Thinking About Extra Dimensions with Physicist Lisa Randall (#115)

Physics professor, Lisa Randall, is the Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science and co-author of a recent paper that suggests dark matter may have played a role in the extinction of the dinosaurs. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
Physics professor, Lisa Randall, is co-author of a paper that suggests dark matter may have played a role in the extinction of the dinosaurs.
(Credit: Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer)

“Be curious and try to find solutions to problems.” – Lisa Randall

Professor Lisa Randall (@lirarandall) researches particle physics and cosmology at Harvard, where she is a professor of theoretical physics.

Professor Randall was the first tenured woman in the Princeton physics department, and the first tenured female theoretical physicist at Harvard. In autumn 2004, she was the most cited theoretical physicist of the previous five years.

In 2007, Randall was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People (Time 100) under the section for “Scientists & Thinkers.” Randall was given this honor for her work regarding the evidence of a higher dimension.

She has written several mind-expanding books, the newest of which is Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe.  If you want a semi-psychedelic experience (viewing the world through a new lens) without imbibing substances, this is worth checking out.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#115: Thinking About Extra Dimensions with Physicist Lisa Randall

Want to hear another podcast related to spirituality and science from a world class thinker? — Listen to my conversations with Sam Harris. In this episode, we discuss spirituality, neuroscience, meditation, and more (stream below or right-click here to download):

Ep. 14: Sam Harris, PhD - Spirituality, Neuroscience, Meditation, and More

This podcast is brought to you by Thrive Market. If you’re anything like me, you care a lot about the food you put in your body. In fact, I think it’s much more important than exercise. The problem is that good food can be extremely expensive…but it doesn’t have to be.

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What are your thoughts on the value of applied science and basic science? Is one more valuable than the other? If so, why? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • How do you answer the question, “what do you do?” [6:33]
  • Defining physics [8:08]
  • Defining theoretical physics [8:58]
  • Defining cosmology [9:53]
  • On succeeding in the male-dominated world of science, and the value of “math camp” [12:33]
  • Explaining the title for Warped Passages [25:33]
  • Defining hidden dimensions [28:18]
  • The search for fundamental connections in the universe [34:13]
  • Defining dark matter and dark energy [40:28]
  • Why are outer planets in our solar system bigger than those closer to the sun? [44:28]
  • Common misuses of physics terms [45:53]
  • Is time an illusion? [51:43]
  • Are there aspects of philosophy that are becoming more relevant to physics? [54:28]
  • How science could expand empathy [57:08]
  • Thoughts on Interstellar [1:01:03]
  • Thoughts on consciousness after physical death [1:02:53]
  • Could you describe a tennis ball as it moves through additional dimensions of space? [1:05:13]
  • What is the significance of the Higgs boson? [1:06:43]
  • Why does cosmology research matter? [1:11:33]
  • What is the difference between basic science and applied science? [1:13:28]
  • When you think of the word successful, who is the first person who comes to mind and why? [1:15:13]
  • In the last five years, when have you felt the most successful? [1:16:13]
  • Most gifted books [1:18:03]
  • What purchase of $100 or less has most positively affected your life recently [1:20:08]
  • What do you believe that other people might consider to be insane? [1:21:03]
  • Should the scientific community be focusing on large-scale expensive science projects or create many smaller scale science projects? [1:22:58]
  • Thoughts on the superstring theory.  [1:25:53]
  • If you could put a billboard anywhere and write anything on it, where would it be and what would it say? [1:27:38]
  • Advice for your 30-year-old self [1:28:58]
  • An ask or request for the audience [1:29:53]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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48 Replies to “Thinking About Extra Dimensions with Physicist Lisa Randall (#115)”

  1. You warned us, but I’m going to complain anyway. Very frustrating that the recording of one of the most interesting conversations you’ve had in a while is so distorted. Your claim of 99% audibility is pretty bold. The issue is not simply that her voice cuts out so much, it is mainly that the digital distortion is really fatiguing to listen to. I managed to get about halfway through before I shut it off. I’ll have to do this one in multiple sessions, if I remember to come back for it. Otherwise, I usually enjoy these podcasts. Wish there was a better way for you to capture remote audio than through a super-lossy Skype connection. I know, I know. I got what I paid for.

