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Reproduced with per­mis­sion from CREATIV mag­a­zine.

 

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Words: Thad Roberts (Introduction by Jessica Cyrell) Photography: Courtesy of Thad Roberts

 

Forever enthralled by the mys­teries of the uni­verse – from quantum theory to human emo­tion – Thad Roberts has a love of nature that knows no bound­aries. His first ven­ture into the public eye was in 2002 as a young NASA intern, when he stole moon rocks from a Johnson Space Center vault in a brazen attempt to cap­ture the affec­tions of his then-girlfriend. Roberts spent six years in fed­eral prison for his lead role in the moon rock caper, but he returned with a story to tell. A physi­cist, author, pho­tog­ra­pher, and explorer, Roberts has had a wild ride, but he has found peace knowing that we are each the hero in our own jour­neys. “The hero’s journey touches all of humanity,” he says as a nod to the lit­erary mon­o­myth made famous by author Joseph Campbell. “Each of us must journey to cap­ture our own fire and then use it to brighten the world.”

 

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ON AWAKENING

“My memory of growing up lives in the shadow of feeling “not good enough”. I did my best to follow the rules, to believe what I was told to believe and to act as I was sup­posed to act, in hopes that this ded­i­ca­tion to con­for­mity would make me worthy of love, but it only served to make me invis­ible. I saw people ridiculed and demo­nized for small trans­gres­sions (swearing, or drinking coffee) and although I didn’t think these responses were fair, I knew I didn’t want to be treated that way so I remained invis­ible. Childhood left me believing that the world is socially defined and that the ranks of that world are deter­mined by gossip.

At age 19 I went on a Mormon mis­sion. Three months in, I con­fessed to having pre­mar­ital sex with my fiancé. As a result, I was told that I was ‘not worthy to serve God’, sent home, shunned by the only com­mu­nity I had ever known and ostra­cized from my family. My greatest fears had become reality – yet strangely, this thing I had avoided and feared all of my life didn’t turn out to be the neg­a­tive expe­ri­ence I had expected. Although I knew that back home people were busily repeating sto­ries of the young man who had com­mitted the sin next to murder (pre­mar­ital sex), I was no longer dragged by the swirling morass of that gossip.

In the first steps of my awak­ening I dis­cov­ered that gossip is not the arbiter of truth, and in my freedom to pursue my curiosi­ties without blinders I dis­cov­ered that nearly every­thing I had been taught was up for ques­tion. Delighting in my new­found freedom to be authentic about my igno­rance and con­fu­sion, I began to ascend the footholds of per­sonal dis­covery. What I found was that the real world is full of mys­teries that are far more inter­esting than those cast by our fairy­tales. Attempting to make sense of these mys­teries led to my fas­ci­na­tion with physics and space.”

 

ON CREATIVITY

“Science is a human endeavor: an effort to expand the reach of our intu­ition and enhance our ability to under­stand the cosmos and our place in it. Science greatly ben­e­fits from rig­orous method­ology and metic­u­lous logic, but cre­ativity will always be its lifeblood, the source of its rev­o­lu­tions. As we explore new isles of thought, in search of one that will allow us to build the cosmos by pure deduc­tion from ele­men­tary laws, our intu­ition and cre­ativity will always be the winds that carry us. The space between art and sci­ence con­tains the most inter­esting places left to explore.”
 

“…the real world is full of mys­teries that are far more inter­esting than those cast by our fairy­tales.”
– Thad Roberts

 

ON INSPIRATION & MYSTERY

“Some of my top sci­en­tific inspi­ra­tions are Albert Einstein, Benoit Mandelbrot, and Garrett Lisi. Albert’s unwa­vering curiosity ini­ti­ated a chain reac­tion that has reshaped the horizon of human imag­i­na­tion, an effect eclipsed only by the way his pas­sion for uncov­ering Nature’s secrets inspires young scientists.

[My book] ‘Einstein’s Intuition: Visualizing Nature in Eleven Dimensions’ under­takes a voyage through the isles of human thought, exploring how our under­standing of the cosmos has evolved and how mys­teries have been the guide­posts of that journey. It then sug­gests a heading for the next leg of our odyssey, based on a set of assump­tions that could dis­solve the mys­teries that plague modern physics. This book aims to spark a new era of inno­va­tion, where cre­ative insights once again play an active role in the great adven­ture of sci­ence. It explores the foun­da­tions of logic that sup­port our cur­rent world­view and equips the reader with the tools to chal­lenge that foun­da­tion. Offering one pos­sible course, it then sug­gests that we model space as a super­fluid medium with fractal struc­ture, re-examining the mys­teries of Nature through the lens of that new per­spec­tive – an eleven-dimensional con­struc­tion that is fully com­men­su­rate with Einstein’s intuition.”

