Faith, Fashion and Fantasy: How Big is Infinity?

David Pacchioli
July 13, 2009

How do physicists describe infinity? Does quantum mechanics make sense? What, if anything, does string theory have to do with the natural world?

Sir Roger Penrose, emeritus Rouse Ball professor of mathematics at Oxford University and Francis R. and Helen M. Pentz visiting professor of physics and mathematics at Penn State, has never shied from what he calls "the big fish." The author of The Emperor's New Mind and The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, Penrose is widely known for his work over the last 45 years in the areas of general relativity, cosmology, and the connections between fundamental physics and human consciousness. Last month, he returned to University Park to deliver a public lecture titled "Faith, Fashion, and Fantasy: How Big is Infinity?"

The occasion was "AbhayFest"—a conference on classical and quantum gravity in honor of the 60th birthday of Abhay Ashtekar, holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Physics and director of the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos at Penn State.

From June 4-6, prominent physicists from around the world gathered for talks in celebration of Ashtekar's many contributions to one of the biggest challenges in physics: the merging of quantum theory with general relativity. The event was sponsored by the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos.

Here, in its entirety, we present Penrose's lecture.

Last Updated July 13, 2009