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Science Nourishes the Mind and the Soul

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Science Nourishes the Mind and the Soul

Science Nourishes the Mind and the Soul

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(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in the power of love.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe that a generation of young people...

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe it deeply and sincerely...

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the importance of passing this law...

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that everyone wants to love and be loved.

Unidentified Man #4: All these add up to my belief in the dignity of the individual.

Unidentified Man #5: I believe in people.

Unidentified Man #6: This I believe.


On Mondays, we bring you our series This I Believe, which presents statements of personal belief from thoughtful people from all walks of life. Today we hear from physicist Brian Greene. He's an educator and author of "The Elegant Universe," which advances what's called the Theory of Everything. Here's the curator of our series, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

Brian Greene's specialty is string theory, a bit too involved to explain in this introduction, but let's just say it throws into question the commonly held convictions about the nature of time and space. For instance, it posits that there may be more dimensions than the three familiar ones--indeed, quite a few more. Greene believes, not surprisingly, in science, but also, like any sensible person who deals in theories, his belief goes beyond mere facts to something more. Here's Brian Greene with his essay for This I Believe.

Mr. BRIAN GREENE (Physicist; Author, "The Elegant Universe"): One day when I was about 11, walking back to Public School 87 in Manhattan after our class visit to the Hayden Planetarium, I became overwhelmed by a feeling I'd never had before. I was gripped by a hollow pit-in-the-stomach sense that my life might not matter. I'd learned that our world is a rocky planet orbiting one star among the hundred billion others in our galaxy, which is but one of hundreds of billions of galaxies scattered throughout the universe. Science had made me feel small.

In the years since my view of science and the role it can play in society and the world has changed dramatic. While we are small, my decades of immersion in science convinced me that this is cause for celebration. From our lonely corner of the cosmos, we have used ingenuity and determination to touch the very limits of outer and inner space. We have figured out fundamental laws of physics, laws that govern how stars shine and light travels, laws that dictate how time elapses and space expands, laws that allow us to peer back to the briefest moment after the universe began.

None of these scientific achievements have told us why we're here or given us the answer to life's meaning, questions science may never address. But just as our experience playing baseball is enormously richer if we know the rules of the game, the better we understand the universe's rules, the laws of physics, the more deeply we can appreciate our lives within it. I believe this because I've seen it. I've seen children's eyes light up when I tell them about black holes and the big bang. I've received letters from young soldiers in Iraq telling me how reading popular accounts of relativity and quantum physics have provided them hope that there is something larger, something universal that binds us together, which is why I'm distressed when I meet students who approach science and math with drudgery. I know it doesn't have to be that way.

But when science is presented as a collection of facts that need to be memorized, when math is taught as a series of abstract calculations without revealing its power to unravel the mysteries of the universe, it can all seem pointless and boring. Even more troubling, I've encountered students who've been told they don't have the capacity to grasp math and science. These are lost opportunities.

I believe we owe our young an education that captures the exhilarating drama of science. I believe the process of going from confusion to understanding is a precious, even emotional experience that can be the foundation of self-confidence. I believe that through its rational evaluation of truth and indifference to personal belief, science transcends religious and political divisions and so does bind us into a greater, more resilient whole. I believe that the wonder of discovery can lift the spirit, like Brahms' 3rd Symphony. I believe that the breathtaking ideas of science can nourish not only the mind but also the soul.

ALLISON: Physicist Brian Greene reading his essay for This I Believe.

At our Web site,, you can find all the essays in our series, including one from 1954, which, after much searching, we have just uncovered. It's from Albert Einstein. We also invite you to join our project by writing and submitting your own three-minute statement of the principles that guide your life. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

BLOCK: Next Monday on "Morning Edition," an essay from psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison.

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BLOCK: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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