What Does the Future Hold for Physics: Is There a Limit to Human Knowledge?

What Does the Future Hold for Physics: Is There a Limit to Human Knowledge?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented By

The New York Academy of Sciences


An archived recording of this event is available via Livestream under "Archived Events" at:


A podcast of this event is available for download here.

Modern physics and its leading theories, such as the Standard Model of particle physics, Einstein's theory of relativity, and quantum mechanics, have been remarkably successful in describing the dynamical history of our universe. Large-scale experiments, such as the Large Hadron Collider or advanced ground- and space-based telescopes, continuously produce new data that extend our knowledge of the world. Nevertheless, our understanding of some physical concepts that seek to explain our universe—dark matter and dark energy, quantum gravity, supersymmetry, and the cosmological constant—remain unresolved. Cosmologist Neil Weiner, physicist Vijay Balasubramanian and selected other speakers will explore whether there are limits on our ability to learn about the universe and obtain evidence to verify prevailing theories, where those limits might be and what their significance is for our worldview, and whether humanity, when facing these limits, may once again invoke "God of the gaps"—the notion that divine intervention plays a role in natural phenomena that science is presently unable to explain.

* Reception to follow.


Vijay Balasubramanian, PhD

Professor of Physics, University of Pennsylvania

Eva Silverstein, PhD

Professor of Physics, Stanford University

Neal Weiner, PhD

Professor of Physics and Director, Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics, New York University


Jill North, PhD

Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University

Registration — Individual Lecture Prices

Member (Student / Postdoc / Resident / Fellow)$5
Nonmember (Student / Postdoc / Resident / Fellow)$7

The event is part of the Physics of Everything series.

This six-part series will unite some of the most vibrant public intellectuals and communicators of today—from scientists to philosophers, and ethicists to educators—for explorations that reflect on the current state of modern physical sciences.

To learn more about each lecture and to purchase tickets, click on the links below.

Contact Us

Jennifer Costley, PhD

Director, Physical Sciences, Sustainability & Engineering


Vijay Balasubramanian, PhD

University of Pennsylvania

Vijay Balasubramanian is the Cathy and Marc Lasry Professor of Physics at the University of Pennsylvania. He pursues research in two different fields: string theory (including the physics of black holes and whether they destroy information) and theoretical neuroscience (including the computational principles underlying the architecture of the brain's neural circuits). He has also addressed problems in statistical inference and "Occam's Razor"—the trade-off between simple and accurate mathematical models. Born in Bombay and raised in India and Indonesia, Balasubramanian came to the United States for college. He earned degrees in physics and computer science at MIT, and received two patents in artificial intelligence. After completing a PhD in physics from Princeton, he became a Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows. Vijay Balasubramanian spent 2012–2013 at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris and has been a visiting professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, Rockefeller University, and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University of Brussels) in Belgium.

Eva Silverstein, PhD

Stanford University

Eva Silverstein is a Professor of Physics at Stanford University. Silverstein's research includes predictive mechanisms for early-universe inflationary cosmology accounting for its sensitivity to quantum gravity, tested by current and near-term cosmic microwave background data. They have led to a more systematic understanding of the inflationary process and its range of observational signatures. She has also pursued the wider development of quantum field theory and string theory including its mechanisms for a cosmological constant, black hole horizon dynamics, and duality symmetries.

Neal Weiner, PhD

Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics, New York University

Neal Weiner received his undergraduate degree in Physics and Mathematics from Carleton College and a PhD in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley. After completing his postdoctoral training at the University of Washington, Dr. Weiner joined the faculty of the Department of Physics at NYU in 2004. He has broad interests in particle physics and cosmology.

Dr. Weiner's focus is generally on physics beyond the standard model. In this broad field, his work has included studies of dark matter, extra dimensions, supersymmetry, grand unification, flavor, neutrino mass, inflation and dark energy, as well as relationships between the different subjects. Recently, he has been actively engaged in the development of ideas related to "dark sectors" where dark matter has its own interactions beyond gravitational and the implications for the ongoing search for dark matter. Dr. Weiner is currently the Director of the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics at NYU.


Jill North, PhD

Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University

Jill North is an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Her research focuses on the philosophy and foundations of physics, especially the metaphysics of physics—what the world is ultimately like, according to our best physical theories. She is currently working on the questions of whether spacetime exists and whether it emerges from something else more fundamental (under a grant from the National Science Foundation), as well as whether different mathematical formulations of classical mechanics are genuinely theoretically equivalent. She earned her undergraduate degree in Physics and Philosophy at Yale in 1997 and her PhD in Philosophy at Rutgers in 2004. After finishing her PhD, she held a postdoctoral fellowship in the Philosophy Department at NYU, and then taught in the Philosophy Departments at Yale and Cornell before joining the faculty at Rutgers last fall.


Presented by

  • The New York Academy of Sciences

Grant Support

  • Templeton Foundation

This project was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this event are those of the speaker(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

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The New York Academy of Sciences

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New York, NY 10007-2157

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