    1. For what its worth, I listened to the podcast on a Mac Air through a bluetooth Beats Audio Box (pre-apple). It could be that the sound quality through the Beats Box made the distortions you experienced not such an issue. I only bring this up because I was at Costco tonight shopping and I listened to a Bose Sound bar demo that showed the difference between what my Samsung living room TV sounds like vs. what it COULD sound like. I’m not touting any brands here, just in Tim tradition giving you the relevant hardware that I used to come to my thoughts. My point is that had Tim not given the disclaimer at the beginning of the podcast, I might not have even noticed much more than it was a Skype-type of phone call. Not Optimal at all obviously, but as he mentioned with schedules…. Minimal! :0 (you see what I did there haha) Anyhow…

    2. I played this through my van’s stereo whilst driving on bumpy back roads and had absolutely no problems! Maybe you just need to turn it up…

  2. Hi Tim,

    What a fab guest. Reading the words above – the lead in – made my mind go haywire. This stuff vexes and fascinates me simultaneously. To think dinos may have bit the big one through a dark matter event. Intriguing indeed. Thanks for sharing with us.


  3. Hello Tim,

    As a big fan and lover of your blog and your work, please let me put my opinion on the current going of your podcast:

    – I love your interviews and I hear every single episode, even though there are various persons I don’t know, or topics that don’t interest me. There is always something to learn, and I’m very happy for that.

    – I know that me (and a lot of others), like to keep up with the podcast, but you are posting a new episode every 3 or 4 days, and most of them have 1,5 to 2 hours. That’s is way too fast, even though it represents less than 5% of the time of those 3 days. It’s not only about time, it’s about relaxing and paying attention. People like to calm down, concentrate and hear your (and others) podcasts (along with news sites, prefered blogs etc.) with attention. When you release almost 3 episodes per week, that becomes difficult.

    – I know you love doing this, and I imagine that you have some interviews already recorded, and so many more scheduled, but try to release one episode every 5 days, or maybe 1 per week. I don’t know how this affects your ratings or the number of spectators, but I think it’s worth the try.

    Thank you for reading, and I hope you continue your wonderful work. I did a little magic and got your first two books, even with them sold out and not reprinted here in Brazil.

    Have a nice week 😀

    1. Just chiming in to agree with the frequency comment. One of my absolute favorite podcasts, but increasingly I find it hard to keep up!

    2. Hi Peter Michael Litzenberger, I am facing the same issue. TF is terrific but 3-4 podcasts per week I cant keep up with. I am using a personal solution of mine to tide over the problem which I want to share with you through Facebook I sent friend request. Not only this, but for anyone feeling overwhelmed with the amount of material to keep up! Just friend me on facebook:

    3. I don’t think the podcasts will go away anytime soon. There is no reason to try to keep up if you can’t, they will be there for a long time. Just listen when you can.

      I personally like the frequency and when there is a new Tim Ferriss podcast it goes straight to the top of my list. This does effect other podcasts that I try to listen to and currently have a list of over 60 episodes that are not listened to on my phone. None of those 60 episodes are as interesting as a Tim Ferriss podcast so they will just have to wait. Someday I will have a long drive and be able to catch up.

    4. Personally, I walk every day to get exercise and listen to the episodes. I’m surprised at the frequency and length of the episodes but it gives me plenty of entertainment to keep me walking. If you focus on working more efficiently you’ll have more time to listen. 😃

    5. I must admit an “unplayed” podcast sitting in my inbox drives my type-A personality nuts = “Arrggghhh! Must listen! Must clean up mess!”

      However, don’t fret… take a page out of Naval Ravikant’s approach to reading books… its ok to have unfinished reading. Catch up when you have time. Relax and enjoy the “chaos”. It’s not a race. No one is competing with you other than yourself. Chill and Cheers!

    6. A different perspective, I listen when I’m working out, so I actually like the fact I don’t have to look for additional content to listen to. My workouts fly by. Thanks Tim and your advertisers which I do my best to support.

