March 21, 2022 –

Jeremy: In your new book, Probable Impossibilities, you talk about a remarkable moment you had as a boy, when you had this experience of “nothingness,” as you put it. Could you share that anecdote with us?

Alan: I grew up in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. One day when I was around nine years old, I had just heard a train go by, and suddenly I had this feeling of being transported into outer space, and being connected with the cosmos. I felt like the infinite time before I was born and the infinite time after I would be gone were compressed to a dot, and I felt incredibly insignificant—but also kind of grand. It was a cosmic moment of awareness of myself as a particle in the universe.

Jeremy: Incredible. Do you feel that experience influenced your chosen career path as a physicist?

Alan: It might have been a pivotal moment, or it might have been a reflection that I was already philosophically and scientifically inclined. Even from that young age, my mind naturally thought about these big questions. I spent a lot of time in my room alone, writing poetry about death and beauty. I was in my head a lot, and I still am—to the great dismay of my wife and children.