Theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss is director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University and the author of many scientific publications as well as books for general audiences, including The Physics of Star Trek. Before discussing the relationship between science fiction and science, he talked in the Zócalo green room about why the Star Trek transporter is more far-fetched than warp drives, and what new discovery in the universe inspired him most recently.
Where do you go to be alone?
Airplanes. [Laughs.] I’m in airplanes a lot. Or my study in the middle of the night. That’s where I’ve always ben able to avoid the distractions, and usually it’s not until the middle of the night that I can.
What’s your favorite sandwich?
I don’t like sandwiches.
Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares?
I used to, but not anymore. They’re always novel and fresh. When I was a student there were standard ones, and even when I was a young professor—going to a room unprepared or naked. I’m happy to say I have no routine in my life whatsoever, including in my dreams.
If you could be any animal, which would you choose?
What’s the last thing that inspired you?
Every time I hear something new about the universe I get inspired. The most exciting inspiration lately was the discovery of a signal from the beginning of time. That and the inspiration I gained from buying an electric car in Oregon today.
What scientific theory are you most frustrated by the public’s inability to grasp?
There’s so many! Obviously the two major ones are evolution—a simple concept but the public doesn’t grasp it—and the nature of the Big Bang, which I deal with a lot more being a cosmologist.
What teacher or professor changed your life, if any?
Almost every one I’ve ever had. I’ve been fortunate to have a great set of teachers on the whole, and even the bad ones changed my life. The famous teacher was Richard Feynman. A junior high school science teacher and a high school science teacher and an English teacher in junior high school who got me thinking about the world in a different way. But I’ve been fortunate, and I try to return the favor a little bit. And I should say, probably the most important of all was my high school history teacher, who taught me how to write, which has been useful to me. I think history’s a much better way to learn how to write than English.
What’s your favorite constellation?
None of them. If I had one, the Big Dipper, because I could recognize it. I view constellations as a sham since they’re only temporary anyway, like seeing faces in clouds.
What Star Trek innovation violates the most laws of physics?
I think the transporter. The really far-fetched stuff in Star Trek is remarkably not necessarily impossible—the time travel, the warp drives. But it’s the more down-to-earth things like the transporter, the tractor beam, and the impulse drive. The simple things are the ones. It’s easy when you get to the edge of physics to deal in the realm of the unknown. But people don’t realize: Just because we don’t understand a lot about the universe doesn’t mean there’s not a lot we do understand about the universe. Anything that violates the basic stuff is really problematic.
What music have you listened to today?
I listened to an alternative rock station on the way into work today. And on the airplane I listened to The Band.