What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Mrs. Frederic Struve gave a few friends on Friday the pleasure of meeting the Countess D’Ursel” and, “Mrs. Henry S. Tremper entertained sixteen small guests at luncheon on Saturday.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

The cover of the December 6, 1919 Town Crier features the children’s book department at the old Frederick & Nelson department store. The place, it was noted, was “a center of lively interest for children of all ages who are claiming this Book Land as their own especial property and enjoying it to the full.”

The Town Crier was full of good words about good books. A story about Book Land inside the issue stated, “It is a place that gleams with color…There are children everywhere: chairs are full, and there are rows of youngsters sitting contentedly on the floor lost to the world in books.”

Book Land is a good place to be. There have been a variety of studies on the benefits of children reading: brain health and empathy for a start. Behavior and attention for another. Simply growing up in a house with books has benefits.

Some people who know and love places like Book Land—Pamela Paul and Maria Russo. They’ll be chatting with Maria Semple on January 13, 2020 about their new book, How to Raise a Reader. Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review. Russo is the children’s book editor of the same publication. Semple is the author of the acclaimed novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette. The talk will explore new and lively approaches to cultivating a love of reading in younger generations.

Tickets for the event ($5 and free for anyone under the age of 22) are on sale now.

Sacred Music of the Renaissance(s)

Despite being born nearly 350 years apart, jazz legend Duke Ellington and Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli have more in common than it might seem.

Both Ellington and Giovanni were pivotal influences on the music of the Renaissances taking place during their lives (Harlem Renaissance and Italian High Renaissance, respectively). As well, in the latter portion of their careers both wrote “sacred” music. 

Much of Gabrieli’s music was written to match the acoustics of the halls for which it was composed. His reverent motets and dazzling sonatas would have echoed from the mosaic-covered vaults of Saint Mark’s Basilica and other Venetian churches in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. 

On December 21 Early Music Seattle presents a holiday concert celebrating Gabrieli’s masterful arrangements. They may not have access to the unique layout of Venice’s San Marco church—with its two choir lofts facing each other, which enabled Gabrielli to create striking spatial effects—but certainly the vaulted ceiling and custom-built acoustic reflector of Town Hall’s Great Hall will amplify the effects of dialogue and echo that permeate Gabrielli’s work. 

In much of Gabrieli’s composition, precision is key. Some of his pieces were even written such that certain instruments could be heard clearly from among the entire orchestra. We’re excited to hear how the state-of-the-art acoustics in the Great Hall complement these pieces of musical canon. 

Just as Gabrieli’s compositions were written for large, carefully arranged ensembles, Ellington’s sacred concerts also relied on collaboration—featuring jazz big band, gospel choir, tap dancers, and more. These concerts were no small undertaking, and have rarely been performed live because of the immense number of musicians required. 

Earshot Jazz has been presenting works from Ellington’s three sacred concerts for 30 years, performing pieces which Duke himself considered to be some of his most important creations. They’ll do so again on December 28. Ellington released three albums in his sacred concert series—the first recorded in 1965 and the last recorded in 1973, just six months before his death. Despite the somewhat somber quality of the third concert, Ellington remained proud of his sacred performances, even referring to them as “the most important thing I’ve ever done.” 

Now, after so many decades (or centuries), these two musicians have one more thing in common—their music will be on Town Hall’s stage this month!

Join Early Music Seattle and Earshot Jazz for concerts featuring compositions from two of the most groundbreaking musical minds of their times. Tickets are on sale now.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Reverend Bliss entertained with a Thanksgiving dinner ” and, “They are noisy, and they are gassy, and they’re dirty, the ubiquitous tin Ford.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

The November 29, 1919 Town Crier looked towards Christmastime with Thanskgiving in the rear view. “Looking backward for a moment, we see that the usual features of Thanksgiving day were very much in evidence: the turkey, roosting higher than ever, was nevertheless removed gently but with determination from his perch, and translated by fire and skill into a crispy brown mound of toothsome tenderness, entirely surrounded by Thanksgiving trimmings.” The story continued, “Perhaps the mince pie lacked something of its former delicious flavor, and again, perhaps it didn’t.”

Regardless of if your pie was delicious or not yesterday, take note, the holiday season is upon us and Town Hall has a great many holiday happenings in the coming weeks.

November 30: The Byrd Ensemble and Seattle Baroque Orchestra will play Bach’s “Wachet auf” and “Magnificat.”

December 8: Northwest Girlchoir will present their concert “Generation to Generation,” playing holiday favorites and unheralded gems.

December 10: KIRO Radio’s “Goodbye, Christmas!” KIRO Radio and Seattle Radio Theatre will present an original holiday radio play.

December 14: Seattle Girls Choir will present their holiday concert, “A Gift of Song.”

December 14: Magical Strings will showcase a “Celtic Yuletide.”

December 15: A special Short Stories Live event – “A Rogue’s Family Christmas.”

December 21: Early Music Seattle will present “Festive Cantatas: Christmas in Gabrieli’s Venice.”

December 28: Earshot Jazz will present their 31st annivesary concert of Duke Ellington’s sacred music.

That’s a lot to digest, we know. That said, there’s more going on at Town Hall than just these shows. Check out our calendar for a full listing and happy holidays!

The American Xenophobia Paradox: A Conversation with Erika Lee

The United States is known as a nation of immigrants—but it is also a nation of xenophobia. Erika Lee,director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, takes the stage at Town Hall on December 10 with an unblinking look at the irrational fear, hatred, and hostility toward immigrants which have been defining features of our nation from the colonial era to the Trump era. Tickets are only $5 (free for anyone under the age of 22) and are available now.

Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley sat down with Lee to briefly discuss political power, racism, and Benjamin Franklin.

JS: What initially got you interested in the topic of xenophobia? 

EL: I have always been fascinated with America’s history of immigration, one that has been marked by both a tradition of welcoming immigrants and a long record of xenophobia – an irrational fear and hatred of immigrants. But the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump’s explicitly xenophobic campaign still took me by surprise. Then he was elected. My students, many of whom were first generation immigrants and refugees, asked me, “How did this happen?” I didn’t have the answers. I knew that I owed it to my students—and to all Americans—to try and figure this out.

JS: For the layperson, what IS xenophobia?

EL: Coming from the Greek words xenos, which translates into “stranger,” and phobos, which means either “fear” or “flight,” xenophobia  literally means fear and hatred of foreigners. But I think that it is important to think about xenophobia beyond this literal translation. It is an ideology: a set of beliefs and ideas based on the premise that foreigners are threats to the nation and its people. It promotes an irrational fear and hatred of immigrants and demonizes foreigners (and, crucially, people considered to be “foreign” or outsiders). And it is a form of racism; it defines certain groups as racial and religious others who are inherently inferior or dangerous—or both—and demonizes them as a group based on these presumptions. When we think about xenophobia in these ways, it becomes clear that it is not only about immigration; it is about who has the power to define what it means to be American, who gets to enjoy the privileges of American citizenship, and who does not.

JS: As a nation of immigrants, why the paradox? Why do we fear the very thing we are supposedly proud of?

EL: This is one of the biggest puzzles that I try to figure out. The U.S. is indeed a “nation of immigrants;” a nation built by immigration. And while we have allowed generations of immigrants to come to the United States, that welcome has not always been uniform across groups; nor has it translated into full equality. There have always some groups that we have been wary of; to the point of demonizing them and labeling them threats to the United States and to the American people. Whom we have welcomed or banned has often been defined by race. European immigrants—while not uniformly embraced into the United States—have certainly faced less systemic xenophobia and discrimination than non-Europeans. When we understand xenophobia as a form of racism, this paradox, I think, is easier to understand.

JS: How does xenophobia work? Why does it endure? Who does it benefit?

EL: Xenophobia is often understood as something that rises and falls depending on what is going on in the United States. When our economy is good, when we are at peace, when we are unified as a country, we are more welcoming. When we are suffering through an economic downturn, are at war, or fractured as a society, we are not welcoming. 

History shows that while economic and other concerns certainly help to make xenophobia thrive, it is not just an inevitable consequence of national anxieties. It is actively promoted by special interests in the pursuit of political power. It has also endured because it has been an indelible part of American racism, white supremacy, and nationalism, and because it has been supported by American capitalism and democracy. And it has succeeded through repetition. Targeting and discriminating against one group of immigrants makes it easier (and normal) to do it against others. Even as Americans have realized that the threats allegedly posed by immigrants were, in hindsight, unjustified, they have allowed xenophobia to become an American tradition.

JS: You note how Benjamin Franklin ridiculed Germans for being “strange.” Did the Founding Fathers have the thought that they could very well be “strange” to the native populations being immigrants themselves? 

EL: In fact, it worked in the opposite way. America’s white settlers did not think of themselves as “foreigners” or “immigrants” in the same way that we use the terms today. They believed they were destined to possess and rule over the lands that became American colonies and the United States. They identified Native Americans and African Americans as America’s first “others;” those who were threats to the colonies and then the United States because they were unfit to American citizenship and racially inferior. 

JS: Chinese exclusions, Japanese internment camps, the Muslim ban – we have a long history of negative treatment towards immigrants. How/why do we target certain populations at certain times? What are the ingredients to cause this hysteria?

EL: Xenophobia thrives best in certain contexts, such as periods of rapid economic and demographic change, war, and cultural conflict. This, in part, helps to explain why and how we have targeted Chinese, Japanese, and Muslim immigrants. The anti-Chinese movement spread during the economic recession during the 1870s; the incarceration of Japanese Americans and the targeting of Muslims in America happened during World War Two and after 9/11. 

But xenophobia is also about racism and political power. Chinese, Japanese, and Muslims have all been portrayed as inherently more foreign, and thus, more dangerous than other immigrant groups. As such they have been targeted for racially discriminatory policies like African Americans and Native Americans. And the campaigns against them—especially the anti-Chinese and anti-Muslim ones—have been actively promoted by politicians as part of larger political agendas and as a way to mobilize voters. 

JS: Are we making progress as a society to eradicate it?   

EL: I’m sorry to say that at the end of writing this book, I am much less hopeful that I was at the start. The Trump era has revealed just how powerful and effective xenophobia remains in the United States. 

