Renowned physicist big hit at lecture

Lane Riggs

Renowned physicist Dr. Alan Lightman recently gave a speech in the Fain Fine Arts Center Auditorium on April 7 at 7:00 p.m. During his speech, Lightman talked of the similarities that scientists and artists share through their approaches to problems. The MIT physicist presented this lecture as a part of the 16th annual Speakers and Issues series.

Lightman’s lecture proved to be modest and friendly by cracking jokes throughout, which helped to create a lighthearted intro, one that included stories of his childhood; specifically, the story of a rocket he and his friends tried to fly. Though his speech and stories flew, the rocket did not.

“If something went wrong, I could find fulfillment in mathematics,” Lightman said of the story. “It guaranteed an answer to each problem.”

Mathematics and sciences helped Lightman to find answers to those things he didn’t know, but art helped him learn how to describe them. Those on the Speakers and Issues committee asked him specifically to talk of his two passions.

“We asked him to talk about the similarities in science and humanities because he’s in both worlds,” Assistant Professor Greg Giddings said. “I was really happy with the speech and I thought it was well received.”

The auditorium can seat a maximum of 400 people, and Giddings said that well over half of the theater was full. For the Speakers and Issues series, Giddings explains, this was a very big crowd.

During his speech, Lightman talked most of his creative work, “Einstein’s Dreams”, a compilation of some of Einstein’s dreams affiliated with the theory of relativity. In this work, he explores imagination in a literary way, through science.

For me, the source that motivates me is my experience in science, which represents a certain way of thinking about the world — not just the knowledge of science, but the way scientists think,” Lightman said. “Science is the wellspring that I go back to for ideas and images and metaphors.”

And it is in the search for truth, Lightman explains, as well as the conception of the creative moment, that the sciences and arts go together.

“The topic was very interesting,” English sophomore Faith Muñoz said. “I’ve experienced a version of the creative moment, and I didn’t know that scientists could also have it.”

Muñoz attended the event because she has interests in the arts, and attending a speech by Lightman, who is well known for both science and humanities, caught her attention. Though she said the topic was thought provoking and captivating, she did find one problem with it.

“The delivery surprised me,” Muñoz said. “He spoke well but he said, ‘um’ a lot.”

Even if Lightman conveyed his speech with pauses, other students in the audience felt that his lecture helped them learn more about both the arts and sciences, and the correlations between the two that they never thought existed.

“He explained the relation between the humanities and sciences thoroughly well,” psychology and sociology junior Catherine Stepniak said.

Sociology junior Andrew Latour was in agreement.

“Abstract thought explained the subject matter well, and I enjoyed the speech a lot more than I thought I would,” Latour said.

Humanities and English sophomore Yolanda Torres gave her take on Lightman’s lecture, as well, and though she came to the speech for extra credit, she stayed for the content of his talk.

“I’m a creative person and I like theoretical physics. His speech helped me to understand the both of them better,” Torres said. “It helped me to understand that scientists aren’t isolated from people who are more creative, because they are, too.”

Lightman helped to explore the proposition that scientists are also creative in his observation of  the creative moment.

“In my creative moments, I vanish into an imaginary world,” he said, “and I lose all sense of time. And there’s a feeling of rightness that goes along with it—and that feeling is part of the creative moment.”

Parts of the speech seemed long winded at times, no matter how fluid or colorful Lightman’s words were, but he nevertheless reached his conclusion, which respected both the similarities and differences between the sciences and arts.

“A chemist thinks about the world differently than a painter and even a physicist. Even within the sciences, there are different ways of thinking about how to approach problems,” Lightman said. “I think it’s important to preserve those differences, just like it’s important to preserve all the different languages that the different cultures on earth speak, because there’s a richness and diversity.”

The Speakers and Issues will have its next speaker on April 18 at 7:00 p.m. at the Wichita Falls Museum of Art. The speaker is Orville Vernon Burton, a professor of history at Clemson University and distinguished historian, who will give a speech about his book, “Lincoln’s Civil War.” The event is free and open to the public.