For 14 years now, the American Museum of Natural History has hosted the Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate – an annual meeting of scientific and philosophical minds, held in honor of one of modern history's most formidable intellects. The debates are always fantastic, but this year's topic – the existence of nothing – proved particularly compelling.
This year's debate participants included theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, Princeton astrophysicist J. Richard Gott, veteran science journalists Jim Holt and Charles Seife, and Stanford physicist Eve Silverstein. The whole shebang is presided over and moderated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, spans close to two hours, and covers subjects ranging from space time to string theory.
The conversations are pretty fantastic, delving into deep scientific, religious and philosophical topics with a degree of intensity that only a subject as nebulous as nothingness can engender. Take this gem from Tyson, for example, on the tension between religion, science and the unknown:
There can be alternatives that are not always religious. That’s an interesting false dichotomy that’s often set up: If it’s not this, it must be religious. No: If it’s not this, it could be other stuff you haven’t thought of yet. You can’t assert an answer just because it’s not something else. That’s a false argument that’s been made throughout time, and the better scientists that move forward never assume anything just because one thing is wrong.
If you've seen any of these panelists wax metaphysical or theoretical about some of these subjects in the past – whether individually or with one another – then you know how wonderful these discussions can get. This year's Asimov Memorial Debate was no exception, and will surely be remembered years to come. It's a bit long, but this is one you'll want to bookmark and revisit – perhaps this weekend – when you have a couple of hours to spare. You won't regret it.