Adam Frank

Adam Frank is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. A professor at the University of Rochester, Frank is a theoretical/computational astrophysicist and currently heads a research group developing supercomputer code to study the formation and death of stars. Frank's research has also explored the evolution of newly born planets and the structure of clouds in the interstellar medium. Recently, he has begun work in the fields of astrobiology and network theory/data science. Frank also holds a joint appointment at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, a Department of Energy fusion lab.

Frank is the author of two books: The Constant Fire, Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate (University of California Press, 2010), which was one of SEED magazine's "Best Picks of The Year," and About Time, Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang (Free Press, 2011). He has contributed to The New York Times and magazines such as Discover, Scientific American and Tricycle.

Frank's work has also appeared in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009. In 1999 he was awarded an American Astronomical Society prize for his science writing.

So, the title of this post should really be "Is Deckard A Replicant?" — but that might start us off on too deep a level of fandom.

See, Rick Deckard is the name of Harrison Ford's character in Blade Runner, the uber-classic 1982 cyber-noir film that, you know, affected just about everything that followed. As for replicants, they're the artificial humans (androids) that blade runners like Deckard are tasked with hunting down and "retiring."

Every day, we are inching closer to some kind of artificial intelligence.

At this point, it isn't so important whether we're talking about truly self-conscious machines or not. Advances in big data, machine learning and robotics are all poised to give us a world in which computers are effectively intelligent in terms of how we deal with them.

Should you be scared by this proposition? Based on a lecture I just attended, my answer is: "absolutely, but not in the usual 'robot overlords' kind of way."

Here is one thing author Robert Wright and I agree on when it comes to Buddhist meditation: It's really, really boring.

At least, it's boring in the beginning. But there is another thing we agree on, too. That initial meditative boredom is actually a door. It's an opening that can lead us to something essential, and essentially true, that Buddhism has to teach us about being human.

If there is one thing science is good for, it's going to extremes.

A lot of science's history is just one story after another of people figuring out how to do something that, just a few years before, was thought to be impossible.

The impossible was heavy on my mind last Wednesday as I found out just how close we were to seeing — as in taking actual pictures — of black holes.

The non-stop, "never-seen-before" hurricanes of the last few weeks have given us a glimpse of what a climate-changed world will look like for humanity.

If it seems like a scary vision, you should know that we're only at the very beginning of this wild ride. Things are likely going to get harder.

I get a lot of "climate" hate mail.

Whenever I write a piece on global warming, someone will email to call me a "lie-bra-tard," or something similar, and tell me I should be in jail.

Sometimes I try to engage these folks and see if they might be interested in how the science of climate change works and what it has to tell us. Mostly, they aren't. Mostly, what they really want is to score some points. What they really want is an argument.

That's what climate change and climate science has become after all these years.

Gentrification of neighborhoods can wreak havoc for those most vulnerable to change.

Sure, access to services and amenities rise in a gentrifying neighborhood. That is a good thing. But those amenities won't do you much good if you're forced to move because of skyrocketing housing costs.

That is why neighborhood and housing advocacy groups have spent decades searching for ways to protect longtime residents from the negative effects of gentrification.

The horror of recent events was a wake-up call for many Americans about the rise of American groups dedicated to the tenets of fascism.

This week, you can't reach me by email, or text, or Tweet.

This week, I'm not taking anyone's calls, either.

That's because I'm walking the Appalachian Trail — alone. And while I am, without doubt, scared of being eaten by a bear, I'll be out there looking for that most precious of possibilities: solitude.

Human civilization began about 10,000 years ago with dawn of agriculture (give or take a millennia or so). This seems like such a long time that it can be hard to reconcile with the short span of our lives.

But there is another way to look at it that puts not just civilization, but the whole of your ancestry, in a different light.

So this is not going to be an objective review of the new Marvel Studios film Spider-Man: Homecoming. When it comes to both Marvel and Spider-Man, I am not objective. I'm a fanboy, full stop.

But being a fanboy or fangirl doesn't mean uncritical acceptance. No, being a fan means you've loved the material so much for so long that you take exception — serious exception — to someone screwing up your beloved characters and their beloved stories.

