Author spotlight: Robert Bernstein

Degrees from Physics departments of MIT and UC Santa Barbara. Career in designing atomic-resolution microscopes. Childhood spent in Europe and the East of the US. Passion to understand the Big Questions of life and the universe. Duty to be a good citizen of the planet.

What is Law?
By Robert Bernstein   |   July 15, 2021

“186,000 Miles Per Second. It’s Not Just a Good Idea. It’s The Law.” A friend in grad school at UCSB Physics had this sign on his desk. Why is this funny? Because we confuse two kinds of laws. Everyday laws are the ones we should not break. Or else we may get a ticket or […]

Can You Estimate That?
By Robert Bernstein   |   June 24, 2021

“How many piano tuners are there in Boston?” That was the first question on our first problem set of freshman physics at MIT. The question was not really about pianos or the people who tune them. It was a way to get us to make estimates based on facts that we know. The first step […]

What is Your Ratio?
By Robert Bernstein   |   June 3, 2021

“It is not how smart you are that matters. What matters is the ratio of how smart you are to how smart you think you are.” This is my very own Ratio Theory I have expounded for decades. Most of my career was spent in manufacturing. I observed that some very smart production workers did […]

Debt or Investment?
By Robert Bernstein   |   May 13, 2021

Republicans have railed against deficit spending for decades. But, every Republican president since 1981 has increased the Federal deficit. Only the Democratic presidents Clinton and Obama have lowered it. When the Democrats are in office, the Republicans oppose any plans to increase government spending, claiming that we can’t afford it. Even though they have no […]

What are the Root Causes of the Border Crisis?
By Robert Bernstein   |   April 22, 2021

“Radical” is often used to disqualify an idea as “extreme.” Did you know that it comes from the same origin as “radish” and means to “go to the root” of a problem? Every night, the news is full of the crisis at the US-Mexico border. The “analysis” is limited to the immediate humanitarian issues along […]

How Can We Be Smarter?
By Robert Bernstein   |   April 1, 2021

“Mistakes were made (but not by me)” is a quote attributed to President Reagan and later to President George W Bush. It is also the title of the book I would most recommend everyone should read. Before we can get smarter, perhaps we should find out “Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful […]

A Really Big GoFundMe
By Robert Bernstein   |   March 18, 2021

Network news shows tend to end with a feel-good story about people helping people. This often involves someone who got cancer, or some other dreaded disease, and neighbors and friends who mount a fundraiser for them. Sometimes, it even involves children setting up a lemonade stand for the cause. GoFundMe has raised $9 billion since […]

Really Big Questions?
By Robert Bernstein   |   February 25, 2021

Some years ago I was at a talk where I asked some questions. Afterwards, the speaker came over to me and commented that it seemed I had a great many interests. I said that was not true. I actually only have two interests: 1) What is the nature of reality? 2) What is the nature […]

Are Your Beliefs Falsifiable?
By Robert Bernstein   |   January 21, 2021

I used to buy snacks at the Isla Vista Deli Mart even though they were a bit more expensive than the competitors. I went there just to engage the former owner Mike in debate about Donald Trump, whom he supported. (Note that the Deli Mart has new owners who are not Trump supporters.) When Trump would […]

Can We Discuss Politics and Religion?
By Robert Bernstein   |   December 31, 2020

“If you want to avoid heated arguments, never discuss religion, politics, or whether the toilet paper roll should go over or under.” So said the wise sage “Weird Al” Yankovic. Religion and politics go to the very heart of our deepest values. If we avoid discussing what matters most to us, how can any learning […]

Better than Democracy?
By Robert Bernstein   |   December 3, 2020

Winston Churchill famously said, “…democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…” I write this as Joe Biden has been declared “president-elect” in the news and while Donald Trump still sends out repeated appeals for money. Record numbers voted for each side. […]

The Opposite of Progress is Fashion?
By Robert Bernstein   |   November 5, 2020

People often compliment me on my colorful shirts. Much of the credit goes to my friend Robin; she finds some of the best for me on eBay. While I always say “thank you,” I often ask, “Do you know what is the opposite of progress?” They usually look mystified. “Fashion!” I triumphantly reply. I point […]

Statistics vs Stories?
By Robert Bernstein   |   October 13, 2020

As a teen in the ‘70s I had very little money to pursue my many passions. So I was grateful for various suppliers of surplus electronics that I used to build my creations. I was surprised one day that one of my favorite suppliers was having a going-out-of-business sale. I showed up at the event […]

How to Bring People Together?
By Robert Bernstein   |   September 10, 2020

It is a common perception today that our country is divided. Some even suggest we are on the verge of civil war. Is there a way that we can bring our country together? One common suggestion is to have leaders who are “moderate” to be in line with the views of the widest range of […]

Property v s Humanity?
By Robert Bernstein   |   August 13, 2020

George Floyd was killed by police officers over a claim that he had a fake $20 bill. How much power should be given to property versus to humanity? Property vs humanity is in the forefront of my mind now. Imagine that someone has lived in a home for over 30 years. But in a matter […]

A Price for a Human Life?
By Robert Bernstein   |   June 18, 2020

New York Governor Cuomo said in March, “If it’s public health versus the economy, the only choice is public health. You cannot put a value on human life.” But public policy absolutely requires placing a value on human life. There are about 35,000 automobile deaths each year in the U.S. If we reduced the speed […]

What is Normal?
By Robert Bernstein   |   May 14, 2020

As I write this article, people are asking for a return to “normal.” Is that what we really want? Is it “normal” that tens of millions of Americans have no access to healthcare? That millions of Americans are homeless? That 11 million children in the U.S. literally do not know where their next meal is […]

Voting Paradoxes
By Robert Bernstein   |   March 26, 2020

My immigrant wife Merlie is mystified by our complex voting system. She wonders what these “primaries” are all about. “Why don’t you just vote for your choice among all of the presidential candidates at once and be done with it?” I am going to break Godwin’s Law and invoke the following example. Suppose we had […]

What is Truth?
By Robert Bernstein   |   February 27, 2020

“The moon is made of green cheese.” Fact or Opinion? This was a question we were given in a high school English unit on telling the difference between facts and opinions. This was a required part of the Montgomery County, Maryland curriculum. It took me many years to learn that it was not part of […]