Thursday, February 26, 2009

(brain)crush of the week: Janna Levin

those of you who are aware of my strange proclivities know that i spend a good deal of time thinking about physics. science beyond biology was always really difficult for me because i am numerically dyslexic & am not a visual learner (quick shout out to auditory learners!!) as a result of my questionable (read: deplorable) performance in pre-college Chemistry, i was placed into a class with the curious title "Conceptual Physics." & was i ever hooked. because i was able to focus on theory & logic (& in some cases, rhetoric,) of physics problems rather than their intricate (and i'm sure lovely) layouts & mathematical accuracy, i could make both concrete and metaphorical connections between hard science & emotional/psychological landscapes--characterizations of matter, space, time, inertia, energy.

so, it's really no wonder that i've got a total braincrush on this here lady, Janna Levin.

while i’m thinking about, you know, how to make my next loan payment, Dr. Levin is concerned with slightly larger questions, like whether the universe is finite. she's a professor of astrophysics at Barnard College.

oh, and by the way, she's a novelist.

she was recently featured on American Public Media's radio program: Speaking of Faith. she talks about the connection between theoretical phsyics and [existential] philosophy, among other things. Einstein, limits to certainty, beauty, Godel, free will, (non)existence of god. this is seriously my wet dream.

from the interview--roughly quoted:

* "confession: no matter how i list facts, i'm unable to get to the truth-- truth doesn't just drop out like a theorem if i follow certain 'logical' approach to the truth in the bigger sense...will always be a little bit out of the corner of my eye...or the visceral experience of what it really means...or what the implications are... we can 'know' we're getting closer to the truth, even though we can't always prove it."

le sigh. for a fascinating hour of conversation, go here.


  1. I have her book *How The Universe Got Its Spots* if you ever want to borrow it! I confess I bought it for its awesome diagrams with cryptic labels, which I promptly took to Kinko's to blow up. Janna Levin, blowin' up!!!

    Oh here's one: "Like a hall of mirrors, the turtle sess identical copies of himself in all directions."

    And then it's like a square of nine turtles. ha.

  2. i have & LOVE that book.

    no, she's totally poetic! the diagrams, the labels, the parallels she draws between the real and imagined -- in that interview she talks about how scientists have a childlike wonder of the universe and so the terminology/language they come up with to talk about the universe often reflects that.

    i love that there are women out there pairing the most intricate of sciences with concerns about language and narrative. i mean, swoon!

  3. Wow. I listened to this last night. I'll be reading her.