science | April 28, 2013

Janna Levin: Are There Some Theories We Will Never Understand?

In a talk Janna Levin gave for TVO's Big Ideas Series (embedded above), the science speaker says an idea presented in her book, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, still haunts her today and influences the work she does as a mathematical physicist. The book is a cross between science and fiction that chronicles the lives of Kurt Godel and Alan Turing. As she discusses in the book, these two mathematicians proved that "there can be no mathematical theory of everything." There are some proofs that can never be proven to be true, Levin explains, because they are simply beyond mathematical comprehension. This is an idea that Levin says "terrified her." Especially because her work revolves around trying to find a theory of everything, and prove that all physical phenomena are linked and the outcome of any experiment can be predicted and proven in principle.

In a mix of mind-bending mathematical theory, logical paradoxes, and fascinating biographical analysis, Levin weaves through disciplines to present a fascinating depiction of how we view our world—and the people who helped shape that view. In her talks, Levin delves into complex ideas that she explains with great clarity. Her material often takes a great deal of time to process, but instead of conusing her audiences, she leaves them riveted, perplexed, and informed. As well as being an author, she is also a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University and a new Guggenheim Fellow. She conveys her research, in all mediums, with a compelling narrative style that takes audiences on a journey through our world that sticks with them long after the presentation is over.