    7. I recently joined your Tim Ferriss Fan Club (not sure if there is actually a club for your fans but I am a fan). Of course there are an overwhelming amount of podcasts to catch up on. Lucky for me… I live in Houston and my commute to work is currently 45 minutes minimum (regularly reaching up to an hour). What I do is give your latest podcasts priority and then go back to listen to previous podcasts. I have developed an intuitive feeling on which podcasts I will like and/or find beneficial so I am starting with those.

      My point being I agree with another fan when he says these podcasts aren’t going anywhere. Also, with how easily accessible your podcasts are they can be played during a diverse number of activities.

  4. Needless to say one is not more valuable than the other. One takeaway I got from this guest is that everything in the universe is connected and we as human species still know very little. This means we need to keep an open mind and exploring so we can connect the dots to have better understanding of the universe.

  5. Not to belittle Dr. Randle’s work, but speculating on why the “Dinosaurs” went extinct doesn’t have any relevance to today’s world and the problems we face. It would behoove your staff to look into the work of Marko Rodin and Randy Powell regarding the implications of Vortex based Mathematics and what the understanding of it, has for the potential, to do in our world experience. Keep up the great work.

  6. This was such a diverse twist to the podcast series. Challenging in parts, but I smiled to myself in the car appreciating how the FourHourPodcast is a happy source of adult learning and thinking: introducing lines of investigation and curiosity I may not have sought out myself. Thank you TF!

    P.S. I loved the twist to the “success” question: “what has made you feel most successful in the last 5 years”. And, Jane’s reminder that knowledge drives better decisions…

  7. After reading Warped Passages years ago, great to learn some more background about Dr. Randall. She surely represents the conservative Academy, so-to-speak and it would be great to hear a follow up interview with someone like Nassim Haramein to fill so many blanks I was left with after the interview. I got the feeling Lisa is leaning into being open to wedding science and wisdom tradition, (the physics of spirituality–god forbid) but no time soon will she cop to it in a transparent way. IE, it’s only true if “science” discovers it…

    Overall, disappointing and flat. Nothing some good plant medicine couldn’t cure.

  8. Tim, excellent podcast. I listen to your work on my commute and I really like having new podcasts to look forward to. The audio on this podcast was not ideal, but ultimately not a big deal. Listening to the questions you ask (and the prep/research that must go into them) really sets you apart from most other podcast interviewers that I listen to. Thanks!

  9. Just FYI the link for this podcast isn’t showing up (for me) on

    I’m assuming this is on purpose as some amazingly brilliant marketing tactic, because in my mind TFerriss is a perfect angel who makes no mistakes.

    Expected this podcast to be well over my head… was not disappointed. Another mind opening fantastic job, kudos to interviewer and interviewee.

    Also the sound, oh my god, the sound was how do I put this… fine, it was absolutely fine. Same goes for frequency.

  10. Tim, it sounded like you had a some sort of noise reduction plugin running over the audio that cut the floor noise (ie. only sounds over a certain loudness will get through). Just reduce the threshold a little bit next time. You will get some noise but at least whole words won’t be cut off. Great podcast otherwise.

  11. When asked about the expansion of the universe and what is outside the universe, she makes a point comparing the universe to an expanding balloon. She realizes the balloon is contained in a room, but her point is the balloon is just expanding and there is nothing else around it, there is just the balloon. But then she says how nothing is very improbable in her mind, that you usually never see a zero on a number scale. It seems conflicting to say nothing is outside the universe and that nothing is also very improbable.

  12. I liked learning more about dark matter. It could just be called “invisible stuff” to make it easier to understand. Now I also wish I had a scenario given in which dark matter played a part.

  13. At the end of your podcasts, Tim, you always mention that if we have guest ideas we should get in touch with you. Finding your e-mail comes with a warning that you do not read all (if any) the e-mails since you get so many. so I am not sure where to address this suggestion. I am a horticulturist and am interested in the permaculture movement I would love to see your take on this topic speaking with the heads of this movement would be amazing ( Bill Molisson (Australia), Sepp holzer(Austria),Ben Falk(New England)).

    An other area of facination for me has been Mycology and I think a podcast with Paul Stamets (one of the speakers at Singularity U) about petroleum hydrocarbon biodegradation, water filtration, insect controll and curing cancer with mushrooms would be of your caliber of interviewees.

