Alan Lightman is an American writer, physicist and social entrepreneur. He served on the faculties of Harvard and MIT, and was the first person at MIT to receive dual faculty appointments in science and in the humanities. Currently, he serves as professor for the practice of the humanities at MIT. In his scientific research, he has made fundamental contributions to the astrophysics of black holes and cosmic radiative processes.


He is the author of numerous books, both fiction and nonfiction, including Einstein's Dreams, an international bestseller, The Diagnosis, a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction, and his latest book, Probable Impossibilities: Musings on Beginnings and Endings, where he discusses questions of nothingness and infinity, the mind, and the specialness of life.


Alan's essays and articles have appeared in the Atlantic, Granta, Harper's, Nautilus, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Salon, and many other publications.



In this conversation we talk about:

  • Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, and living between physics and the humanities.
  • What it was like to study physics at Princeton and Caltech.
  • Working with Richard Feynman.
  • Writing Einstein's Dreams.
  • The connection between physics and spirituality.
  • The topics of entropy and life.
  • The rarity of life.
  • On nothingness and infinity.
  • On the value of wasting time, and many other topics.


This conversation with Alan Lightman is one of a dozen or more upcoming conversations with bestselling authors, thinkers, designers, scientists, and makers who are reimagining our world and experience. So please follow us on your favorite podcasting app, if you haven't already, so that you can make sure you don't miss them.


And now, let's jump right in with Alan Lightman.




[3:12] Life During COVID

[6:40] Early Influences

[12:42] On Writing and the Origin of Einstein's Dreams

[17:53] A Convergence Between Physics and Spirituality

[19:42] The Origin of the Universe

[24:40] The Rarity of Life

[29:06] A Distinction Between Life and Death

[33:26] Nothingness and Infinity

[36:39] Finding Meaning in a Multiverse

[39:34] The Benefit of Wasting Time

[42:33] A Sermon on Disconnection