The CBC Massey Lectures 2012

Explore the ideas and people behind The Universe Within, Neil Turok's 2012 Massey Lecture.

Neil Turok. Credit: Jens Langen & Perimeter Institute

Available now for purchase on iTunes: The Full Lecture series, or individually: Lecture 1, Lecture 2, Lecture 3, Lecture 4 and Lecture 5.

Welcome to The Massey Experience, an online exploration of the ideas, themes, theories and characters that form Neil Turok's 2012 Massey Lectures The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos.

The Massey Experience is an immersive, evolving companion to Neil's Massey Lectures which aired on CBC Radio's IDEAS in November 2012.

The story is a journey from quantum to cosmos: where we've come from, where we're going and what we've learned along the way. Neil argues that we're on the cusp of yet another major transformation: a coming quantum revolution that will supplant our current digital age.

It's the story of science and technology, but it is also the story of who we are: amazing creative humans.

You can also explore the Massey Lectures by purchasing The Universe Within from House of Anansi Press.

About Neil Turok

Neil Turok is one of the world's leading physicists, and a renowned educational innovator. The highly regarded Director of Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Turok was previously professor of physics at Princeton and held a Chair of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge. As well as developing fundamental theories of the cosmos, he has led efforts to determine their predictions and to test them through observation. With Stephen Hawking, he developed the Hawking-Turok Instanton Theory describing the birth of inflationary universes. With Paul Steinhardt, he developed a cyclic universe scenario, described in their critically acclaimed book Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang - Rewriting Cosmic History.

Turok was awarded the James Clerk Maxwell medal of the U.K. Institute of Physics and, in 2008, a prestigious TED Prize. Born in South Africa, Turok founded the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), a pan-African network of centres for education and research. This work has been recognized by awards from the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (WSIE) and the World Innovation Summit on Education (WISE). Turok now lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Continue to Lecture 1: Magic That Works

Magic That Works

The Newtonian World

Pythagorus. Credit: Getty Images

"Science is all about people. They may work in labs and scribble strange formulae, but they are driven by the same natural curiosity we are all born with: to explore and discover our world and what we can do."

Everything we know depends on the knowledge of people who came before us.  In this lecture, Neil explores our understanding of the universal laws of nature, from Pythagoras and the Greek mathematicians to the present day. Many of the fundamental things we once believed to be true - how electricity and magnetism behave, for example - have been turned on their heads as we thought and observed and experimented. The laws of nature have evolved from a basic understanding of the world around us to complicated explanations of our interconnected world.

Today, we are on the cusp of a new revolution: Quantum physics has revealed that the behavior of our universe is stranger than anyone - especially our ancestors - could have imagined.

This lecture was taped live in St. John's, N.L.


Continue to Lecture 2: Our Imaginary Reality

Our Imaginary Reality

The arrival of the brave new world of quantum physics

Credit: Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

"Mathematics is our 'third eye,' allowing us to see and understand how things work in realms so remote from our experience that they cannot be visualized."

Over the course of the 20th century, physicists discovered that the quantum world is qualitatively different than any classical world: nature's basic constituents just don't behave like anything anyone has ever seen in our everyday experience. In this lecture, Neil takes us on a journey through the abstract, mathematical reasoning, built on experimental results, that allowed us to extend our intuition and understand this world that lies beyond what we can see.

Quantum physics has led scientists from one triumph to the next. It forms the foundation of chemistry, explaining how molecules are held together. It explains superconductivity and a host of other extraordinary phenomena. It enabled the development of transistors, lasers, LEDs and all of our modern electronics. Now, the quantum world is our gateway to new opportunities - quantum computers, quantum communication, and a whole host of new technologies - with capabilities far beyond our wildest dreams.


Continue to Lecture 3: What Banged?

What Banged?

Cosmology, the beginning and the end of things

Credit: Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

"When we look up at the sky, we're actually seeing inside ourselves."

How did Earth and all the planets and stars and galaxies form? How old is our universe? What "banged" at the moment of the big bang? We have a remarkably successful model of cosmology, but theorists are still asking these questions. We just don't know how the universe emerged from a cosmic singularity - the assumed starting point of the big bang. Today, scientists are exploring several possibilities for the origins of our universe. Neil Turok wonders if the big bang singularity was not the beginning of time, but a gateway to a pre-big bang universe. Theory and observation are tackling the big bang of our past, and they will determine whether it was really the beginning of everything, or merely the latest in a series of bangs, each of which produced a universe like ours.


Continue to Lecture 4: The World In an Equation

The World in an Equation

The quest for a unified theory from quantum to cosmos

Credit: Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

"The universe is not like a machine or a digital computer. It operates on quantum laws whose full meaning and implications we are still discovering. According to these laws, we are not irrelevant bystanders."

Over the past century, physicists have compiled a neat, one-line equation that describes how the world works according to all known physics. By combining the contributions of scientists from all different backgrounds and cultures, this ambitious formula seeks to describe the universe's machinations on every scale, from the subatomic to the largest bodies at the edges of space. It's a testament not only to what we know, but also to who we are: By its very existence, it celebrates the insights and perspectives that our different origins provide. Whether it's Emmy Noether, a Jewish woman teaching physics without pay, or Neil Turok, training the next Einstein at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, we're all in this together.

But the formula is not yet complete, and other attempts to find a theory of everything, like string theory, have their own problems. Physics needs to step back, stop trying to squeeze data to arbitrarily fit equations, and find new ways of looking at the magic we have already discovered together.


Continue to Lecture 5: The Opportunity of All Time

The Opportunity of All Time

"Throughout history, from Anaximander and Pythagoras to Galileo and Newton, the universe has been an endless source of wonder, inspiring us to rise above our current circumstances and see what lies beyond." Thanks to the incredible pace of technology and...

Credit: PhotoDisk Inc

"Throughout history, from Anaximander and Pythagoras to Galileo and Newton, the universe has been an endless source of wonder, inspiring us to rise above our current circumstances and see what lies beyond."

Thanks to the incredible pace of technology and the internet, things are moving faster than ever before. There are advantages to this, but also disadvantages. Instant access to information is transforming the way we work and learn, but the speed of our lives leads to short-term thinking and isolation.

Neil Turok says that "we are analog beings living in a digital world, facing a quantum future." That future has the potential to be a bright one. Surrounding ourselves with digital information accessed through digital devices may be an unnatural fit for our analog existence, but quantum computers—which can store and process nearly limitless information, and will be capable of things we have never seen before—could be the next leap forward in our evolution.

But given how our technology shapes us, we need to be particularly mindful of how we shape our technology. So it's more important than ever to examine science's relationship with society. As scientists become more isolated, they lose their sense of a wider purpose. The pursuit of science becomes a series of academic or technical problems to be solved. Meanwhile, society hungers for new discoveries and technologies without understanding them. We need to connect our science to society, and to our humanity. In order to understand the cosmos, we need to understand ourselves, and vice versa.