type of battle at hand.

"As you know, there's something of a war against science going on," Susskind says.

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