The inquiring mind of Jerry Brown

Photo of Governor Jerry Brown

I had a fascinating chance conversation with Governor Jerry Brown this week. We talked for 40 minutes, covering everything from the founding provost of Cowell College to the origins of the universe. I was impressed by the range of his curiosity.

He began by asking me if I'd read any of three books with links to the campus: One by Cowell Provost Page Smith, one by Kresge anthropologist Gregory Bateson, and the third was Paul Lee's book about Alan Chadwick and the history of our first campus garden. We talked briefly about Chadwick and all he accomplished, and the governor mentioned that he'd like to see Bateson in the California Hall of Fame.

Then we turned to astronomy, which he said he knew nothing about. He asked about dark matter, dark energy, and the big bang. I tried to explain the composition of the universe, as well as eternal inflation (the idea that the universe is forever expanding exponentially but regions separate out and slow down due to quantum effects, like the one that became our big bang). I got into the theory of type 1 multiverses that posit that there is an identical universe to ours a predictable but gigantic number of light years away.

He asked about intelligent life in the universe. I explained the Drake equation, formulated by UCSC Professor Emeritus Frank Drake, and why it predicts other technological civilizations in the Milky Way. I tried to give the governor a sense of the range of reasonable estimates and promised to send him my book.

The last thing we talked about was asteroids hitting the earth. He wanted to know what I thought we should be doing about it, so I explained the magnitude of the issue and reassured him that with enough warning it wouldn't be hard to deflect an asteroid heading toward Earth. He asked if the United States or China has such a program, and I said no but I have heard of a nonprofit venture. Turns out that's being led by his friend Rusty Schweiker, the former astronaut, and he asked for my card so that Rusty could contact me.

Talk about an inquiring mind! It was gratifying that the governor knows as much about UCSC as he does, and the conversation was thoroughly enjoyable, if not quite what I was expecting at the UC Regents meeting.

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