qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

A Brief History of Hawking

Yesterday's BBC2 drama Hawking was far better than I had expected. I had read that Hawking's verdict of Peter Moffatt's original script was that there wasn't enough science in it, and maybe the correction tipped the balance in favour for me. The duplexing between theory (Hawking/Penrose) and observation (Penzias/Wilson) worked very well, though whether it was clear to anyone who didn't know the basic story is another matter. Hawking's diagnosis with Motor Neurone Disease was kept in proportion: an important part of the story, but not the only part.

The problem with Hawking is that his physical condition makes it very difficult for most people to make objective judgements about the quality of his work - in essence, the Jacqueline du Pre problem (was she the greatest cellist ever? or was part of her fame due to her battle with Multiple Sclerosis?). The BBC4 documentary following the programme attempted to find a balance, with some success. In particular, A Brief History of Time came in for some criticism. It's fair to point out that probably 50% of the book constitutes a Hawking manifesto for the universe rather than generally accepted theory, which isn't made as clear as it might be. It is also true that it isn't an easy read, compared to other "popular" authors such as Paul Davies, John Gribbin, or Martin Rees. On the other hand, Hawking does go further than most popular authors, and tries to express very complex ideas in his book in a non-patronising way. Can anyone offer a better explanation of imaginary time?
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