EXCLUSIVE: Physicist and author Alan Lightman has been pondering some major questions. For instance, “Where do we humans fit in the grand scheme of things? Are we just atoms and molecules, or something more? How does consciousness arise from the material neurons in our brains?”
The MIT professor and novelist goes looking for answers to those conundrums in the upcoming three-part documentary series Searching: Our Quest for Meaning in the Age of Science. The series, directed by Geoffrey Haines-Stiles, premieres on public television stations on January 7, the same date it begins streaming on PBS.org for a 60-day window.
Lightman’s areas of inquiry are as vast as the universe and as tiny as the smallest particle of matter.
“We travel with him to the prehistoric caves of Font-de-Gaume in France, where drawings and symbols suggest that—as long ago as 40,000 years—our early human ancestors were also searching for meaning,” a description of the series notes. “In Florence, Italy, we examine Galileo’s original telescopes. He was the first to show that the heavens are made of the same stuff as Earth, that the universe is impermanent, and that all is made of ordinary material. We walk with Alan through the giant atom smasher at CERN on the Swiss-French border, where physicists are trying to find the smallest particles of nature, and visit the laboratory of Nobel laureate Jack Szostak, who is attempting to create a living cell from chemicals present on primitive earth.”
In another episode, Lightman “converses with an advanced android named Bina48, and talks to ethicist Ruth Faden about what moral obligations we might have to such a being in the future.”
Lightman brings to his explorations the rigor of a scientist and the artistic sensibility of a poet. He has published six novels as well as a number of nonfiction books; his latest work, The Transcendent Brain: Spirituality in the Age of Science, will be released by Penguin Random House on March 14, 2023. His multidisciplinary approach brings him into contact with the Dalai Lama, a rabbi and a bio-ethicist in episode 2 of Searching, to “evaluate the nature of consciousness, and the status of future Artificial Intelligences.”
Haines-Stiles’s credits include the original Cosmos, the Emmy-winning nonfiction series that starred physicist Carl Sagan, and NOVA’s Is Anybody Out There? with Lily Tomlin. He filmed Searching in IMAX Ultra High Definition, and also made use of state-of-the-art computer graphics, “tracing our atoms from the ‘Big Bang to Us,’ and showing the exact percentages and surprisingly inexpensive cost of the elements in our bodies.”
Searching’s executive producer is Erna Akuginow. The series is distributed for public television by APT, American Public Television. In addition to its public television debut on January 7 and streaming window on PBS.com, the series will broadcast and livestream on the WORLD Channel in early 2023.
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