Never Underestimate an Amateur
It’s official. Amanda Gefter has blown my mind. Her book, “Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn,” tried to answer one simple question. Why is there something instead of nothing? Not so simple really.
Her quest to comprehend the universe and what that means to us, its residents, was inspired by her father. Gefter’s dad Warren, a radiologist and enthusiastic student of physics, captured the imagination of his wildish, adolescent daughter by proposing that they try to answer the something versus nothing question together.
That was the start of a father daughter obsession. In short order, their bookshelves were bulging with scientific tomes on physics, cosmology, and mathematics. These were consumed, discussed, and digested. But the answer to their original question, something versus nothing, remained elusive. They needed something more than books. They needed access to the greatest scientific minds of our time. But how could they, amateur enthusiasts, gain access to the ivy-bound halls of academic research?
A Living Example of Faking it Until You Make it
Their quest for an answer led Gefter to, ahem, embellish her credentials, securing two press passes to an academic conference honoring the physicist John Wheeler. Gefter’s description of their giddy delight was hilarious as they rubbed shoulders with the rock stars of physics, quantum mechanics, string theory, and cosmology. They even asked their question of Wheeler himself. His response was obscure, more of a Zen koan than an answer, but it was food for thought and they feasted upon it for the remainder of the book.
In no time at all, Gefter began getting real, scientific journalist writing assignments, earning the credentials she had once faked. With typical Gefter chutzpah, she decided to get a Master's degree in the Philosophy and History of Science from the London School of Economics. Like just anybody could do that, right? But even that accomplishment is part of a grander plan to find a literary agent who would take on her book proposal. Of course, Gefter succeeded in earning the degree and in finding an agent because I, along with many others, have delighted her book.
How Amanda Gefter Blew My Mind
So, this is how Amanda Gefter blew my mind. In her book she revealed that the things that scientists had taken to be facts, things like quantum particles, space-time, gravity, and so on turn out to be observer dependent. What? You and I don’t see the same stuff? But just by observing stuff at the quantum level we change it? My grasp of reality immediately felt far more tenuous. But my sense of wonder at the universe felt even more profound. And that’s why I want to interview Amanda Gefter on the Conversations podcast.
I acknowledge that I no longer know what reality is. But I’m pretty sure that a conversation with Amanda Gefter would be interesting, illuminating, and really fun.
My Interview Questions for Amanda Gefter
1. What was it about your dad’s curiosity on the nature of the universe that captured your imagination?
2. How did the idea to crash a scientific conference occur to you?
3. Accomplished people sometimes feel like fakes. How’d you deal with this as you were becoming what you said you already were?
4. Tell me about the greatest scientific minds of our time. How do they go about solving problems?
5. What do you do to breakthrough when you’re stumped by a concept or your ability to interpret it for readers?
What questions would you ask?