JS: What can a citizen do to help in this regard? 

EL: I believe that the first step is to understand how our anti-immigrant attitudes and laws have been steeped in racism then and now. In the past, we used explicitly racist language. Today, code words like “law and order” and “national security” obscure policies that are still racist in their intent and execution. 

Another concrete action that we can all take is to remain informed about immigration issues and how immigration works so that we can be prepared to recognize “fake news,” mistruths, and distorted facts.

We also need to be resolved to the idea that solving xenophobia will not happen overnight. This is a much bigger and deeper problem than just electing a new president. It is deeply rooted in our worldview, our politics, and our laws. 

Lastly, we can all get involved. There has been a tremendous backlash to Trump era immigration policies. If you agree that this administration’s approach to immigration is hurting, rather than helping our country, then let your voice (and your vote) be heard. 

Hear Lee speak more about xenophobia at Town Hall on December 10. Learn more here.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Last Wednesday evening was a dance given by the Broadway Orthopedic Guild at the Army and Navy Club” and, “The big card party is planned for November 24 for the Lighthouse of the Blind.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

The November 22, 1919 Town Crier mentioned Thanksgiving. “With straining eyes we look across a disturbed and chaotic world and exclaim: ‘For what are we to give thanks?’ One year ago our hopes were high and our hearts were warm within us as we looked forward with confidence to the future. A twelvemonth of turmoil and confusion, of misunderstandings and suspicions, has depressed the spirit.”

The story continues with some amount of hope. “Mighty problems are facing the world. They demand solution and only through the sanest thought and action will the impasse be removed. Here is where the faith of mankind in the ultimate outcome is put to the test. The present difficulties were inevitable but isn’t it far better to be alive to their meaning than to have our senses dulled to the situation? Our work lies close at hand.” 

Town Hall is close to offering up a plethora of events dealing with some of the mighty problems facing the world. These include:

WTO Anniversary Events (11/30 and 12/7). 20 years ago Seattle protests shut down the World Trade Organization’s conference. On 11/30 the Community Alliance for Global Justice and UFCW 21 present the day-long “Another World is Possible! WTO+20 and the Justice Movements of Today.” On 12/7 the Washington Fair Trade Coalition offers a day of workshops and an evening program featuring Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

Eli Saslow (12/5). Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eli Saslow joins us to discuss his new book, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist.

Civic Saturday (12/7). A gathering of friends and strangers to dive into readings of civic texts, share thoughts and ideas, and reflect on the meaning of our nation’s creed—of liberty, equality, and self-government that truly unites us.

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández (12/9). Almost 400,000 people annually spend time locked up pending the result of a civil or criminal immigration proceeding. Leading scholar César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández takes a hard look at the immigration prison system’s origin and operation.

Erika Lee (12/10). Author Erika Lee takes the stage at Town Hall with an unblinking look at the irrational fear, hatred, and hostility toward immigrants which have been defining features of our nation from the colonial era to the Trump era. 

Find some solutions to the world’s problems at Town Hall this Thanksgiving season. Have your voice be heard. You can check our full calendar here.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Pupils of Mary Ann Wells went to Aberdeen for an Armistace Ball” and, “Mrs. Cecil Bacon has returned from the East.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

The November 15, 1919 Town Crier had good things to say about the Seattle Symphony’s first concert of the season. “The orchestra assembled by Conductor Spargur has improved in quality and there is far better tone in the violin section.” They continued that there was “more smoothness in the brass choir and the wood winds were quite a satisfaction.” They played Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Charpentier. “Charming it was in the warmth and joyousness of the sketches so well contrasted.”

Warmth and joyousness will be found at Town Hall soon with a plethora of music concerts coming soon.

November 16: Sounds of the Sound 3 A showcase that presents a vast array of gifted musical artists who give a unique voice to the culture, diversity, spirituality, and soul of the Puget Sound area and its people.

November 23: Puget Sound Symphony Orchestra. “Heroes and Villains” includes famous melodies and a tribute to Stan Lee.

November 24: Philharmonia Northwest. Dr. Seuss and Charlie Brown meet for a family friendly concert. Read an interview with Philharmonia Northwest’s Julia Tai here.

November 25: Piano Ki Avaaz. A Town Music concert featuring a newly commissioned piano trio piece by Reena Esmail.

November 30: Byrd Ensemble and Early Music Seattle. Bach masterpieces “Wachet auf” and “Magnificat” will be played.

And there’s much more coming in December. You can check our full calendar here.

Town Hall Can Thaw the Seattle Freeze

The gloomy weather is rolling into the city as winter approaches. It’s gloomy enough for Seattle to be named the nation’s gloomiest city. That’s pretty gloomy. Adding to it? The Seattle Freeze. The widely held belief that it’s hard to make friends in Seattle has its own Wikipedia page. There have been studies done about it. Half of all the residents of Washington don’t want to talk to you. KING5 covered the phenomena this very week.

What is one to do? Might we suggest coming to a Town Hall event? It’s where community comes together. It’s where voices can be heard. YOUR voice can be heard.

Let us revel, for a moment, in this intrepid Seattleite who recently attended our Just Food program. They went to it…with a new friend! GASP! And had a great time! GADZOOKS!


We can learn a thing or two from The Spider Queen. We can be open to new experiences and new people at any time. We can find new things to be passionate about. We can find practical and direct ways to use those things that mean something to us to improve our community as a whole. Town Hall’s here for that.

Here are a handful of events in the coming weeks where you, too, can revel in the thawing out process at Town Hall:

11/19: Richard Louv – A talk on how connecting with animals can transform our lives. (Humans are animals, too)

11/25: Piano Ki Avaaz – A chamber music concert is a wonderful way to connect. Revel in the music!

12/7: Civic Saturday – A place to come together in civic community, be inspired and encouraged to reflect and connect.

12/12: Rabbi Michael Lerner – Drawing from his book Revolutionary Love, Lerner proposes a globalization of generosity, prophetic empathy, and environmental sanity.

Those are but a few of the many events Town Hall has planned in the coming months. Regardless of what events you attend at Town Hall, join us at our Otto Bar before or after the event to have a drink, commiserate, debate, chat, laugh with friends new or old.

Get out of the cold, friends. Come to Town Hall. Let’s come together, warm-hearted and nimble-minded, and melt the freeze. 

In The Moment: Episode 46


In this week’s interview, Chief Correspondent Steve Scher talked with Northwest Harvest CEO Thomas Reynolds about food security in WA. Reynolds outlines the complexities in approaching and unpacking issues of food justice in our region, breaking the issue down past policies and programs and asserting that solutions to food inequality aren’t technical alone. Scher and Reynolds look at the future of food in WA, exploring the growing efforts of local farmers, free community markets, and food pantries. Reynolds highlights food sustainability models at work around the globe, and encourages large action through small scale change in our region. Get an insider’s look and stay in the know about what’s going on in this moment at Town Hall Seattle.


Episode Transcript

This transcription was performed automatically by a computer. Please excuse typos and inaccurate information. If you’re interested in helping us transcribe events and podcasts, email communications@townhallseattle.org.

Hello, Welcome to town hall Seattle’s podcast. In the moment, every episode, a local correspondent interview, somebody coming to our town hall stages and gives you a glimpse into their topic, personality and interests. I’m your host, Jini Palmer. Well, November is upon us and as we approach Thanksgiving and think about gathering around the table with family and friends, it behooves us to consider those that are food insecure. The United nations defines food insecurity as a situation that exists when people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life. Northwest harvest reports that one in 10 in the world and in Washington state struggle with hunger and are food insecure. The majority of working age Washingtonians living in poverty or working or actively looking for work and many work more than one job. Northwest harvest is a nonprofit operating statewide in Washington, distributing food to 375 food banks as well as meal programs and high needs schools. They provide nearly 2 million meals every month. At 7:30 PM on November 11th, Thomas Reynolds, the CEO of Northwest harvest, will be moderating a discussion on reducing hunger on our great hall stage. Just food. A conversation about food as a right in Washington state will also feature us representative Kim Schrier. Thomas Reynolds sat down within the moment, chief correspondent Steve Scher to talk about why hunger persists in the U S and worldwide and about creating grassroots systems to reduce it.

I’ve done a lot of work with FAO. I spent many years working in international setting with Karen and national and I’ve seen extreme poverty and extreme hunger in so many places. I think a lot of people think about Bangladesh in the seventies and eighties and Ethiopia people have of a certain age have images and blazoned upon them about what hunger might look like. I think here in the United States, hunger has a different type of face. People assume that hunger and homelessness or cinnamon synonymous hunger actually impacts most of us in our own neighborhoods. 94% of people who go to food banks and food pantries here in Washington state. Half homes are housed. And so I think we need to expand our notion of what it means to be food insecure and what it means to be hungry. Our policies falling short, or is it just that that’s a lot of people and so it takes time.

I think so much is done towards finding the technical fixes to the issues. In fact, in the United States, there’s this premise that there’s a lot of wasted food and there’s a lot of hungry people. So if we just give the wasted food to hungry people, the problems solved there in lies the problem. This is not a technical issue. There’s plenty of food in the world. There’s, there’s enough food and there’s enough production to feed every single person on the planet. And yet there are still so many hungry people. It’s because of the not the technical issues. It’s the institutional racism, the cultural racism, the injustices that people groups face that creates the symptoms of that sort of injustice. We see that here in Washington state. We see it in the United States, it seemed around the world. And so we’ve got to stop relying on technical fixes new programs new policies, new systems alone. I think we need to be addressing what’s at the heart of the issue. And that is the way that we as people see and tolerate hunger around the world.

A Trump administration, this is October force changes to slice 4.5 billion over the what used to be called food stamps snap now over five years, trimming as much as $75 for one in five. Struggling families on nutrition assistance, institutional blindness, institutional racism, or just dismissing of the concerns of anybody who’s, you know, not wealthy.

Perhaps it’s just a financial exercise on a spreadsheet and people haven’t considered the real impact of what the $75.

Do you really think that that’s all they do is, I mean, cause you just said it’s institutional racism, institutional inequity. You think that all they’re doing is just looking at a spreadsheet.

I think there’s almost no more analysis behind that for some of the people who propose these cuts. You know, it’s, it’s about you know, finding numbers that satisfy certain constituencies instead of realizing the real impact on the real people who needed that $75. There’s also these imaginary strategies that say let’s make government smaller and let’s have nonprofits pick up the pace. In fact, if the snap cuts went through, it would be a 20% reduction in the plan to snap spend over the next course of years impacting nonprofits as well. It would impact nonprofits, it would impact communities, but the idea is nonprofits would pick it up. We’ve done the analysis. If that 20% cut was done for government funds, every single food pantry across the country would immediately have to quadruple their output. That’s simply impossible.

You said there’s enough food, food pantries, just get all the guilty feeling people and all the noble people that step up.

Again, there’s,

There’s, you know, this is all couched in the idea of food waste, but instead we need new types of solutions. We need, we need to address this at the issues level. We need to understand the inherent, cultural and institutional racism of the fact that people, some people have more than enough and some people don’t have enough. You know, as I was talking to a friend of mine an Abdullah, him and Dan, he’s Sudanese, he said in Sudan, one of the worst insults that you can give someone is he eats by himself. And I said, I’m gonna unpack that for me. He said, it’s the idea that a family could sit down to a meal together knowing that their neighbors, you know, just down the street are not sitting down to a meal and being okay with it. I think at a fundamental level we need to Pierce the consciousness of every American household so that people no longer feel comfortable about sitting down at that meal when they know people in their own community or not. Alright. How come you focus on institutional racism? How many, let’s just say in King County, how many who are food insecure or people of color

In King County, in every County across Washington state people of color experience disproportionate amount of food insecurity. I don’t have the exact number for you, right?

The reason I’m harping to, yes they do. Right, but in raw numbers, what does it look like? I mean disproportionately, yes, it’s, it’s people of color, but in round numbers isn’t it white people who are experiencing food insecurity, why doesn’t that register with the very snap cutters we were just talking about

Also racism and institutional racism isn’t necessarily conscious or the United States has had three centuries and longer to perfect its racism. It is embedded into our culture, institutional practices and by these policies that could look equal, applied equally to each person cutting snap across the board for example. Is that what you mean by these policies? Educational opportunities job opportunities who, which resumes get screened in and get screened out based on the name. All of these things are aspects of cultural and institutional racism and not any one policy by itself can explain why there is this disparity. But the preponderance of all of these policies, all of these practices, all of this shared DNA of who we are in America contributes to this disparity.

How does that manifest for you when you go before, so you said you worked with FAO, you probably have testified before, some of the very people or their aunt, they’re the predecessors who were making changes, making calls. How does that manifest when you sit down and talk with them? What do you hear?

Again, it’s really focused on technical fixes. I mean literally down to how calories does each person need per day based on the temperature. You know, if it’s colder, people need more calories and to try to do the math by calculating the right number of calories that need to be distributed to the right number of communities on the right number of days based on the weather. We could do these calculations forever and never solved the promises, the conversation you have with them. These are the kinds of things that you talk about when you’re sitting down with them. You hear this and it’s published in reports. It’s, it is a very technical approach to a fundamental issue that will never be solved through technical approach. And when you bring that up and you bring up the fact of, well, if you do have institutional racism, when you confront them with it, their responses, I think there’s lament over the fact that things are so complicated and so challenging and so difficult to unpack.

And in fact in the morass of the complications and the complexities of the issues, maybe people take a breath and say it’s just too difficult to solve. That’s why I think it’s so important to focus on for justice. You know, Northwest harvest is focused on the equitable access to nutritious food for all here in Washington state. And that’s our contribution to food justice. We really think that the conversation can be had about what does that look like? What does that look like in South King County? What does that look like in rural parts of the state? States where still you have mostly white people who are elected to positions in which communities are, for instance, 75% Spanish speaking. You know, these are issues that we want to bring attention to. It’s not going to be about a solution set that says if grocery stores would simply identify things that are about to expire and give it away, we’re going to solve the problem.

That’s, that is a supply chain issue that probably has some level of importance, but it’s not problem solving. Northwest harvest has existed for more than 50 years and almost every single year of its existence we have distributed more food and I think better food, but we’ll be distributing more food and better food food for another 50 years if we just keep focusing on the supply chain issues. So what is food justice in South King County look like now? And three years from now and five years from now? You know, in the magic wand world, I have a lot of respect for local leaders and local community organizers. I think food justice in our food system means more people who are in their own community are making decisions, are representing the ideas and perspectives and desires of that local community block block by block, each neighborhood contributing to a solution set that makes sense for those families.

Literally you’re talking about you, you think we could have like that at block by block? I don’t know if the policy needs to describe a block by block approach, but our process needs to be, wow, give me, give me an example how, I mean, where do you live? What I would like to do, instead of starting with my block, I’d like to start with a high concentrations of Somali communities of Ethiopian communities, of African American communities of migrant farm worker communities and really understand their perspectives, their ideas, what who do they trust, what are the resources that they’re looking for? How would they describe the menu at home? And then begin to understand how would they construct a food system. I think those are the voices that are missing from a lot of the policy conversations. And if we could recenter the conversation on the people who experienced food insecurity, then we have the chance to start building back a better system.

Does Northwest harvest has some, have some, have some experience in doing that with those communities? I mean, what are they telling you when you sit down with them? I think we could be doing so much more. I feel like we are at the very beginning of a journey to be more focused on equity in our systems. We do focus for, you mean we, you mean your Northwest harvest? Northwest harvest is that organization. Yeah. I would not describe us as leaders. I’ve described us as learners. I would not describe us as pace setters. I’d describe us as people who are looking to join and participate in the ideas of other people who’ve been thinking about this a lot longer than we have. Who are the leaders that you’re looking at in those communities? We respect the indigenous people here.

I went and spent time with the [inaudible] people last year. Powerful, beautiful ideas about returning to using historical food practices. Lamenting the fact that the environmental degradation of the sound is reducing food supply. A deep respect for the foods that we eat in the meals that we prepare and the number of people who sit together at those meals. I think we have a lot to learn from the indigenous people of our area. I think we have a lot to learn from newly arrived immigrant communities. I think about living well, Kent in the Kent area who work with immigrant communities from lots of different communities. They are, you know, they are thinking about how do we grow more carrots? How do we grow more cabbage? How do we grow more onions? Why? Because SpaghettiOs worked for part of the community, but a carrot is utilized in almost every table that I have visited and I, you know, and I’ve been to more than 70 countries. So I think it’s the people who are challenged by the economics of our neighborhoods and our communities, especially in Western Washington and have already began to put solutions into place at the local level. I guess they’re the most exciting people that people that I want to hear from. With this work.

I want to hear about the solutions. So go, let’s go to the Lumey for a minute. [inaudible] And when you were there talking to them, do they have people that they say, yes, we have food insecurity in our, in our neighborhoods, in our, in our region. They, among the tribe, tremendous food insecurity. What, so they, they laid out the problems for you. What were their thoughts about solving some of those problems with, with your help or with the help of, you know, all the different leaders and conveners you’re talking about?

Yeah. First of all, I would not position us ourselves as the helpers. I think we’re joiners. We can offer connections to other parts of the state. I’d like to see us as helping to move places where there’s abundance to places where there’s food constraints. What do you think that means? What does that look like? It, it looks like, for instance, the Anaba farms and WAPA Wapato fourth generation Japanese farmers a farming family that was displaced a number of times because of racist policies, including internment during world war II. They are resilient. It’s a resilient family in a family that now farms more than a thousand acres and often finds that they’re a class B. Fruits and vegetables aren’t saleable in the market. So they distribute it through Northwest harvest more than a million pounds of fruits and vegetables every year. They do it because they believe in, in a, in a more equitable and better society. So Northwest harvest is in a position where we can work with farmers like that. We can work with growers, we can work with ranchers and we can utilize those fruits and vegetables to link with the groups in our network that do have retail fronts, if you will, food pantries or health clinics that have a convening that are convening people who experienced food insecurity.

So what do you guys offer them facilitating the actual movement through trucks, through trucking, through movement from Yakima Valley to the Lumey

Nation? Literally, yes, we do that as well. We also offer our voice in terms of policy, you know, identifying fundamentally unjust policy and identifying ways that policy can be implemented in a more equal sort of way. We, we also offer, you know, direct access to food. We just started the soda community market here in Seattle, which is not a food pantry. It’s a grocery store that you don’t pay a, it’s a, it’s an opportunity for people to come in, pick through our watermelons or our apples or our fresh milk and you know, have a shopping and take that home. So there’s a number of ways that we participate in the systems. Who comes to that? And what’s your hope for who comes? Like how big a popular population

[Inaudible]

The soda community market is open to anyone who is hungry or as concerned about being hungry. On any given day. There are no restrictions there. You don’t have to be from a certain zip code. You don’t have to be in a certain housing status. You don’t have to be any sort of label. If you identify for yourself that you need some fresh healthy food, you can come to the Soto community market and people have been coming, you know, we see more than 3000 people a week and those people are often taking food back to home, whatever home means at tent government supported housing or something else. And you know, I would say our impact probably is about 7,000 people a week that we’re providing food for. So is that a scalable solution? Do you guys see that as something you could do around the region?

I deeply believe in it. In fact, I think it’s scalable, but maybe not in a way that you were thinking one of the issues around food pantries are, it’s stigmatizing to go. It looks, it oftentimes looks and feels like an institution, right? There’s people lined up, they’re way down. Get a Brown bag. Yeah. That’s no discount on the love and care that people who run food pantries have and the Greek guard they have for the people who approach. But still there’s a stigma for, I’d like to flip that around. I’d like to introduce the idea to Washington state residents that it should be stigmatizing. If you go to a grocery store that doesn’t have a free option. And if we could get that to move, then it’s infinitely scalable. That’s a huge concept. How do you get that? That’s like that sound. I was giving you some waiver.

The one thing that sounds pretty pie in the sky, these are businesses that weren’t gonna do that, aren’t they? What happens when you sit down with them? I think it makes Safeway, I think it makes wonderful business sense for them to do it. In fact, most grocery stores do have food waste. They have things that don’t sell. They have they have the logistical issues of ridding themselves for the things that didn’t, didn’t work out. You know, the promotion didn’t work. They bought too much. You know, the inclement weather meant that less people bought less things.