 

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ON BELONGING

“’Sex on the Moon’ [the New York Times-bestselling book by Ben Mezrich] accu­rately depicted the events from [the moon rock] episode of my life, but I don’t think that it fully con­veyed the internal expe­ri­ence of and moti­va­tion for those events. Then again, I don’t imagine it is an easy thing to fully por­tray the internal world of a sci­en­tist rid­dled with inse­cu­ri­ties and a fear of aban­don­ment – a yound man that, on one hand was enthralled with fan­ning the flame of his curiosity, and on the other, believed that in order to truly deserve the affec­tions of his girl­friend, he needed to prove his worth by doing some­thing big… like giving her the moon.

The book con­nected me to a wide variety of people across the globe. As more and more people reached out to me I became inti­mately acquainted with the fact that the world is full of people who feel over­whelmed by a sense that they don’t belong, who feel trapped by their cul­ture, held down by the only world­view they know, and long for a more mean­ingful con­nec­tions in their life. Many people opened up to me, bravely baring their most inner thoughts and some of them have become sig­nif­i­cant fig­ures in my life.”

 

ON BECOMING

ThadBookCover“I had a dif­fi­cult time tran­si­tioning in prison. I was heart broken, cut off from the world, and I made things even worse by being very hard on myself. After two years in the dark­ness I recon­nected to my curiosity, which trans­formed my cap­ti­va­tion into a monastery-like expe­ri­ence. Now every minute was spent in pur­suit of my new goals. I read physics, astronomy and phi­los­ophy books, ran 5-10 miles per day, taught astronomy, basic sci­ence, and begin­ning art classes, and kept an active log of all of my ques­tions. Within a year that log devel­oped into an out­line of a book, which slowly turned into a tome that explores the many philo­soph­ical mys­teries of Nature and pro­poses an adjust­ment to our models. My curiosity had once again given me a pur­pose, filling my life with vigor and direction.

I think many people are often harder on them­selves than they are on others. It is easy to look out into the world and imagine that everyone we see is doing great, yet we remain vividly aware of the trou­bles that con­stantly fill our lives. We do so much to win the approval and ado­ra­tion of others, but we fail to rec­og­nize that others are working just as hard to win ours. The path to our dreams is often stunted by this process. To return to that path we need to turn this process on its head. Instead of seeking for the world’s approval, I think we should offer our approval and praise. Tell a beau­tiful stranger that you think he or she is beau­tiful and why, but do not do it to get some­thing in return. Tell those around you the traits that you appre­ciate about them. Letting people know that you believe in them is often all they need to commit to their dreams. Truth and com­pas­sion go hand in hand. When you tell your­self who you are, remember to be truthful – remember to be com­pas­sionate. Also remember that becoming is the most sig­nif­i­cant part of being. Our direc­tion is the most sig­nif­i­cant part of who we are. The pas­sionate pur­suit of a higher goal can free us from even prison.“

 

ON SUCCESS

“Being a “suc­cessful” sci­en­tist is almost the con­cep­tual oppo­site of being a suc­cessful busi­nessman or politi­cian. Businessmen and politi­cians become suc­cessful by aligning them­selves with the cur­rent par­a­digm and defending it. By con­trast, history’s truly sig­nif­i­cant sci­en­tists tend to auda­ciously under­mine the par­a­digm of their time, ini­ti­ating a trans­for­ma­tion to a newer, richer under­standing of the world. This is a highly risky ven­ture, as most new ideas turn out to be wrong, but it is only when we have the courage to explore new ideas that we have a chance of get­ting closer to the truth. Being a suc­cessful sci­en­tist requires that we don’t let gossip be the arbiter of truth. Instead, we hold­fast to the cre­ativity and curiosity inside us and keep climbing to a better per­spec­tive. It also means that we remain open to the pos­si­bility that any new idea we explore will turn out to be wrong, but we never let that get in the way of our journey. Science is the journey of human intu­ition; it demands that we risk it all for the chance of expanding what it means to be human.”

 

ON LIVING THE DREAM

“[I want] to feel that I par­tic­i­pated in the adven­ture of life as fully as pos­sible. To me this means always attempting to over­come as many delu­sions as pos­sible, to love inti­mately without attempting to own, to make love as much as pos­sible, to ques­tion hon­estly, to dis­cover new places and new ideas, to share all the delights of life with those in my life, and to always shoot for the stars, which includes going to space before I die.”

 

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