Extra Dimensions, Time Travel, and How to Overcome Boots in the Face | Janna Levin on The Tim Ferriss Podcast

Check out The Tim Ferriss Show Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Janna Levin’s mother taught her to read books while her father taught her to ask questions:
    • “My dad’s an MD, so where my mom taught me how to read, my dad taught me how to ask questions. My dad’s just a super curious guy.”  – Janna Levin
  • Math can show you things you can’t see:
    • “I discover stuff through math that is so counterintuitive that I really wrestle with it, which is why I love math, because it’s telling me stuff that I can’t see.” Janna Levin
  • The universe could very much be like Pac-Man. If you go past the right side, you simply end up on the left side:
    • “He goes out one side. He comes in the other. He goes out the top. He comes in the bottom…I go out to the right side of the universe. I come in the left side. I go out the top of the universe. I come in the bottom. There’s no need for that to live in another space. That’s it.” Janna Levin
  • Some time travel is possible: 
    • “There are forms of time-travel that we absolutely know are possible. I can travel to the forward of your time. I can’t travel to the forward of mine, but I can travel to the forward of yours.” – Janna Levin
  • Life is unfair and nobody is owed anything, that’s the way it is. Each obstacle is a test trial:
    • “So I started to see life as a series of obstacles that were test trials, teaching modules of how to be a better person and to pave the way behind you, not in front of you. And it’s really been a pretty important principle for me” – Janna Levin

Intro

  • Janna Levin (@jannalevin) is the Tow Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University.
  • Host: Tim Ferriss (@tferriss)

Books Mentioned

Getting Interested In Science

  • Growing up, being a scientist never crossed Janna’s mind. She wanted to study philosophy. She also loved literature.
    • Toni Morrison’s Beloved taught Janna to appreciate the depth of the language 
      • Janna is a voracious reader:
        • “When I finally became a voracious reader, I had no quality control. I just loved books. I would read crappy things. I would read wonderful things.” – Janna Levin
  • Janna’s mother taught her to read books while her father taught her to ask questions:
    • “My dad’s an MD, so where my mom taught me how to read, my dad taught me how to ask questions. My dad’s just a super curious guy.”  – Janna Levin
  • When a professor suggested Janna to study physics, she became offended:
    • “I was offended. I literally recoiled. And I was like, ‘Physicists memorize equations, and they build bombs, and there’s no creativity.’” – Janna Levin
  • Why did Janna shift from philosophy to science? 
    • She wanted to make concrete discoveries. In philosophy, people can argue about semantics. But in science, you can’t debate what a scientist discovered.
      • In science, you pick up where the last scientist left off and try to move forward to make new discoveries
        • “So by a junior in college, I switched my major to astronomy and physics.” – Janna Levin

How The Universe Is Like Pac-Man

  • “Computer rules are only reflecting mathematical rules, and the universe could obey the same rules” – Janna Levin
  • The universe could very much be like Pac-Man. If you go past the right side, you simply end up on the left side:
    • “He goes out one side. He comes in the other. He goes out the top. He comes in the bottom…I go out to the right side of the universe. I come in the left side. I go out the top of the universe. I come in the bottom. There’s no need for that to live in another space. That’s it.” Janna Levin

The Magic of Mathematics 

  • Math can demonstrate things you can’t see:
    • “I discover stuff through math that is so counterintuitive that I really wrestle with it, which is why I love math because it’s telling me stuff that I can’t see.” Janna Levin
  • e.g., If you had two steel-welded, interconnected rings that were loosely connected, there’s nothing you can do to break them apart unless you cut the steel in a 3-dimensional world
    • But in a 4-dimensional world, you could easily separate them without breaking them
      • “It’s a formal mathematical proof” – Janna Levin

The Possibilities of Time Travel

  • Some time travel is possible: 
    • “There are forms of time-travel that we absolutely know are possible. I can travel to the forward of your time. I can’t travel to the forward of mine, but I can travel to the forward of yours.” – Janna Levin
  • Brace your brain:
    • “So for instance, if I decide to travel near the speed of light to go to Andromeda, a nearby galaxy, and come back, traveling very near the speed of light, I might have experienced as close as I get to the speed of light, I will experience as little passage of time as imaginable. But let’s just say it’s a few months for me. For you, gosh, Andromeda is 2.5 million light-years away, 2.5 million years would have passed.” – Janna Levin
  • There’s still a lot we don’t understand about time:

We Are All In This Together

  • “Anything that happened more recently than about a million years ago is local politics.” – Janna Levin
    • However, if you have a modest platform, it’s important to speak up:
      • “These aren’t things I want to do. I’ve no interest in politics. I’ve no interest in identity. I don’t see having more melanin, or having this genitalia, or having this psychology. It’s zero interest to me, frankly. But I see it as hurting people close to me and so I’ll speak out and do those things.” 
  • We are all direct descendants of the Big Bang 
    • “We are direct descendants of the generation of stars that made carbon and oxygen. We are direct descendants of neutron stars colliding and providing us with gold, which has actually this insane monetary thing that we exchange with no understanding that the absolute only place that came from was the collision of two dead stars somewhere else in the universe that threw it our way.” – Janna Levin

Books Janna Loved

  • Janna calls Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go spectacular
    • “It’s about cloning and it’s a very personal, intimate book, like how he took this utterly abstract concept and made it completely small and intimate. And it’s stunning. It’s an incredible book” – Janna Levin
  • She also enjoyed reading Don DeLillo’s White Noise
    • “It’s kind of about this small college town professor and maybe a chemical spill and you’re not quite sure what it is and it is absolutely hilarious and incredibly clever.” – Janna Levin
  • Another book recommendation: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
    • “I read it in less than 24 hours, I was possessed by it.” – Janna Levin
  • Tim recommends reading:
  • If you want to think better, read good books, and study writing:
  • Tim and Janna both loved Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
  • Tim also enjoyed Little, Big by John Crowley

Additional Notes

  • A few of Janna’s favorite philosophers: Bertrand Russell, Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • A famous quote from Einstein: “Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.”
  • Janna’s son’s organs are mirror-reversed. Meaning, his heart is on the right side of his chest.
    • “He’s literally a mirror image of most of us. There’s nothing unhealthy about the organ placement. It’s just extravagantly rare.” – Janna Levin
  • Life is unfair and nobody is owed anything, that’s the way it is. Each obstacle is a test trial:
    • “So I started to see life as a series of obstacles that were test trials, teaching modules of how to be a better person and to pave the way behind you, not in front of you. And it’s really been a pretty important principle for me” – Janna Levin
Tim Ferriss Show : , , , ,
Notes By Alex Wiec

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 12,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks