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Leonard Susskind: The Bad Boy of Physics

Leonard Susskind rebelled as a teen and never stopped. Today he insists that reality may forever be beyond reach of our understanding

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Stanford University physicist Leonard Susskind revels in discovering ideas that transform the status quo in physics. Forty years ago he co-founded string theory, which was initially derided but eventually became the leading candidate for a unified theory of nature. For years he disputed Stephen Hawking’s conjecture that black holes do not merely swallow objects but grind them up beyond recovery, in violation of quantum mechanics. Hawking eventually conceded. And he helped to develop the modern conception of parallel universes, based on what he dubbed the “landscape” of string theory. It spoiled physicists’ dream to explain the universe as the unique outcome of basic principles.

Physicists seeking to understand the deepest levels of reality now work within a framework largely of Susskind’s making. But a funny thing has happened along the way. Susskind now wonders whether physicists can understand reality.

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