Stephon Alexander: Fear of a Black Universe

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Stephon Alexander is a Professor of Physics at Brown University and the President of the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP). Alexander has had previous appointments at Stanford University, Imperial College, Penn State, Dartmouth College, and Haverford College. He is a specialist in the field of string cosmology, where the physics of superstrings are applied to address longstanding questions in cosmology. In 2001, he co-invented the model of inflation based on higher dimensional hypersurfaces in string theory called D-Branes. In such models, the early universe emerged from the destruction of a higher dimensional D-brane which ignites a period of rapid expansion of space often referred to as cosmic inflation.

Years ago, cosmologist Stephon Alexander received life-changing advice: to discover real physics, he needed to stop memorizing and start taking risks. In Fear of a Black Universe, Alexander shows that great physics requires us to think outside the mainstream — to improvise and rely on intuition. His approach leads him to three principles that shape all theories of the universe: the principle of invariance, the quantum principle, and the principle of emergence. Alexander uses them to explore some of physics' greatest mysteries, from what happened before the big bang to how the universe makes consciousness possible. Drawing on his experience as a Black physicist, he makes a powerful case for diversifying our scientific communities. Compelling and empowering, Fear of a Black Universe offers remarkable insight into the art of physics.

In his last best selling book, The Jazz of Physics, Alexander revisits the ancient interconnection between music and the evolution of astrophysics and the laws of motion. He explores new ways music, in particular jazz music, mirrors modern physics, such as quantum mechanics, general relativity, and the physics of the early universe. He also discusses ways that innovations in physics have been and can be inspired from “improvisational logic” exemplified in Jazz performance and practice. Alexander also recently served as a scientific advisor for the Walt Disney film A Wrinkle In Time, directed by Ava DuVernay, and currently serves as President of the National Society of Black Physicists (NSPB).

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  • 00:00:00 Intro
  • 0002:31 The back story of the book.
  • 00:25:09 Applying the creativity of music to science.
  • 00:29:00 The risks of theorizing in public.
  • 00:32:39 How do you succeed in outsider thinking? The example of Faraday.
  • 00:38:17 Applying outsider thinking: work on condensed matter in cosmology
  • 00:44:16 Why do we need to understand dark energy?
  • 00:54:49 Cosmological Models-String/Gas Theory and Into the Cosmological Matrix
  • 01:16:40 In 50 years, what do you most want the answer to?

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