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Episode 13, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube

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“The one distinction between science and philosophy is that philosophy really addresses the most important questions, but it doesn't have an answer.”

Avi Loeb is a theoretical physicist and astronomer at Harvard University. During our conversation, Avi talks about his interest in science, humanity's search for truth, his view that the interstellar object 'Oumuamua is an alien spacecraft, his book "Extraterrestrial," and The Galileo Project, which he leads, which will embark on the "Scientific Search for Evidence of Extraterrestrial Technological Artifacts."

About Avi Loeb (quote from Wikipedia):

“Avi Loeb is an Israeli-American theoretical physicist who works on astrophysics and cosmology. Loeb is the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University. He had been the longest-serving chair of Harvard's Department of Astronomy (2011–2020), founding director of Harvard's Black Hole Initiative (since 2016) and director of the Institute for Theory and Computation (since 2007) within the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.”

Time Stamps:

(01:05) Meet Avi Loeb
(02:28) Avi shares his background and upbringing
(07:21)  Avi shares the intentions behind his book, "Extraterrestrial"
(08:42) Avi shares his understanding of science and philosophy, explaining the difference between the two
(14:15) Avi shares his personal development story and how he cultivated a curiosity for the facts and evidence behind explanations
(21:41) Avi shares how he used to question spiritual beliefs growing up and how it made him stand out from other people
(23:54)  Avi’s views on human life considering his current worldview
(31:07) Avi’s ideas on evolution and the meaning of life
(41:38)  Avi shares his most high-profile work to date
(51:13)  Avi discusses the importance of holding onto evidence and offering a valid justification for your work
(59:54)  Avi shares his goals and aspirations behind sourcing funds for his future projects
(01:09:39)  Avi explains Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) and how it's different from Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs.
(01:27:11)  Avi shares references to the most respectable people he’s come across in his life
(01:39:23)  Advice for people enthusiastic about approaching the world in a more realistic and accurate way

Quotes:

“The one distinction between science and philosophy is that philosophy really addresses the most important questions, but it doesn't have an answer.”

“There were civilizations that predated us, we are not special or unique. That should be the underlying assumption rather than asking for extraordinary evidence to demonstrate that we are not alone.”

“It was clear to me that the adults don't know more than I know. And they pretend that they know more, and they want to look respectable, so they invent answers to questions that they don't know the answers to. And that really troubled me and I hated that fake image of knowing more than you actually know. And if you ask people that knew me from my childhood, they will tell you that I haven't changed much and I see science as proof.”

“[An intelligent culture means] cooperation and sharing of evidence-based knowledge. And there are two elements to that. One is cooperation and sharing. [...] The second element of science is evidence-based knowledge.”

“Scientists give each other awards and they demonstrate that they are smart by doing fancy mathematics around these subjects. But to me, it's a betrayal of the definition of science or physics, where you're supposed to test your ideas against evidence, against data.”

“I visited the Orthodox communities, I raised a lot of questions, asking them about what they believe in and they regarded that as an opportunity to perhaps convert me to Orthodoxy, because someone that shows interest in asking questions is a potential recruit, someone that doesn't pay attention at all, is more difficult to read. So they tried, but it didn't work out.”

“I recognized that we live a short time and therefore, we should focus on substance rather than impressing each other, that we should keep our eyes on the ball, not on the audience.”

“People are not playing it fair when they disagree with you. They're not just disagreeing with you. They're trying to sabotage the entire effort, aggressively...talking to my students, and trying to tell them not to work on subjects that I find exciting and to me, that sounds like an invasion of academic freedom.”

“What I'm saying in addition to the message about looking for evidence is that some scientists are betraying the trademark of science, they don't want the evidence to be collected, they would ridicule it and try to sabotage a group trying to pursue it.”

“I can imagine that within 1,000 years or a million years from now, we might have much better answers, because we will have much more advanced science as long as we survive that long.”

“One possible meaning is that life on Earth was perhaps seeded by a more advanced form of life somewhere else, or is being monitored, and a lot of the attributes we assign to a divine entity can be assigned to a more intelligent species out there, and so I think we should just search because we have the ability to do that.”

“Darwinian selection would imply that the systems that are more resilient to interstellar travel will be the ones that dominate the Milky Way galaxy.”

“The ability of people to see things or to use jittery cameras in the cockpit of a fighter jet, is limited, whereas if we use the best telescopes, we can see many more of those objects.”

“I don't want to look at classified data, because I want to be free in my ability to function as a scientist. And the government, of course, if they ever expose me to classified data, they will be worried that subconsciously, I'll use that knowledge. In my investigations, I don't want to be tied to restrictions, and therefore, I prefer to collect my own data.”

Relevant Links:

Resources mentioned:

Books mentioned:

People Mentioned (quotes from Wikipedia):

  • Ronald Reagan - “A(n) American politician who served as the 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989 and became a highly influential voice of modern conservatism.”
  • Freeman Dyson  - “A British-American theoretical and mathematical physicist, mathematician, and statistician known for his works in quantum field theory, astrophysics, random matrices, mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, and engineering.”
  • John N. Bahcall - “A(n) American astrophysicist, best known for his contributions to the solar neutrino problem, the development of the Hubble Space Telescope and for his leadership and development of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.”
  • Bernie Madoff - “A(n) American fraudster and financier who ran the largest Ponzi scheme in history, worth about $64.8 billion.”
  • Stephen Greenblatt - “A(n) American Shakespearean, literary historian, and author. He is the general editor of The Norton Shakespeare (2015) and the general editor and a contributor to The Norton Anthology of English Literature.”
  • John Brennan - “A former American intelligence officer who served as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from March 2013 to January 2017. He served as chief counterterrorism advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama, with the title Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and Assistant to the President.”
  • R. James Woolsey Jr. - “A former CIA Director who has also held a variety of government positions in the 1970s and 1980s, including as the United States Under Secretary of the Navy from 1977 to 1979, and was involved in treaty negotiations with the Soviet Union for five years in the 1980s.”
  • Barack Obama - “A(n) American politician and attorney who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017.”
  • Enrico Fermi - “A(n) Italian physicist and the creator of the world's first nuclear reactor, the Chicago Pile-1. He has been called 'the architect of the nuclear age' and 'the architect of the atomic bomb.'
  • Jeff Bezos - “A(n) American entrepreneur, media proprietor, investor, and computer engineer. He is the founder and executive chairman of Amazon, where he previously served as the chairman, president, and CEO.”
  • Richard Branson - “A(n) English business magnate, investor, and author. In the 1970s he founded the Virgin Group, which today controls more than 400 companies in various fields.”

More about Avi:

Wikipedia