[Inaudible]

Why not eliminate the whole supply chain headaches of moving food out that didn’t work and just simply offer it to people who need it for that day. I think it’s easier. I think it makes good business sense. Got it. Got anybody to go with you on that yet in the industry?

I think it’s just about starting the conversation right now. You know, we’re going to start on the other direction. You know, we’re looking at ideas about at our free grocery store. Maybe we’ll put a cash box and you can pay. You want to I wa what I think is incredibly important is that we don’t perpetuate this idea and this is not my idea, but I think it’s beautiful that there’s two different doors. Some people go through the grocery store door, some people go through the food bank door. I’d like to have just one wider door. So we’ll start on one end. You know, we, right now we have a free grocery store. Maybe eventually we’ll introduce the idea if that, if you want to pay, which could literally mean, you know, a couple of coins and some pocket lint or you know, a a hundred dollar bill because you believe in the concept that you could come through our free grocery store and participate on the other end.

I’d just like to invite a grocery stores and grocery chains to think about, you know, what if, what could be possible, what could be possible for our brand, what could be possible for enthusiasm for future consumers that are not currently frequenting our store? If we had a free option, what would that mean for our community living? Well, Kent, so you said that they were talking to you about more carrots. What are they doing now and what would be something that that could happen in the future? I love living well Kent Schempp. So Isaac is the executive director and they’re doing a couple of things. I think really smart things, things that I’ve seen done in other countries and I haven’t seen done so much here in the United States. One is they’re mapping unused or underused farmable land here in King County. Literally mapping it going acre by acre saying this is available, this is and designated for use at this point.

And they’re looking to create the opportunity for farmers, probably newly arrived immigrant farmers to farm that land. They are also doing what I think might be the only no cost to the farmer farmer’s market and East Hill Kent, which creates the opportunity for farmers to come and sell their product. Fresh vegetables, fresh fruits in a neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot of fresh fruit and vegetable options at a, at a no cost for them to sell their goods, which means they can pass on the savings and the reduced risk of the free farm booth to the residents of that community. So people are literally taking home cabbage and radishes and, and zucchini and whatever’s a ripe and fresh at that period of time from late spring to early fall. I think that’s a wonderful idea. And, and it really accomplishes a number of things.

Better use of public lands, better opportunities for farmers who have tremendous skills but not, not necessarily the skills that for instance, technology companies are looking for right now. And then better, healthier fruits and vegetables for families need it in, in a location where there’s not a lot of options. So are there policies, state or County policies that keep that you earlier talked about unjust policy. So with that in mind, either policies that keeps something like that from happening there are land use issues but not insurmountable. In fact, I think this is a really ripe area for us to be looking at. How do we utilize public lands? We, again, we Northwest harvest, are we the people who are thinking about food justice? We, the residents of Washington state. I see, I see. When I think about unjust policy, I think about the lunch shaming that used to occur in this state, which literally was when families who were benefiting from reduced lunches, maybe a mom or dad or a caregiver hadn’t topped up their account.

And so the child goes to school and they’re stamped on their body with a stamp that says my account is delinquent that used to happen in the United States. I’m not talking about a hundred years ago. I’m talking about last year. That’s a policy that we changed last year. You know, there are fundamentally unjust policies that really are medieval in their construction that still exists in Washington state. And I think we need to address those issues too. Again, it’s not just the technical issue of how do we get the food to the people who need food. It’s the, it’s the it’s the intentional or unintentional stigmatizing of people who are experiencing challenges either economically or in terms of food security. If I’m not mistaken, the Trump administration’s plans do call for a little bit of re stigmatizing of the people who want to use lunches around the country if they go through by December after the public comment period.

Well, what are the other medieval practices that you, that you know next year, so you had a success last year. What’s next year? And this is again, back to the legislature or by County? By County, yeah. We’re still forming our policy agenda. There’s, there’s a number of areas that we’re interested in. I think most residents, Washington state recognized that we have the most regressive tax environment of just about any state in the country. We’d like to see better opportunities for people who are you know, at the, you know, the bottom fifth in terms of economic prowess here in Washington state. We’d like to find some ways for them to get some some more tax benefits. There are some things that are onerous for instance the deductability of medical benefits. Why not just have some sort of standard benefit that low income people could benefit from instead of having to keep track of all their medical receipts and turn those in and deduct them.

You know, there’s probably some easy wins that could be put into place that would just make things easier for people who are really struggling. But does that spell one, is that a state policy or is that gonna be a federal issue? It’s something that we can address within the state. It’s probably a, it’s a, it’s probably a federal environment, but each state has an ability to, to pass policy that can be difference making. So you could have a, this is what you’ve spent, this is your deduction. And that goes towards, it’s not an income tax of what’s it going towards. It could be something like in the form of a credit, a credit that could be turned into cash or turned into healthcare that could be turned into a, that could be turned into a, an offset for, for taxes out.

Trace your path for me. You said you worked with FAO, you’ve been in other countries. How’d you end up here? Yeah, I grew up in the Seattle area and I, after school I moved to San Francisco and I, I told my mom I would never move back cause it was your hometown or because, yeah, cause I was just excited to see other things. See the rest of the world. I had a, in San Francisco I participated in starting social enterprises. Even before social entrepreneurship was really a thing that was talked about. Like what? We started restaurants. We started a S a city of San Francisco surplus store for things like street signs and parking meters. We started a screen printing company all in support of getting jobs for formerly incarcerated, formerly homeless, formerly drug addicted youth. So why was that important to you?

How’d you end up doing that? Because you want to tell your mom, I’m leaving Seattle, I’m going here. What was important? I just fundamentally believed it was right. I wanted to, I wanted to participate. I mean, we had really grandiose ideas. We really, our, our little group believed we could actually disrupt the way capital worked in the United States where you’d like just college graduates to the college graduate. In fact, a book was written about our organization and as the author was writing the book, she continually asked me how old I was and I, I said, I don’t, I don’t want to answer. So in the book she writes, Thomas Reynolds, who is so young, he declines to answer the question of his age. Yeah, I just, I just really believed in that I thought business could be used for a better purpose and that instead of this idea of the ultimate and only purpose of business is to return shareholder value, felt that there was a social component that was essential to the health and really the vitality of humanity.

Sure. The hard to sell, the hard to sell the businesses who say shareholder is the only thing that matters. So less hard to sell now than it used to be. I’m sure. I’m sure. So you did what? Then? I went to business school. I felt like I had understood the social dimensions, but I wanted to learn the language of business. So I went to business school and in business school it was an international program, spent time in Paris and Tokyo and in Philadelphia. And most of my business school cohort were from other countries. And one woman, an accountant who were worked for a consulting group from Kenya said, you shouldn’t do this social entrepreneurial stuff in the United States. You should do it internationally cause it’s needed elsewhere. I thought, Oh, that’s an interesting idea. I ended up going to work for care international and I spent 15 years with Karen and national and I worked in Asia, I worked in the middle East, I worked in the South Caucasus.

And then ultimately I moved back to the U S with care to run programming for the entire care world, which was 95 countries. The kind of programming that looked at entrepreneurship. We did a variety of things. But our cares, main focus is gender equality. And so we were interested in the economic development, education, health care water systems, but specifically as interventions that could enable greater gender equality between men and women and people of all genders. So early on before you were in charge, when you’re going into these countries, what were your, what were some successes? I think one of the most gratifying moments was in the South Caucasus when we were, I was living in the country of Georgia. And more than half the population were subsistence farmers and together, you know, I think it’s never one organization alone, but I think it’s people working together together with more than 50 other organizations.

We worked with the European union to change the national policy of Georgia. And this was Georgian led. It was not international led, but local people who are passionate about making change. We introduced new financing options for farmers to be able to cooperate and to build businesses that were the next step in the slow supply chain beyond production. We, we changed tax law to create an incentive for growing rural businesses. And then we then there was a financing facility to help capitalize new rural businesses to start. And that was incredibly gratifying. It was gratifying to see the development of the Georgian economy to see the numbers of Georgian farmers who are lifted out of poverty. The creation of the Georgian farmers association, which last time I checked had more than 20,000 members. And what I really took away from that experience was, it’s not technical fixes alone. It’s not projects alone. It’s not policy alone. It’s not one organization or the private sector or government working alone. It’s when we mix these things all together and we pursue an end and be agnostic about the ways to get there so that we could identify policy changes. We could then identify new resources and we could identify new relationships that could help pursue that end.

By the way, just on Georgia, what w what was changed fundamentally, what was it a top down system before and when it was a, it was a Soviet States, did they, is that what the issue was?

So many issues? Was there a fundamental change that you just had to come from the bottom instead of the top? That the fundamental difference was that the, the tech structure unintentionally prevented the development of small businesses beyond a certain point. Because if you are informal, you are untaxed and once you became formal, no matter how small you were, there was a pretty substantial tax that was both complicated to track. And then you know, significantly deterred farmers from becoming formal in participating in the economy.

Right. So is there a farmer or an entrepreneur in that beginning supply chain who jumps out at you as somebody who was

A leader at their level to make these sort of changes occur in Georgia? Are we talking about Georgia? Yes. Yes, absolutely. There were a number of them. Nino’s advocates at an extraordinary farmer from the [inaudible] area, her organization and care work together to start a cheese factory because there were a lot of cows and not a lot of cold storage. And if you can get seven liters of milk and a little bit of time, you can produce cheese that almost everyone in Georgia likes to eat. And so we started with the cheese production facility, but her ambitions were bigger. She wanted to see fundamental change and she recognized that the people around her, she was benefiting from the cheese factory. And the farmers who brought their milk were also benefiting, but she, she could only just impact this one little area.

And so it was with Nino and with another, a number of other farmers. And with the agricultural attache of the European union that the idea of the Georgian farmers association was created. There was a lot of research and, and respect for the cooperatives that are substantial, you know, powerfully substantial and economically substantial all across Europe. You know, in America generally. Our belief is that farming needs to be large scale farming and you know, single crop or you know, a couple of crops. And in Europe it’s a smaller groups of farmers who come together and cooperate to produce you know, just as much productivity, even more actually than just large scale farming. And so the country of Georgia had nothing like that. And the idea was to just take best practices from other parts of Western Europe to increase productivity per Hector and do it by cooperating based on the premise that if there’s more cooperation than the supply chain can be further developed, cold storage, transportation, marketing, export.

And that if the technical support could be identified and the skills could be built, that it would have an exponential effect, not only on Nino’s community but farming across the country. And that was probably seven years or so ago. And I’m amazed at the growth and I’m amazed at what’s happened since then. I was in Moscow three years ago and the people who took me around were most excited to take me to Georgian restaurants with the incredible Georgian cuisine and wines. Yes. Is that the sort of things that you think grew out of the ability to be agnostic about, about approaches? Well, I think the Georgian table has been established as it was, it was a Soviet favorite for decades upon decades. Sure. A Georgian wine has increased production and there’s you know, many multiples more being extorted now than there was before.

I think it’s difficult to tie the Georgia wine exports to those specific interventions. What I think about is the reemergence of some of the industries. For instance, like Hazel nuts the re there I think soon to be re-emergence of the tea industry. Georgian tea was something that was very much respected during Soviet times and then fell into almost complete disrepair. Almost no exports at all. And now some of those industries like the tea industry are being revived. Hmm, okay, I’m going to skip over the U then you start running all of care. Those, not health care, but yes. Programs. What was attractive about Northwest harvest that brought you back to a place you said, Hey, I’m out of here for six years. I was not in the same time zone for more than three weeks in a row.

I was traveling all the time and I was meeting with governments. I was raising money and I really missed that connection with people and ideas local people who are passionate about substantive change. I just felt disconnected to that. And what I recognized was I had, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars a year to allocate to different projects and different ideas. And I, and I began to recognize the pattern. And myself, I liked to find local people who are committed to longterm change, who are interested in doing something more than just a technical solution. And I found myself drawn to moving investments to people like that. And then I realized I wanted to do that myself. And so I want to do it in my own home community. And it just felt like the right time I had, I had done enough traveling. I had done enough, you know workshops in capitals and hotels.

I had done enough airport lounges and I wanted to come home and I wanted to see if I could make just a tiny bit of difference in my own home community. And so that’s why I moved to Northwest harvest. So you bring agnostic concepts to Northwest harvest. What are your, what do you see unfolding in the, in the short term with that in mind me, where, where do you take some of these ideas right away? Well, what’s exciting is when I started it was one in eight Washingtonians experience food insecurity, they’re not sure where their meal’s going to come at some point throughout the month or year. That number is now one in 10. And we attribute nothing to Northwest harvest work. We think the economy has been better. You know, maybe a little bit of work in terms of policy change, but we think the hard work is ahead.

We’d like to see hunger cut in half between now and 20, 28. And we’re agnostic at how that happens. But we have a set of beliefs. We think if a broad set of actors can be identified and mobilized and joined together to address the underlying causes of food insecurity, that’s gonna be difference-making. We believe that if we can create equitable access to nutritious food for people across Washington state, that’s going to be difference making. And we believe that if we can identify investments in scalable, effective hunger fighting initiatives, those three things together we think will transform the hunger landscape here in Washington state. And again, we don’t see this as our way work. We see this as the work that needs to be done by all of us. The underlying factors. What are some that you think can be addressed them? What’d you, what’d you say?

  1. 2028. 2028 so, okay. Nine years. Yeah. Yeah. Been used to reduce hunger by half a, there needs to be a more equitable access to jobs and employment across the state of Washington. There needs to be for those who are challenged by transportation, we need to identify ways that affordably food can reach households or hubs in which people can easily go and pick up food. I’d like to see food as a right codified into law here in Washington state and that we would identify practical ways to implement that policy so that government agencies you know, local County and state level are thinking about how do we enact that concept of food as a right for every individual. Many people in communities across the state still view food as a privilege that’s actually out of touch with the way the rest of the world is moving in terms of food. So I think those are some of the things that are truly we need to get there. We must get there in order to see substantive change. And virtually none of them are technical fixes. This is really about changing the perception of people in society so that people say it’s intolerable, that community members just down the street or in the next neighborhood aren’t doing well. I want people, each person here in Washington state to identify way that they can get involved, get engaged and be a difference maker in, in a more equitable state.

What’s that look like? All of us being involved. What does that look like other than telling our elected representatives? What does that look like? I do think that’s important. I wasn’t in a denigrating I’ve seen but, but you know, you know, just one very practical way.

Most all of us have at least a window sill, but we could have a window sale. We’re gonna have a backyard. We could have a suburban farm, we could have a, you know, a hundred acres and we could just grow something and share it with our local food pantry. I think that would be a tremendous difference for two reasons. One is it, it connects people to the the, the, the reality that we all need to be contributors because we are consumers in this state. The second is because it’ll help us think about and appreciate the role of food and that food is so much more than just fuel. Food is a connector. It brings people together. It tells stories it promotes hope in many ways. And then the third is it would enable us to be thinking about what’s the type of society that will want to live in and to recognize that next week, next year next decade, maybe it’s unimaginable that we could be hungry, but it is possible and that we could imagine that there’d be a society waiting for us in that future period when we were in need.

That’s going to welcome us and help us get the food that we need. All right.

Business school. So you know all about deliverables. What do you want to come out of this town hall event that’s a deliverable, not just to people living there, but to the policy leaders that you’re listening to.

I would like people to be leaning forward in their chairs thinking about why is it that it’s okay to go home and have a meal and not think about the people who aren’t. I would like a, the people who participate in the town hall too have a sense on what policies should they be supporting and helping advocate for going forward. And I would like people who attend the town hall to be thinking about what are the injustices that are sitting in plain view that they just haven’t been thinking about or have been tolerating because no one’s confronted them on it. So in your deliverables, okay, who are the people that are going to be that you’re relying on on the panel? I’m going to have the privilege to talk to wonderful set of powerful women. Representative Schrier, Melanie Cunningham from PLU and Taylor Wong, who’s a restaurant here here in the Seattle area.

What I like about the way the panel is constructed is we have a representative from government, a representative from business, and a representative from higher education who all bring their own perspectives to why food justice is important. I’m just excited about asking the questions and seeing what sort of ideas they have, what examples they bring. You’ve got you know, Taylor is a first generation immigrant to Washington state and she relied on food assistance when she was young and now runs a restaurant empire. Melanie Cunningham is a powerhouse in the areas of equity and diversity and inclusion. And I think she will provoke us all to think about what is happening in our communities. Why are we okay with it? And what could we be doing differently? And I think representative Schrier has brought fresh perspective to Congress and I think it’s because of her background as a pediatrician, as a business leader and as a person who truly cares about food justice issues here in Washington state. All right, sir. Thank you. Thanks Steve.

Thomas Reynolds, CEO of Northwest harvest will moderate a panel discussion on food justice, just food, a conversation about food as a right in Washington state. It’ll be November 11th at 7:30 PM on our great hall stage. There’s still tickets available, so get yourself a seat and join in the conversation.

[Inaudible]

Thank you for listening to our 46th episode of in the moment, our theme music comes from the Seattle based band, EBU and Seattle’s own bar Souk records. You can listen to our town hall produced events on our arts and culture, civics and science series, podcasts, and watch a ton of great events on our Townhall Seattle YouTube channel to support town hall. See our calendar of events or access our media library head to our website at town hall, seattle.org next week, our chief correspondent Steve share, we’ll be talking with HW brands about the history of the American West till then. Thanks for joining us right here in the moment. [inaudible].

Classical Music is Child’s Play: A Conversation with Julia Tai

Charlie Brown is going to be meeting Dr. Seuss soon. On November 24 on Town Hall’s Great Hall stage, Philharmonia Northwest will be presenting a family concert highlighting the wondrous writer of The Cat in the Hat and the lovely holiday television chestnut that is A Charlie Brown Christmas. You can learn more about the coming concert here.

In the meantime, Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley sat down with Philharmonia Northwest’s Music Director Julia Tai to discuss Offenbach, brain development, and instrument petting zoos.

JS: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

JT: I am the Music Director of Philharmonia Northwest and the Co-Artistic Director of the Seattle Modern Orchestra. I’ve performed with the Seattle Symphony, American Youth Symphony, Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, Estonian National Youth Symphony, and many others.

JS: Does Philharmonia NW do a lot of family concerts?

JT: We have done several family concerts in the past, including Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. We make it a priority of the orchestra to provide engaging musical experiences for young audiences, whether that’s a family concert or a side-by-side concert with high school musicians. We’ve also invited elementary school students to come watch our dress rehearsals, and have collaborated with young dancers to choreograph live dances in our concerts. Family concerts are very special occasions for sure. We love seeing the audience filled with kids—listening, dancing, and having a good time. In our upcoming concert, we will also have an instrumental petting zoo in the lobby before the concert so kids can get their hands on different instruments.

JS: Why do you think kids should be exposed to classical music?

JT: There are all kinds of studies out there that talk about how music helps kids’ brain development, concentration, and problem-solving skills. But from a musician’s point of view, I want kids to be exposed to the beauty of symphonic music at a young age. Symphonic music is so varied in sound and form. It’s also great at depicting stories, conveying feelings, and evoking imagination—think Fantasia or Bugs Bunny. I think that music can be one of the earliest ways in which a child can really perceive something bigger than life.  

JS: What were YOUR earliest introductions to classical music? What struck you about the music in those early years?

JT: My mother was a music teacher at a high school, so my childhood was filled with music. She has lots of videos of famous conductors and orchestras in the world, so I was immersed in music from an early age, even before I start going to live concerts. I also started studying the violin when I was 4 and a half, so very early on music was a big part of my life. I remember the first time a piece of music conjured up feelings of being at the ocean. Making that connection between perception, imagination, and sound was a big discovery for me.  

JS: What are some ways parents can bring classical music into kids’ lives?

JT: There are so many resources out there. But mostly I would recommend making music an activity: playing and participating, not just something you play in the background. Just like teaching kids how to read, you can play story tapes, but the most effective way is to sit down with your kid and read a book together. Music leaves a much bigger impact on the kid when they are in the middle of making it. Enroll in a kids’ music class or go to live music concerts. When children see people making music in front of their eyes, it’s a much different experience than listening to it on the radio at home.  

