Are we the smartest kid on the block?
Weiner Sennyey Tibor, DRÓT: Two years ago you wrote an article which inspired me to write a poem. I sent it to you and to my surprise you answered very kindly: „Dear Tibor, Thanks for sharing your beautiful poem. Keep being inspired by space.” Is it important to be inspired by the universe whatever we do, wherever we come from?
AVI LOEB: Yes, there are similarities between creative work in the arts and in the sciences. In both cases, you enter a journey without knowing how it will end, and you get inspiration for new ideas from nature, whose imagination exceeds ours.
DRÓT: How, in what ways has the universe inspired you so far?
AVI LOEB: I am struck by the fact that the laws of physics we discover on Earth apply all the way throughout the observable universe. What we know inspired me to think about fundamental philosophical question like "how did the universe start?", "when did the firsts stars form in it?", "are we alone, and if not -are we the smartest kid on the block?", "when did life start in the cosmos and when will it all end?"
DRÓT: Your new book is currently being published. It’s full of colorful, entertaining stories not only about Oumuamua but also about your journey from philosophy towards astronomy. Why did you decide to talk about this?
AVI LOEB: Because I am always proud of my roots and they explain why I am different than most of my colleagues in astronomy. I am fundamentally a farm boy, curious about the world and passionate about deep philosophical questions. All the leadership roles that I serve on right now are really secondary to this.
DRÓT: How is the Israeli environment, which you were raised in, different from your current circumstances?
AVI LOEB: I grew up on a farm and collected eggs every afternoon. I never worried about getting tenured at Harvard because I always had Plan B of going back to the farm.
DRÓT: Are your middle European (Bulgarian) Jewish roots important for you? What does identity mean to you as a person studying the cosmos?
AVI LOEB: Yes, definitely. This is where my genetic material came from. Our scientific knowledge today went a long way beyond the content of the first chapter of the Jewish bible (Old Testament), but the old story got amazingly some details right, like the idea that the observed universe has its origin at a point in time, which cosmologists call the Big Bang.
DRÓT: You claim that discovering Oumuamua was a milestone in the history of mankind. You suggest what many doubt - that Oumuamua is not a natural phenomena but an artificial object, the messenger of alien civilization. Your book is mostly about elaborating this. Are you still determined about this?
AVI LOEB: Yes. This is because the alternative explanations suggested by mainstream astronomers after my paper was published are less plausible in mind. Examples involve a hydrogen iceberg (that would easily evaporate and hence not survive the journey through interstellar space) or a dust bunny that is a hundred times less dense than air.
DRÓT: How can this change the everyday lives of people should they live in the USA, Israel or Hungary?
AVI LOEB: Finding that we are not alone would revolutionize our notions about our place in the universe. If we are not unique, are they smarter than we are? Can we learn from their experiences and technologies? Should we revise our religious beliefs?
DRÓT: What are the important conclusions of this?
AVI LOEB: Science is a learning experience. We should be humble and look at evidence to revise our preconceptions about what reality is.
DRÓT: Philosophy proved to be of utmost importance for you in leading you towards sciences. It often happens here that humanities and arts are considered of second rate if not unnecessary compared to the so-called more down to earth sciences. How do you see the relation of humanities and natural sciences?
AVI LOEB: I think the humanities are essential for our future progress, and they have an important role to play in ethical and esthetic questions related to future technologies. I elaborated on this theme in the following Scientific American commentary.
DRÓT: Who is your favorite poet? Who’s books do you read? What kind of music do you listen to?
AVI LOEB: Lucretius because he gave us a glimpse of the brilliant truths revealed by Epicurus in the book "On the Nature of Things". I used to read books by Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett during my youth, but have less time to engage in this activity now. I enjoy mostly Mozart and Bach.
DRÓT: 2020 was a very critical year all over the world. What do you think the near future will bring about in world politics, sciences and ordinary life?
AVI LOEB: I am optimistic that the post-pandemic world will blossom into new heights in science and quality of life. Regarding politics, I am never optimistic, given our history of taking the wrong turns in the highway.
Mi vagyunk a legokosabbak a környéken?
Beszélgetés Avi Loebbel, a Harvard asztrofizika professzorával, akinek most jelenik meg új könyve, a „Földönkívüli - Egy idegen civilizáció első nyomai”. Kattints a magyar változat elolvasásához.
DRÓT: Do you think we’ll meet extra terrestrial beings in this century? :)
AVI LOEB: I certainly hope so. My wife says that if they land in our backyard, I should make sure to leave the car keys with her and to ask them not to ruin the lawn when they take off.
DRÓT: You claim in your book that such an encounter might entirely change the culture of mankind and suggest that this has already started. Can you sum up what you mean by this?
AVI LOEB: `Oumuamua.
DRÓT: Why are you working on at the moment? What are your future plans?
AVI LOEB: As of this morning, I have a new paper with my student, Amir Siraj, accepted for publication in Nature magazine. It explains in a new way the origin of the rock that killed the dinosaurs. every day is a new beginning.