    Thanks for all the amazing podcasts

  14. I didn’t have an issue with your sound but was disappointed in the guest. I too was very excited to hear about physics but she was so conceded and full of sad beliefs. She was a bit of a downer. Would love more on the topic though!

  15. Awesome as always Tim,

    Just a quick note to say a huge thanks to both you and your guests for continually inspiring in new ways…

    All in one day I lost my job, split my shin open surfing and managed to leave my copy of 4HWW at the beach. Sounds like BS but these things happen in threes of course!

    To take the positive from the negatives, I’m flying back to London (from Sydney) with freedom to focus on my side-project, which I believe will change sports clubs and their communities around the world. Will get another copy of your book without a second thought (or borrow one from a mate I’ve bought it for). And I’ll just laugh about being a kook and injuring myself with my own board, with the bonus that I avoided being eaten by a shark. They would have been frothing with all the blood in the water!

    Life’s good mate and thanks for the confidence to not give ‘one’ when the shit hits the fan. Keep up the good work!


  16. Random question. But does anyone else get a tiny panic attack when trying to fathom eternity beyond this life into the next?

  17. Great episode. I really took time to listen to this one closely. I have a degree in physics and although I am no longer teaching it I do follow what is happening in the subject.

    I was surprised to hear her explanation of why our larger planets are located further away from the sun. I know she is not an astro physicist but recent discoveries actually show that many large gas planets (gas giants) orbit near their host star.

    Below are two references to this discovery (very scientific from Berkeley) (less scientific and easier to read)

    Hopefully the links don’t get me blocked.

    Great interview again and I really enjoyed listening to the episode and I am currently re-listening to it to gather any more information that I might have missed.

    Thank you for giving us such a wide variety of topics and people to broaden our world.

  18. Hey Tim, Our music video was just reviewed by For Folk’s Sake and I mentioned your podcast as an inspiration- particularly the interview with Rick Rubin. It’s inspires us. We listen to it whenever we’re on tour, driving across the country.

    [Moderator: link removed]

  19. I couldn’t help but think that it was very fitting, at one point in the conversation that you mixed “creativity” up with “curiosity” (as creativity really seems to stem from first being able to exercise curiosity). I’ve been reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who writes on creativity and flow, and can’t help but think it could make for another great podcast! Just a suggestion; keep the awesome work up!

  20. Thanks so much for this interview, Tim! I also have a huge craving for knowledge in physics and cosmology. Though I don’t have any relevant background or skills. Will definitely check the books written by Prof.Randall.

    If you want to read more, check the latest podcast of Sam Harris, and his interview with Max Tegmark, Prof. of Cosmology in MIT. I was so blown away by his research, immediately turned to his book, “Our Mathematical Universe”. The book is quite easy to read, even for an unprepared reader like me. This book is one of the very few that is close to nearly satisfy my craving for knowledge in this field. He writes about mulitverse, gives a lot of simple and useful metaphors about very complex theories in physics. Some of his ideas are mind-boggling. Totally recommended.

    Big hugs from Switzerland,

  21. Great podcast. The audio didn’t bother me a bit. Your “Asimovian” output is admirable and always with quality guests. I always get something out of every one, especially the ones that are out of my “comfort/interest zone.” Also, the show reference notes are great. I’m sure they are a pain to do be they’re appreciated!

  22. Tim – I have now listened to about 20 or so of your podcasts, and find them very informative and great fun. I listen, essentially, to gain ideas that have helped others become successful in their respective fields. As I am still a 9-5er, but working on other projects in my spare time, one question I would like to hear you ask is: “What was your morning routine BEFORE you were successful at… (fill in the blank)?”

    You ask the question about their first 60-90 minutes, but that is respective to now, rather than when they were working on ideas alongside a 9-5 job.

    Many thanks

  23. So, I’m a little upset because I tried to access the transcripts of the podcasts. I was taken to a screen that asked for my email. I entered my email. I was then taken to a screen that thanked me for my email. No sign of the transcripts. WTF

  24. Good stuff Tim, it’s nice to know there are those out there driving the theoretical in addition to the classical physics which is equally needed. The realm of theoretical needs to occur in not just physics but a variety of industries. And it needs to be done for the sake of true innovation. The problem is the number of failures is so high, it’s hard to justify from a budget standpoint in addition to being some sort of justification for finger pointing. But there are unsolvable problems that need fixed, and w/o the Randall’s of the world, we’d be in trouble.