JS: Do you have kids? How do THEY like classical music?

JT: Yes, I have a four year old daughter. Music is definitely a big part of her life. We have been going to Music Together classes since she was 18 months old. We always have music in the car or in the house. She loves to sing and dance to it. We want music to be part of life, not just something you ‘do’ occasionally.

JS: What can audiences expect from the show? Why did you choose the pieces you picked for the show?

JT: The show is going to be really fun—it’s good for all ages too. We start with Offenbach’s Overture from Orpheus in the Underworld, which includes the Can-Can Dance that everyone knows. Then we have a symphonic poem for narrator and orchestra that tells one of Dr. Seuss’ stories, The Sneetches. It’s a story about some serious themes like bigotry and exploiting people for profit, but it’s delivered in the delightfully playful rhymes that we love from Dr. Seuss. It ends with a beautiful message about how people can live peacefully together by embracing differences. It’s just so timely to talk about these things—how we can live harmoniously with people that are different from us. The second half of the program is a new piano concerto using the themes from Peanuts. It includes many familiar themes from A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’ll be a great way to start the holiday season.

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In The Moment: Episode 45


In this week’s interview, Chief Correspondent Steve Scher talks with Dan Hooper about particles, relativity, and the origins of our universe. Hooper outlines our growing understanding of the conditions in which our universe began, highlighting what we know about the first few seconds after the Big Bang and how several astronomers and mathematicians throughout history helped us determine that the universe was expanding. He discusses the limitations of language in explaining mathematical equations, and the value of explaining scientific research to people who don’t know much science, a practice which he says helps him better understand his work and can even lead to breakthroughs. Get an insider’s look and stay in the know about what’s going on in this moment at Town Hall.


Episode Transcript

This transcript was performed automatically. Please excuse typos and inaccurate information. If you’re interested in helping us transcribe events and podcasts, email communications@townhallseattle.org.

Hello and welcome to town hall Seattle’s podcast. In the moment, every episode, a local correspondent interview, somebody coming to our town hall stages and gives you a glimpse into their topic, personality and interests. I’m your host, Jini Palmer. It’s Halloween week and the air is crisp outside. The sun is out, leaves are falling and spooking out our stages this week or events about the battles against global disinformation and the future of food in Africa. We’ve got some advice from multi-disciplinary artist, Jenny Odell on Friday, November 1st about reclaiming our attention in the age of distraction and some great rental events from earshot, jazz to a veteran’s day. Open mic on Saturday, November 2nd but to prep us for what’s to come next week. On Friday, November 8th our chief correspondent Steve share talks with the head of the theoretical astrophysics group at the Fermi national accelerator laboratory and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the university of Chicago. Dan Hooper about our universes. First seconds,

[Inaudible]

Humanity knows more about the science of the origins of the universe than ever before. Thanks to Einstein and all the mathematicians, physicists and engineers who have followed. We have learned about the makeup and origins of energy matter, space and time. And yet many questions remain, especially about the very first microseconds of the big bang when according to physicist Dan Hooper, the laws of physics as we know them, did not apply. Hooper talked to chief correspondent, Steve share about his upcoming appearance at town hall and his book at the edge of time, exploring the mysteries of our universe’s first seconds.

Dan Hooper. Hey Steve, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. My pleasure. You know whenever I read these books, I’ve read a few. I always struggle with them because I am not a scientist. And, and I was wondering when did you know, in your life that you understood the math?

Well, I mean, I, I was pretty good at math when I was young, but I wasn’t especially interested in it. You know, I didn’t go to college thinking I was going to be a, a scientist or a mathematician or anything remotely like that. You know, I, I grew up in a small town in Minnesota and I hadn’t learned about any of the exciting or adventurous forms of science or math. I really just learned about, you know, memorizing a bunch of names of chemicals and a bunch of procedures for doing math problems. It was pretty dull stuff. But about halfway through college I ended up taking a modern physics class as part of just as a general education sort of thing. And I learned about relativity and quantum mechanics and it blew my mind. And that was the only thing I, you know, thought was really interesting in the world. So for me it was an easy decision at that point. But I, you know, most of my colleagues like can tell you, Oh, when I was six I wanted to be a physicist. I had nothing like that in my experience. I was 20 or 21 when that occurred to me for the first time.

You’re, you’re in Oak park, huh?

Yeah. So you’re not at the moment, but I live in Oak park.

But that means you’re right near where the first of the real interesting stuff in physics is taking place. Right.

Are you’re talking about a Fermi lab, that’s where I am right now. Yeah. That’s for nets in Batavia, Illinois. That’s farther out West. Right, right. But yeah, I mean I’m, I’m the main high rise tower at Fermilab as we speak and I’m looking out the window and I can see you know, the, the, the campus where the Tevatron was the, a big particle accelerator we had here for a long time. That’s retired now. But but yeah, we, we’ve made a lot of great discoveries here. Back in the day.

I remember when we were little kids, we are not little kids, but when we were in high school, we got, took a tour out there just to see this is out here. This is the thing. I remember

You may still take tours here all the time. There’s a steady flow of science and enthusiasm coming through.

Now remind me, why did that get retired? What superseded that accelerator?

Well. So you know, for a long time the biggest accelerator in the world was the Tevatron. But in Europe at a, at the CERN laboratory, we built this thing called the large Hadron Collider, which is even bigger. In most respects is just a bigger, more modern version of the type of Tron. It’s a little different cause it collides protons with protons at the Tevatron we collided protons with antiprotons. So there’s some subtle difference differences. But basically the large Hadron Collider is a bigger, more modern version of the Tevatron. And once that was up and running and had been collecting data for a while, it made sense to retire the Tevatron and move on to other things.

And you write in your book about next steps in what we need to build and to get to the next steps. And in understanding all this, all these ideas, all these concepts. I’ll come to that though. For the first time, human beings have begun to understand the origins of the universe have begun. How far past have begun? Are we?

Well, there’s always going to be questions that we don’t have answers to. I think that’s just the nature of science. I think I talk about it in the last chapter that I just don’t think there could ever be an end of, of the [inaudible] progress or the, the quest we call science. But a hundred years ago we didn’t even have an inkling about how our universe might change or evolve or if you don’t know that it could change or evolve, you certainly can’t talk about how it might’ve begun that those were just questions you couldn’t even conceptualize much must much less try to answer. But now, I mean, we’ve got a pretty good picture of how our universe has changed over as 13.8 billion year history. We know what it was like a billion years ago. We know it is like 10 billion years ago, but we know what it was like.

A hundred thousand years after the big bang. We notice last a second after the big bang, that first second. There’s a lot of mystery. We don’t know what the we don’t have any direct way of observing what the universe was like a million or a billion or a trillionth of a second after the big bang. We can do some experiments that inform us as to what it might’ve been like, but we don’t really know. And in that tiny fraction of a second carries with it enormous implications for how the world got to be the way it is. And I think that’s, that’s the part that has a lot of nuts yet to be cracked. That that is really where the mysteries and cosmology lie.

What would be occurring? What’s thoughts or conjecture that’s occurring in the first, second of the big bang that could possibly be occurring?

Well, instead of thinking about it as an event, let’s just think for a second about how space expands. So it turns out that if you have a piece of space with a pretty uniform amount of energy or matter in it, the space will expand faster if there’s more stuff in it. So today the universe is pretty big and pretty dilute most of spaces pretty close to empty. And, and, and in this state, the universe is expanding pretty slowly about if you take two points in space a few million light years apart from each other, there’ll be moving away from each other because of the expansion of space at about like 70 kilometers a second. So pretty slow in the grand scheme of things. But when the universe was smaller, the density of all that energy was higher space was expanding faster and you’d go back farther and farther and farther in time, and you reach a point where the universe was really, really dense. It was really, really hot and it was expanding really, really fast. And that is how I think about the big bang, this sort of state of hyper rapid expansion, hyper high temperatures, incredibly high densities all evolving in the blink of an eye.

That’s, that’s just an, an amazing thing to try to contemplate. And you know, I was, I was a, I was talking to a friend who is, you know, a rational journalist and telling him I was, I was talking to you and he said, I have a friend who’s also a physicist and we talk about these things, but he gets to a point where he says, my friend says to his friend, you know, it’s just sounds like magical thinking to me. What, what do you tell us? What do you tell him in me about why it isn’t magical thinking? Why the calculations that that Freedman Alexander Friedman did a hundred years ago being confirmed today, tell us the math gives us these answers

If, okay, if, if in 1922 and Alexander Freeman was doing those calculations, if you asked me then, if I had been around then and, and I was, you know, a similar kind of businesses, but within 1922 sort of perspective and knowledge I would have told you, of course this won’t turn out to be right. The university will be more complicated than that. I’m sure it’s worth checking, but probably something else will show up when we do the observations. It’s quite remarkable that Alexander Freeman turned out to be right. So let me back up and say what Alexander Freeman worked out and, and, and, and, and what, how we found out that it was true. So in 1915, Einstein published his general theory of relativity, which says that space and time aren’t the sort of static, unchanging backdrops that we usually think of them as or, or at least before Einstein, we thought about them as instead space can warp and change and expand and contract and do all sorts of things.

And if it does those things depending on how much energy including matter there is in space and where it is in space. So Freeman was one of the first people to look at Einstein’s theory and say, well, okay, if we take the universe as a whole, we make certain simplifying assumptions. Like there’s the same amount of stuff everywhere on average. You can work out that the universe should either be expanding or contracting and then you can exactly work out how much it should be expanding or contracting. At the time, Einstein really rejected this idea. Einstein really thought the universe should be static and he said some pretty critical things, dismissive things, even about Friedman and others work. But in 1929 and when the huddle observed that our universe is in fact expanding and that suddenly put Friedman’s work and others on pretty high plane and people then took that and built upon it. And slowly over the course of decades or even a century, we’ve measured how our universe expanded, not just today but over it’s 13.8 billion year history. And we now have a really detailed picture of how that’s all played out. And if you take Freeman’s equations from 1922 and plot those curves right through what we’ve measured, man, it is spot on. So yeah, Friedman’s work turned out to be entirely valid to the best of our ability to measure it a hundred years later.

