In a former life, I completed an undergraduate physics degree. I only barely passed that degree, but complete it I did, thanks in large part to my dissertation titled “A Response To Postmodern Critiques of Physics: Towards a Narrative Understanding.” It may have been a pretentious title, but it seemed to sit better with my supervisor better than “The Physicist and the Fairytale” which was my preference.
I hadn’t been to a physics lecture, or even read much about physics, since completing that degree. Brian Greene‘s January Series lecture, “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time & the Texture of Reality,” broke my fast and I’m very glad I did.
Moving deftly through a brief history of how physicists conceive of space and time, Greene stayed on a clear trajectory towards his goal of introducing the audience to the cutting edge of super string theory in all its 11-dimensional glory. Naturally given his audience, he glossed over the maths and didn’t spend long on the theory’s competitors but he did own his biases and place the theory in appropriate historical and philosophical context.
That inclusion of context, bringing with it honesty, openness and an all important conceptual framework was what my paper had been attempting to argue for. Too often higher-level physics teaching loses sight of its context, ignores the many philosophical implications of its content, and glosses over its bias, and it was good to see the power of a presentation that did none of those. But beyond that, this particular talk suggested to me that one day I might open my textbooks again and try to remember how we used all those equations that flashed back into my head.