  25. Tim!

    Great podcast. If you want to read a great book that tickles the physics geek inside of you then read: “The Science of Interstellar” by Kip Thorne.

    I couldn’t tell during the podcast if you liked the movie or not but regardless, the book goes through extra dimensions, slowing of time, bending of space, wormholes, gravity anomalies, etc… It’s one of those books where you read a paragraph and don’t understand it, reread it and kind-of understand it, reread it and totally understand it, then reread it to solidify it in your head but then totally lose it again… in a fun sort of way.

    It’s a fascinating look at the movie from the science perspective, it’s extremely educational and fun, and it makes wicked cocktail conversation. 😉

    Keep up the good work!

  26. Hi Tim – Remember the telephone? the thing with the wire in it? It sounds way better than Skype or google talk or whatever VOIP that you’re using. Good podcast, sounds like krap….you can afford the call. Please use a wired telephone and make your podcast sound good.

  27. Lisa is brilliant, relevant, engaging; this dialogue brought pieces of the puzzle into the light for deeper examination.

    you are a scientist plus a good guy and that matters to guests, as well as listeners.

    when you are ready to get back into primary research, i have a rich complicated topic that needs unpacking and understanding. it’s the next big thing. you called it self-confidence, the ante to successfully working your process.

    its so much more.

    every human being has the same 3 raw materials: imagination, desire, expectation. an alchemy happens when they are worked together. you called it self-confidence. it might be a bit more or different ( cannot say as i don’t know your definition of self-confidence).

    there is a genuine chance to have spectacular fun fun fun in bringing this to the world.

    thank you for being the guinea pig and sharing your results with us.

    elegant is a word i would use to describe what i have seen of your effort.

  28. She’s far too simple in her views/understanding of topics she doesn’t have science to explain..?

    She doesn’t expand on or skips over:

    – What time is as a variable

    She can only work inside time rather than outside of it as a dimension

    – What her ‘nothing’ that the universe expands into is

    Even a vacuum is a something. Plus multiverse would likely break the rules she follows and explain ‘existence’ in totality as far greater than even the known universe outside of gamma ray observation.

    – Why dark matter doesn’t interact with light but does with gravity

    Her view of dark matter is reductive simply because of her limited knowledge of it, which is poor science, let alone existential views.

    – She shys away from consciousness outside of physical makeup

    Science is stuck in a material rut. History has shown how science frowned upon anything that breaks outside of what it knows time and time again. No science has proven that consciousness/awareness is created by our biology rather than our biology giving us access to consciousness. You only need to practice meditation to realise you are the awareness of the mental and physical sensation taking place.

    Science is obviously about testing hypothesis, but she’s saying if you can’t test it than why believe? .. Well she has proven herself that some matter (dark) is responsive to gravity and not light, plenty of other things could exist like that, or vise versa. Got to think outside of our known framework in my opinion. Doesn’t have to be “woo woo” just because we can’t test or prove something in the material sense.

    Picture a red car in your head. That now exists. But who can observe it the same way you can?

    p.s. She doesn’t know what the Higgs field, as a thing, actually is. Just labelling something doesn’t mean you know what it is. Proving something exists within its field is the same as saying I exist within time, so know what time is?

    “The Higgs Field is an energy field that is hypothesized to exist everywhere in the universe.” Shame she doesn’t like the term ‘energy’ being over-used, especially if it exists everywhere in the universe 😉

  29. Hey Tim

    This topic fascinates me and Lisa is amazing to listen to.

    I had to stop halfway through because the recording was so bad quality and in places incomprehensible.

    Please let me know if there is a better quality version anywhere that I can listen to.

    Thank you for your consideration and best regards from sunny Belize 🙂

  30. Great podcast! Im sure you alredo so but the ~10minute episodes on the pbs spacetime youtube channel are very mindblowing at times… love your work! G.

  31. Amazing podcast, enjoyed every moment if it. Lisa explained the concepts beautifully. I have not read her books but after listening to this going to read them for sure.

    I also wish for something like Back to the Future, I still have not listened to so many podcasts., maybe time machine is the only way to catch up. 🙂