Do you ever feel trapped by the language you to use? In other words, the mathematics, mathematical equations, the work you do can prove it, but then when you have to explain it, you have to come up with metaphors, big bang Einsteins. I, you know, a car and Newtonian universe. There was a car in Einsteinian universe, that sort of thing.

Yeah, I think, I mean this is just a statement about language, right? I mean I would argue that if you want to talk about the feelings you have for the most important people in your life and you know, you, you would, even in that case, you’d have to rely on metaphor and, and the imperfect, a limitations of language. Or if I want to talk about how my favorite record makes me feel when I hear it or if I want to talk about you know, why I prefer a particular kind of scotch over another kind. Like all these things rely on, on language, which in, in any cases is, is imperfectly designed for the problem at hand. The science is the same way. And I, I find it actually helpful in my research to have to try to explain what I’m doing to people who aren’t scientists. Because if I can think about the problems I’m working on in my research in different, in different conceptual frameworks, and you’re using different language, for example, not just mathematics it means it helps me to understand it more deeply and sometimes that actually leads to breakthroughs. And if I can understand it more clearly or more deeply, it’s more, more likely that I’ll be able to come up with you know, well I’ll be able to advance the problem in ways that may be just manipulating equations won’t, won’t facilitate.

Hmm. Hey, any examples of that for you where you have advanced the the problem address? The problem is advanced advanced it by putting it into a language first.

Well, I don’t know if we’ve advanced it yet, but just this week some colleagues of mine here, Fermi lab and a couple of people in Oxford and I are, are thinking about what black holes in the early universe might have been like. And it turns out that the math says that if, if a black hole is spinning, it radiates away certain kinds of particles more than if it’s not spinning. And I’ve read the papers that show this as true and I think I understand the math, but I didn’t have any intuitive understanding for why these conclusions followed. So I sat down with my colleagues and I said, let’s try to explain to each other why this is true without using any map. And we put it in words in different ways and we’re like, well, is that really right in, does that really right or is there a better way to think about it?

And I think at the end of that conversation I had a different, or maybe even deeper understanding of why that happens to be true. You know, I wouldn’t, I probably wouldn’t put that in the paper. I’m going to write on this and I’m going to publish in a journal for other scientists. The, the math will be there, but I don’t, I don’t know that all this pontificating about metaphors will be, but it helps me think about the problem. And I think that’s at least as important as a, you know, making sure you get the factors of two right.

I thought it was interesting in your book how you talked about one of the, one of the problems that you run into in studying the universe is that we only had the one universe to study. Yeah. So we’re inside the box and trying to figure it out. It’d be a lot different if we could get outside the box. I mean we are trapped by our own cognition abilities, cognitive abilities, aren’t we?

Well not just our own cognitive abilities, but our own empirical limitations. So probably the single most important thing we have to observe about our universe in terms of cosmology is what we call the cosmic microwave background. This is the light that was released throughout all the space, about 380,000 years after the big bang when the first Adams were forming. And we have studied this over the last 50 years in quite amazing detail and we look up at the sky and we see this pattern of slightly hotter and slightly colder places in the sky. In terms of the radiation that’s from this background, but we basically, I’m gun pretty close to a extracting all the information we can get out of that. We’ve counted the number of hot spots and cold spots of different sizes and we’ve just kind of run out of sky. If we could instantly teleport somewhere else in the universe, you know, a, you know, a 1 billion light years away or something there, you’d have another pattern of hot and cold spots in the sky. You can measure those and you can know twice as much as we do. But we can’t do that. There’s no way to get a billion light years away except by traveling for a billion years and that’s not very practical. So yeah, we’ve kind of extracted everything. Well, almost everything. We’re approaching the point where we are gonna distract everything we can out of this cosmic microwave background. And we’re going to have to find new and different ways to learn how to learn about our universe from that.

What are people thinking about? What’s the new and different way that might be possible? What’s the conjecture?

Well, it totally depends on what time scale you’re thinking about. Like, so for the next decade, we’re just gonna keep squeezing the cousin micro background, keep getting more and more out of that. Beyond that we’re talking about using something we call 21 centimeter cosmology to, to kind of extract even more information out of the universe. The basic idea there is that all the hydrogen gas runs, but the universe gives up a particular kind of light. And by measuring that light at different frequencies, you measure the light that was admitted at different points in cosmic history. So you kind of get different slices at different points in time, so you can kind of have put together like a film strip of of the universe history with pictures at different frames. So that, that’s an exciting thing that we’re just starting to do now. We’re also just starting to be able to do what we call gravitational wave astronomy.

Hmm.

Where we detect the ripples in space and time that are created when it really dramatic things happen. Like black holes merging with one another, stuff like that. And it’s possible one day we’ll detect gravitational waves that were released are produced in the big bang itself. That would be pretty exciting. Even farther down the road I think we’ll be studying something called the cosmic neutrino background. So the universe we think or we’re pretty sure is a build with a bunch of particles we call neutrinos that were produced about a second or so after the big bang. Eventually we’re going to measure those and not just tell that they’re there, but we measure them in detail. I mean, this is probably a hundred years from now or something, but but yeah, we have a lot of steps that I’m excited about going forward. Even some of them that will be well after my time on earth has gone

Well. I just liked it. You use the phrase ripples in time and space because that just says what level that we’re operating at when we’re thinking about these things. [inaudible]

Well, let me tell you a little bit more about that. So, you know, like I said before, nine Stein’s theory of relativity space itself can change. So like for example,

Okay

If I take two points in space, the distance between those points in space can change without anything moving. This, the space itself can do the changing. So when things like black holes merge with each other, that’s so dramatic that it sends these waves through space, these ripples. And as those ripples pass through you, the distance between points in space kind of go back and forth. They oscillate back and forth getting farther and closer away from each other. Now it’s really subtle. It’s you, you need incredibly sensitive detectors to even notice this is happening. But for the first time we’re able to see these, these waves and they’re real phenomena. And you know, we see a bunch of these ’em every year now when a black holes merge.

Hmm. All right, two questions. Two callbacks. One do you have a preferred scotch?

It changes with time these days. I’m, I’ve been a bourbon guy lately. I know it’s not a scotch, but I, I, and I, I’m, I have a pretty serious hobby in a cocktail making. I’ve got a half of my kitchen is full of cocktail gear and kits and various bottles of, of things. If you’re ever in Chicago, look me up and I’ll fix you up with a, a nice drink.

I’ve, I’ve gravitated to bourbons as well in the last few years. I guess we’re part of a trend. Is there a all right. Yeah. I had a mezcal cocktail yesterday that I really loved. So WWE gimme one gimme one bourbon cocktail that you’ve been making that you really are enjoying making.

So I’ve been doing these smoked old fashioned actions lately. Oh what I mean by smoke, so it’s just like super classical fashion. There’s nothing fancy about it at all, except that I have of some pieces of wood that are planks from a bourbon barrel and I light them on fire and I take a cold glass and I catch the smoke on the surface of the glass and it turns out the cold glass smoke naturally adheres to. So I do that and I get the right amount smoking it, and then I pour the drink into the, into the glass. And it really, you know, just makes for a beautiful variants of an old fashioned.

Very nice. It’s nice to have those [inaudible]. I mean, I imagine it’s nice to have those hobbies when you come home from doing big brainwork. You can do something simpler.

I’ve been a hobby guy my whole life. You know, in the hobbies change with time, but I get pretty obsessed with whatever hobby I’m on at the moment.

I see. Okay. Here’s my other, just I cavalierly, and you kind of already explained this, but I cavalierly said a car and Einstein’s universe in the car and Newton’s universe you described, you know, driving in a square mile, both those things. Would you elaborate on what the difference is and what that tells us about the universe we live in?

So I use this metaphor in the book to try to convey the difference between the Newtonian view of space and time that the version that physicists adhere to before Einstein. And then Einstein’s view of space and time. So in, in the Newtonian view, I imagine somebody getting in a car, they drive a mile, they turn 90 degrees to the right, they drive a mile and then 90 degrees to the right again in nine degrees to right again. And you’ve gone a perfect square and you wind up exactly where you started because that of course is what, you know, your high school geometry says what happened, but then Einstein’s a car or an in a car being driven in Einstein’s sort of universe, which happens to be our kind of universe that geometry can change. So if you drive the car too fast, that will change the route you take through space.

And if there’s a bunch of energy in the form of mass or other stuff somewhere along your route that will warp or distort the geometry of space in such a way that after you’ve driven your, what you think is a perfect square, you’re not exactly where you started. So for example, take the solar system in the Newtonian view, we said that space was just this perfect static, rigid backdrop in the force of gravity pulled between the sun and earth in such a way to keep the earth on its elliptical orbit around the sun. What Einstein said is that the really deep down isn’t a force of gravity. Instead, the energy that’s stored in the mass of the sun changes the geometry of space throughout the solar system and the earth is simply moving on what is basically a straight line through that space. But that straight line happens to wrap around on itself and it seems to us like it’s elliptical orbit.

So instead of thinking about gravity is a force, Einstein said gravity is just the phenomena that follows from the way that mass and energy changed the geometry of space in a warp space. A bunch of this stuff you were taught in like 10th grade geometry turns out not to be true. Like we were taught that if you take two parallel lines and follow them, they stay parallel forever. But that’s only true and in flat space or non warped or non curved space. But it turns out those paralyze parallel lines can sometimes converge or diverge. And according to Einstein and we’ve measured them. That’s true. Also things like the, like a triangle in your high school geometry class that any three angles, the three angles of any triangle will always add up to 180 degrees. Not. So in curb stir workspace they can add up to either more or less than 180, depending on the geometry of that space. So, you know, Einstein’s view of space and time was, you know, really turned the whole Newtonian view on its head. It was probably the greatest paradigm shift in the history of physics.

