Jim Gates: Supersymmetry, String Theory and Proving Einstein Right | Lex Fridman Podcast #60 | Summary and Q&A

December 25, 2019
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Jim Gates: Supersymmetry, String Theory and Proving Einstein Right | Lex Fridman Podcast #60


Supersymmetry is a mathematical concept that fills the gaps in our understanding of particles and forces in the universe, resulting in beautiful and powerful insights.

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Key Insights

  • 🔬 Supersymmetry, a mathematical idea in physics, fills the two buckets of matter and force carriers in our universe, creating symmetry. These ideas are yet to be experimentally validated.
  • 💡 Artificial intelligence may eventually develop consciousness that is indistinguishable from human consciousness, but it would need the ability to dream, something that is connected to the irrational parts of our minds.
  • 🛰️ Venturing outside of our solar system is extremely difficult due to the laws of physics and the challenges of interstellar travel, including radiation exposure. However, there are potential solutions being explored, such as multi-generational starships and bioengineering.
  • 🌌 It is highly likely that there is conscious life beyond Earth in the vast expanse of the universe, given the abundance of Earth-like planets. However, it is uncertain whether we will ever recognize or interact with alien life.
  • 💥 The laws of physics, including symmetry and the compression of information, allow us to deeply understand the structure of the universe, which is a beautiful and surprising idea.
  • 🔍 The study of theoretical physics and the exploration of fundamental particles and forces often begin with mathematical ideas and calculations, which then lead to experiments and validation.
  • 🔢 Adinkra symbols, strange graphical representations, were discovered to have error-correcting codes hidden within them, offering a potential solution to transmitting digital information reliably.
  • 🔐 The debate on the status of string theory is ongoing, with some arguing that it is a fundamental theory capable of explaining the nature of the universe, while others believe it is a collection of mathematical facts without an overarching paradigm. String theory has led to new insights and calculations in areas beyond string theory itself.


the following is a conversation with s James Gates Jr he's a theoretical physicist and professor Brown University working on supersymmetry super gravity a super string theory he served on former President Obama's Council of Advisors on science technology and he's now the co-author of a new book titled proving Einstein right about the scientists who... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is supersymmetry and why is it important in our understanding of the universe?

Supersymmetry is a mathematical concept that suggests a symmetry between particles and forces, filling the gaps in our knowledge of fundamental particles and their interactions. It is important because it provides insights into the nature of reality and has led to the development of powerful mathematical tools in fields beyond string theory.

Q: How does supersymmetry relate to other fundamental concepts in physics, such as string theory and quantum mechanics?

Supersymmetry is a fundamental concept in string theory, which seeks to explain the fundamental forces and particles in the universe. It also has connections to quantum mechanics, as it provides a framework for understanding the behavior of particles at the quantum level.

Q: What are the practical implications of supersymmetry in fields beyond physics?

Supersymmetry has led to the development of powerful mathematical tools such as error-correcting codes and holography, which have applications beyond string theory. These tools have the potential to enhance our understanding of various fields, including data storage, information theory, and cryptography.

Q: What are some of the ongoing debates and challenges surrounding supersymmetry?

One ongoing debate is whether supersymmetry is a fundamental concept or simply an abstract mathematical concept. Another challenge is the lack of experimental evidence supporting supersymmetry, which has led to skepticism among some physicists. Additionally, there are open questions regarding the specific predictions and implications of supersymmetry that still need to be explored and verified by experimental observations.


In this podcast episode, Lex Fridman interviews S. James Gates Jr, a theoretical physicist and professor at Brown University. They discuss topics such as whether humans will venture outside of the solar system, the possibility of colonizing Mars, the potential for artificial intelligence to replace humans, the most beautiful idea in physics, and the basic particles in the universe.

Questions & Answers

Q: Do you think human beings will ever venture outside our solar system?

Venturing outside the solar system will be extremely difficult as long as our current understanding of physics holds. The barriers are formidable, including cosmic radiation and the need for multi-generational starships. While it is exciting to dream about starships and interstellar travel, the challenges are immense.

Q: Will spaceships that take us outside the solar system look like the ones from today or will there be fundamental breakthroughs?

If we are successful in developing spaceships for interstellar travel, there will likely need to be fundamental breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe. Current technologies may allow for the construction of multi-generational starships, but radical views about the universe and our current science may be necessary for true interstellar travel.

Q: Do you think humans will colonize Mars?

It is unlikely that humans will colonize Mars by 2030, as is often speculated. The challenges of sending humans to Mars are immense, including the long duration of the journey, the lack of protection from cosmic radiation, and the difficulties of sustaining life on the harsh Martian surface. However, it is possible that humans may colonize Mars by the year 2100.

Q: What are the challenges and barriers to colonizing Mars?

One of the biggest challenges of colonizing Mars is the lack of a protective magnetosphere, which shields Earth from cosmic radiation. Without this protection, humans would be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation during the journey and on the Martian surface. There are also technological and biological engineering challenges to sustain life on Mars, including providing a habitable environment and ensuring the survival of human bodies in the harsh conditions.

Q: Are you hopeful that technology and entrepreneurship can lower the cost of space travel?

Bending the cost curve of space travel is critical for future missions to Mars and beyond. While there are efforts by entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to lower the cost of space travel, there is a need for more radical breakthroughs in technology. Incremental changes in current rocket technologies are not likely to significantly reduce the cost of space travel.

Q: Do you believe there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe?

Given the vastness of the universe and the discovery of numerous Earth-like planets, it is highly likely that there is other intelligent life in the universe. However, there is no evidence that they have visited or interacted with us.

Q: Do you think we would recognize alien life if we saw it?

Whether we would recognize alien life depends on their native environment and the conditions in which they evolved. If their environment is similar to ours, there might be similarities in the way life forms appear. However, it is presumptuous to assume that other life forms must adhere to the same biological structure as life on Earth.

Q: What is the most beautiful and mysterious idea in physics?

The most surprising and mysterious idea in physics is that our human minds can comprehend and delve deep into the structure of the universe. The fact that our minds are capable of understanding and using mathematics to describe the universe is a profound and exceptional aspect of our existence.

Q: How does creativity and dreaming play a role in your work as a physicist?

Creativity and dreaming play a crucial role in physics and scientific discovery. There are different modes of creativity, including the traditional accumulation and synthesis of information, as well as more powerful modes of creativity that arise from subconscious processing and dreaming. The latter mode often occurs when faced with challenging problems and can lead to breakthroughs in understanding.

Q: What are the basic particles in physics, and how do they differ?

At a fundamental level, there are two types of particles in physics: matter particles and force carrier particles. Matter particles, such as electrons and quarks, are the building blocks of the universe. Force carrier particles, like photons and gravitons, interact with matter particles to transmit the fundamental forces of nature. These particles can be further categorized as bosons or fermions, based on their behavior in relation to each other.

Q: What is supersymmetry?

Supersymmetry is a theoretical framework that suggests the existence of a deeper symmetry in the universe. It posits that for every known particle in one category (fermion or boson), there exists a corresponding particle in the other category. This symmetry has not been experimentally confirmed but has mathematical elegance and potential implications for our understanding of the universe.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Supersymmetry is a mathematical concept that proposes a symmetry between particles and forces in the universe.

  • It fills the gaps in our understanding of fundamental particles, such as electrons and quarks, and their interactions with force carriers like photons and gluons.

  • Supersymmetry has led to the discovery of powerful mathematical tools, such as error-correcting codes and holography, that have applications beyond string theory.

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