Sunday, October 22, 2017

Hawking's Brief History of Time

The problem with popularizations is that something gets lost in the translation. At best, A Brief History of Time, reminded me of the predicament of Nuñez in "The Country of the Blind." Hawking's doctorate and subsequent work validate his own understanding. His later popularizations may have fewer problems. For now, based on this, his first mass market book, my judgment is that Hawking's knowledge of quantum relativistic physics is impossible to transmit to those of us who know so much less. 
Book cover shows man in wheel chair in front of a starry sky background.
First edition. First printing.
I marked the book up, noting errors and omissions, beginning with the history of philosophy and the history of science. I also tagged contradictions within the text. Worst, he seems not to know at least one fundamental fact (concerning time dilation) about black holes. It may be that in trying to explain the very difficult in very common language, the ambiguities are unresolvable. Toward the close, Hawking laments that modern philosophers have retreated from the physical world explored by Aristotle and Kant, and, following Wittgenstein, they worry more about the structure of language (p. 174-175). That might be the more relevant concern, considering Hawking's disrespect for Aristotle and endorsement of Kant coupled with the very many problems in his book.

Hawking seems to confuse chaos, randomness, entropy, and order. He seems to have a high school understanding of imaginary numbers. Or maybe it is just that he expects his readers to be at that level, but not beyond.  And, the blame may best be directed at his publishers who told him that each equation in the book would reduce his readership by half. So, the presentation was dumbed down to level of gee-whiz and good golly as we gaze like slack-jawed apes at the mind-numbing marvels of our incomprehensible universe. 


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