Adam Frank

In 2018, Marvel Studios released Black Panther. The film grossed 1.3 billion dollars and was nominated for 7 Oscars including Best Picture (a first time for a superhero film).

Everyone knows we live in a partisan age. It's hard to find any issue these days that people aren't ready to square off on, with sharp, snarky barbs.

While no one will be surprised to find these kinds of arguments playing out about immigration or the importance of NATO, finding it among staid physicists — and about the nature of physical reality — might not be so expected. But all too often over the last 100 years, this has been the case, as scientists have disagreed sharply over the meaning of their greatest and most potent theory known as quantum mechanics.

We've been talking to robots for a while now.

In the decade or so since Siri and her compatriots first appeared, we've all gotten pretty used to having conversations with computers in various forms. While your Alexa doesn't look much like a Cylon (the scary metal kind or hotty flesh kind) now, it seems like it's just a matter of time of time before we'll be talking with all kinds of robots — including those that look just like us.

The countdown has begun. It's T-minus a month or so until the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 — and humanity's first and famous steps on another world.

Does reality need realism?

If that seems like a weird question to you, consider the fact that it's the one most pressing for physicists and for their most successful theory about the physical world. That theory is called quantum mechanics — and every digital electronic device you've ever used owes its existence to the understanding of atomic-scale physics that comes with it.

But for all its success, quantum mechanics has one tiny problem: No one understands it.

It was a telling moment: David Wallace-Wells, author of the new book The Uninhabitable Earth, was making an appearance on MSNBC's talk show Morning Joe. He took viewers through scientific projections for drowned cities, death by heat stroke and a massive, endless refugee crisis — due to climate change. As the interview closed, one of the show's hosts, Willie Geist, looked to Wallace-Wells and said, "Let's end on some hope."

It was just 10 years ago that I attended a lecture about Big Data and had my mind blown.

Using an understanding of social networks, along with the emerging tools of artificial intelligence and machine learning, I thought we were at the dawn of new age — allowing us to finally manage the complexity of human society for the well-being of all.

It hasn't turned out that way.

Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester and author of the upcoming book Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth. His scientific studies are funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Education.

The origin of the universe, the nature of space, the reality of time: These are ancient questions.

Libraries across the world are filled with heavy books that are, themselves, heavy with equations on these issues. But how many graphic novels are exploring these questions? More importantly, how many graphic novels written and drawn by expert theoretical physicists are there?

We live in a unique moment of human history where the tools our parents used are not the ones we take in hand.

The pace of technological (and hence societal) change is so fast now, compared with a few centuries ago, that we've developed an entire branch of storytelling dedicated to imagining where those changes are headed. It's called science fiction and — whether you like its forms or not — it has already changed your life.

There are some authors you go to for good stories — and others you go to for good ideas.

Then there are those who do both, giving readers complex characters, richly imagined stories and, finally, ideas that reach beyond the narrative to change how you see the world.

Here is one thing author Robert Wright and I agree on when it comes to Buddhist meditation: It's really, really boring.

At least, it's boring in the beginning. But there is another thing we agree on, too. That initial meditative boredom is actually a door. It's an opening that can lead us to something essential, and essentially true, that Buddhism has to teach us about being human.

Now that we're well past the start of spring, you're probably inured already to all the green.

I mean, after those long months of winter, everyone's pumped about the first buds and shoots — so bright green and promising. But then, it's all ho-hum, leaves everywhere — whatever.

Well, not me, pal.

See, this spring I've been digging in on photosynthesis for some research I'm doing and, I gotta tell you, it's blowing my mind.

So, it's Election Day here in the United States.

Every presidential election seems important, but I am sure that I am not alone in thinking this one is different, maybe more important than most.

So, please, go vote.

When you're done, I give you (once again) Carl Sagan's beautiful "Pale Blue Dot" speech to put it all in perspective.

Revolutionary discoveries don't always breakthrough the hustle of daily life.

After all, when the Wright Brothers lifted their rickety plane off the sands of Kitty Hawk, the rest of the world was just out buying their eggs, milk and toilet paper. On that day who knew — or could imagine — that decades into the future millions of people would be sitting in giant jet-planes watching Direct TV and soaring five miles above the planet's surface.

Does the size of space — those zillions of stars and zillions of miles of nothing between them — freak you out?

Well, if it does, guess what?

You're not alone.

I give a lot of public talks about the universe. Really. It's in my job description:

  • Astronomer. Check.
  • Study stuff in space. Check.
  • Give talks about universe. Check.

The combustion engine is dominant. In the United States, according to the latest estimates from the Census, more than 76 percent of us get to work alone in a car. The numbers are not quite as lopsided in some big cities, where public transit and other options are more widely available.

As I write this, California remains deep in its fourth year of drought.

One hundred percent of the state of Nevada is in drought — with 40 percent in the extreme drought category. Over to the southeast, 93 percent of Arizona's territory is in some form of drought. Even Washington state, far to the north, finds all of its territory in drought and 32 percent of its land in extreme doubt.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.