Just before joining other leaders at the G-20 summit, President Donald Trump gave a speech in Poland where he asked: "Does the West have the will to survive?"

Since then, a lot of ink (and electrons) has been spilled asking about the value, and values, of Western Civilization.

John Coltrane's Giant Steps is one of the great pieces of American music. It is an exemplar of be-bop.

The growth of income disparity across the world has now become so well-documented that even some rich people see it as a danger to society.

But the scale of the problem makes it seem like there's not much ordinary, not-so-rich folks can do about it in their ordinary, not-so-rich lives.

There is a certain kind of look I get when I tell people how much I love video games.

It lies somewhere between "You're not serious" and "Oh my God, you are serious." And by "people" giving me these looks, I mean adults of a certain age and outlook. Of course, given that I'm a 54-year-old tenured professor, these "people" are pretty much everyone I know (including my now adult children).

So today, I want to speak to all of you "look-givers" and attempt to explain why you, too, should become a gamer.

Basically, it comes down to robot dinosaurs.

A lot of people think of Sarah Bergmann as the "Honeybee Lady," and that really annoys her.

It's an attribution that might make sense at first glance, given that Bergmann is the celebrated creator of what's called the Pollinator Pathway project. So, pollinators, honeybees — what's the problem?

Last week, NPR and I shared a little paean to photosynthesis, which I defined as "the molecular scale shenanigans plants use create food from sunlight."

Now that we're well past the start of spring, you're probably inured already to all the green.

I mean, after those long months of winter, everyone's pumped about the first buds and shoots — so bright green and promising. But then, it's all ho-hum, leaves everywhere — whatever.

Well, not me, pal.

See, this spring I've been digging in on photosynthesis for some research I'm doing and, I gotta tell you, it's blowing my mind.

We astronomers are trained to think long.

A hundred million years, a hundred thousand years — after a while these impossible-seeming time scales become so familiar you can kind of feel them in your bones.

The universe's "most interesting star" just started acting up again.

The number of potentially habitable planets in the universe is crazy big (10 billion trillion).

With all those worlds, it seems pretty reasonable to suppose that life will get started on some of them. And, going further, evolution will then do its work — leading some species all the way up to forms of tool-building intelligence.

But given an intelligent species — think apes or even birds or octopus — what does it take to make the transition up to a civilization?

When discussions about science and religion turn into debates about science versus religion, Buddhism mostly gets a pass.

The Joy Of Science

May 2, 2017

In today's political climate, it's hard sometimes to remember that science, at its root, is about the fun of discovery. It's a kind of kids-play.

What animates the joy and the excitement and the inspiration so many folks feel in their encounters with science is a very pure sense of: "Wow, that is sooooooo cool."

We all live in our heads.

Well, maybe it's better to say we all live from our heads — and our bodies.

From the day of our births to the moment of our deaths, we experience the world from a very particular — and unique — perspective: our own.

This Saturday, April 22, people from around the country will gather in Washington, D.C., to join the March for Science (there will also be satellite marches in many cities).

The Moon You Never See

Apr 11, 2017

How many times have you seen the moon? Seriously. How many times have you looked up and been like: "Oh yeah, the moon. Cool."?

If you are old enough to be reading this, the answer should be "a lot" (probably in the thousands).

But here is the real question: Have you really seen the moon?

Why Expertise Matters

Apr 7, 2017

I am an expert — a card-carrying, credential-bearing expert.

The great jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis once told an interviewer: "There's only freedom in structure, my man. There's no freedom in freedom."

Science and philosophy have a long, complicated history.

Both are human endeavors aimed at articulating the nature of the world. But where the line between them lies depends a lot on perspective and history. Questions that once lay firmly in philosophy's domain have now fully entered the realm of science. Other issues which might seem fully covered by science retain open philosophical questions that either haunt or inform ongoing research (depending on one's viewpoint).

When it comes to facing the reality of climate change, the Republican Party, now led by the Trump Administration, has been slipping ever farther from its roots as a champion of American science.

Last week brought further evidence of this disconnect — but it also held out a glimmer of hope that the party's turn away from the U.S. effort in science is not universal.

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