We operate in Newtonian or Einsteinian space in our, when I walk around my house. Well, Newtonian space is a really good approximation of anything you’re going to find around here. Okay. Unless you’re like close to a black hole or something like that. The universe we live in is awfully close to Newtonian, but we can do really high precision tests that show that it’s not perfectly Newtonian and you’d really need Einstein’s theory to get the details right. For example, the GPS system, there’s satellites that tell your phone exactly where you are at any given moment. Those wouldn’t work if we didn’t put in the relativist of corrections. You know, and, and when we put satellites out in the solar system, we need to account for all of the relative as of corrections if we want to accurately predict where they’ll go in a and navigate them properly. So, yeah, I mean, the universe is in fact that we live in is in fact one described by general relativity. But you won’t, you know, screw yourself up too much by wandering around, you know, your, your neighborhood and with the Newtonian perspective in mind.

But given that the Einsteinian perspective has, has value. So just in the last, well, just recently we’ve had another announcement about quantum computing. How does quantum computing, if at all, relate to the notions and the quantum theories that you’re, you know, you’re looking at when you’re exploring a concept like the quantum gravity era?

Sure. So there are really two really important underlying theories that were developed in the 20th century and physics one, one’s relativity, which I already of talked about a bit. The other is quantum physics or quantum mechanics, or mean the same thing. So before the quantum revolution, people thought of objects as being, for example, in one place at one time and having a well-defined velocity and, and, and events that took place took place at one specific point in time and one specific place and stuff like this. But that’s not really how the universe turns out to work. Instead, instead of talking about an electron as like a point in space, you have to talk about it as a wave that describes a probability distribution of outcomes or, and can be in different places at one time and they can move and you have different velocities, different amounts of energy at the same time.

And events that take place can, can occur at multiple times at once. You may have heard of things like Schrodinger’s cat, which kind of is a thought experiment that illustrate some of this weirdness when it comes to quantum computing. Whereas in a non quantum computer, what we call a classical computer takes these kinds of you know, analogues steps where you know, you you, you kind of calculate things one bit at a time in quantum computing. You can, like, just like an electron can be a superposition of different places. A quantum computer combines things called cubits, which do calculations and superposition and for certain kinds of algorithm, algorithmic problems, you can do them much faster with a quantum computer than you can with a classical computer. I think the, the news you’re talking about is that Google has announced that it’s done some sort of quantum computation faster than you can with a classical computer for the first time. I’m not an expert on this, but I, you know, I’ve read the same articles that you have probably, if that’s true, that’s a really big step. And you know, it’s exciting to be living in the future.

Yeah. Does it, does this sort of work inform your work at all or is it very far removed?

Well, certainly quantum physics informs my work in almost every step. I’m, I was trained as a particle physicist and that’s still kind of my, my basic mindset as a, as a scientist and particle physics is a fundamentally quantum kind of physics. When I talk about particles, I’m talking about quantum objects behave in quantum sort of ways. And so yeah, when I, when I, when I do physics, I’m usually doing quantum physics. Now when it comes to quantum computing, I mean, that’s an application of quantum physics. I am, I don’t think I’ve ever used the phrase quantum computing in a paper I’ve written. But you can certainly consider me an interested or even fascinated spectator.

But it’s another example, isn’t it, of the, of both the progress and the pro proof that’s evolved from when Einstein first proposed these concepts.

Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, I mean, this, this stuff isn’t some sort of esoteric, philosophical you know, point. It’s something that enables us to build workable technologies that really work in the real world. You know, in the same way that you need general relativity to get GPS to work, right. And I need to know how quantum mechanics works to make the transistors and my cell phone work. You know? Yeah. These are, these are extremely real world theories that not have, not only been tested and have been shown to be correct, but enable us them and they manipulate our world in new and powerful ways.

You were talking about the Einstein was saying that gravity wasn’t a force itself, but but an outcome of other forces but you also wrote for gravity to be compatible with quantum theory, we need gravitons or gravity particles. Put that in context for me.

Yeah. So, so, okay, let instead of talking about gravity first, let’s just talk about electromagnetism, which is something we understand much better than we understand gravity. So on the one hand we have the idea of the of the electromagnetic force. We know a magnet’s work. We know electric fields work, things like this. We use these things called Maxwell’s equations to describe that stuff, but that’s the classical or non quantum version of electromagnetism. We also know that deep down what electromagnetism is, are a bunch of photons. These are individual particles or Quanta of the electromagnetic field, and these particles travel through space. And some sort of way that we now understand very, very well. And the sort of classical big picture of limit of those photons is the electromagnetic force that we understand. So in an analogy, we have a classical theory of gravity, general relativity, and that works really well.

It’s, it’s not that it’s wrong or something, but we know deep down there must be a quantum version of it. That underpins it all. And just like there’s a photon which is responsible for the electromagnetic force, we imagine there has to be a particle we use called the gravitron. And it is somehow responsible for the phenomena we call gravity or, or the, or the phenomenon associated with general relativity. We’ve never seen a graviton and it would be really, really hard to do. So it’s the sort of thing that it would be hard to imagine an experiment that would actually see these particles individually, but you know, in the distant future perhaps but we don’t know how this works. We don’t have a really a workable theory of quantum gravity yet people speculate about things like string theory and loop quantum gravity is ideas, but we just don’t know how gravity works at a quantum level. We snow. It has to, it’s, you know, deep down. But there are more open questions associated with quantum gravity than there are you know, real solutions at this time.

You have at the beginning of the book, this the big bang Erez and the era at, at 10 to the minus 43 to 10 to the minus 95, approximately, right? So this is right at the, I don’t how, what, but milliseconds, I don’t even know how to break it down smaller than that of the big bang is the quantum gravity era. What does that mean? There’s, there’s an unknown in there, but it has to, there’s something, it has to be,

Well, we don’t know what that era was like. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. But we do know that when the universe was that hot and that dense, that the laws of physics that we know of have to break down. We know that general relativity is not compatible with quantum mechanics at those extreme condition, under those extreme conditions. So there has to be some new theory that comes into play. A theory of quantum gravity. We don’t know what that’s like. We can speculate. But yeah, and when we, when we run our equations backward, we seem to think that roughly 10 to the minus 43 seconds after the big bang is, is where this era was, was kind of a completing itself. So there was this little tiny bit of time where the universe maybe can, consisted of more than three dimensions of space, we don’t know. And maybe space itself kind of existed in the superposition of different shapes and geometries. Maybe it was 11 dimensional or 26 dimensional. And who knows what kinds of forms of matter and energy existed at that time. All we can really say for sure is that our universe in that era looked nothing like the universe. What we see around us today.

You already touched on it, but you must, when you’re thinking about these things, you must, and I know everybody must ask you this cause it’s so perplexing. What’s the before? Do you speculate on it before or do you just or not?

Well, so I mean if you really just take general relativity and run it backwards, you find that 13 8.8 billion years ago, the universe gets hotter and hotter and hotter and denser and denser and denser and it’s at a spirit specific point in time at what we call times zero. Okay. The universe gets infinitely hot and infinitely dense and then time doesn’t go back any further than that. So they’re literally, according to that picture wasn’t any time prior to the big Bay. It’s like talking about what happened before the big bang. From that perspective, it’s kind of like talking about what’s North of the North pole. Like you just, there is no way to get to travel in any direction on the surface here is that we’ll get you farther North than that. That’s just the edge of of spacetime, which is where the title for my book at the edge of time comes from.

So all that being said I think we should be pretty open minded about how that really played out after all. We don’t have any way of observing the first fraction of a second after the big bang. And it’s entirely plausible in my opinion, that any number of weird unexpected things happened in that window. And maybe there were things that happened before that some very serious businesses talk about scenarios where a, the big bang kind of occurs in cycles where the universe expands for awhile and then it contracts and it kind of goes through a bounce and starts all over again. I, those theories have problems and none of them really work very well so far. But is it possible that one day we’ll work out a theory like that that does work and that turns out to be right. I think we should be open minded to that. On the other hand, it’s also possible that there really was a, an edge in terms of time and there just wasn’t anything that occurred before that and not only to know events happened, but there was no time in which those events may have happened. Before T equals zero.

We are back to the question of language again, aren’t we though? I like the analogy of you can’t go North of the North pole. That’s fascinating. Tell me something, what do you get like your, I, I’m sure you’re gonna this is at the edge of time is a great book and you’re going to have many, many great questions when you come to town hall. But what do you get

Okay.

From I guess, yeah, spiritually if I may from top from talking about these ideas.

Not just from talking about these ideas, but just from thinking about these ideas and getting to think about it in a lot of different ways. I mean, I just invited deeply fascinating in a way that I don’t think I have language to convey or communicate. And I don’t know when would you use the word spiritual? So I’ll kind of go in that direction. I mean, when I hear Buddhist monks talk about the kind of transcendental or sublime experiences they have in meditation and you know, I’ve never had that experience myself. But you know, I have some some experiences thinking about the universe and having insights about it that I would describe as sublime. I don’t know about transcendental, but you know, the closest thing I’ve ever come and there’s, there’s some kind of way in which my brain gets rewarded for, for kind of wrapping its head around some of these hard ideas. And it, it feels good and it feels exciting and it feels kind of pure. I think a certain kinds of scientific experiences or intellectual experiences probably it doesn’t have to be science can, can be deeply satisfying in a way that very few things in my experience happen.

Great. Great answer that that in a in a good, good PD scotch. All right. Thank you sir. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

Oh, I’m excited about this and I can’t wait to come to Seattle, so.

Great. Great. All right. Enjoy the, I hope you have some decent weather. Enjoy the decent Midwestern Indian summer, if that’s what you’re having.

Yeah, I enjoy the fall. This is a good weather. I like Chicago in the fall.

Yeah. All right. Thanks a lot. All right. Cheers man. Take care. Bye.

Steve shares spoke with Dan Hooper, author of at the edge of time exploring the mysteries of our universe’s first seconds. He will be speaking on our forums stage at town hall on November 8th at 7:30 PM thank you for joining us for episode 45 of in the moment. Earthy music comes from the Seattle based band, EBU and Seattle’s own bar Souk records. Listen to our town hall produced events on our earths and culture, civics and science series, podcasts, and you can watch a bunch of great events on our town hall, Seattle YouTube channel. So check that out as well to support town hall, see our lineup of, or to access our media library head to our website at town hall, seattle.org next week, our chief correspondent Steve share, we’ll be in conversation with Northwest harvest CEO Thomas Reynolds about food as a right in Washington state. Till then, thanks for joining us right here in the moment.

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