Sunday, December 03, 2006

Me, Me, Me 3: Pynchon and Hawking

Two more Sunday Times pieces you have to read, I'm afraid. The first is on Thomas Pynchon. I tried several times last week to convince people I was Pynchon - how, after all, would they know? They seemed curiously indifferent, perhaps I was a disappointment. The other is on Stephen Hawking. Any complaints about my conclusions in these pieces should be sent here.


  1. In fact, since a number of people persist in living in America and some who live in Britain stay up very late, some of the comments on the post below - Big Science - relate to this one.

  2. I appreciated your piece in the Sunday Times today ...

    I am a scientist and I get very fed up with
    the Hawking/Dawkins hype. Surely it may in the
    end rebound on science?

    Professor Townes, the Nobel prize winner, has warned us
    that science is not as simple as facts and evidence.
    We know that the most agreed upon 'facts' on the big questions
    can turn out to be wholly in error. e.g. light is waves,
    time is a fixed quantity, matter can neither be created
    nor destroyed. Do we learn no lessons?

    Are they, at best, brilliant technicians: mechanics attempting
    to be deep thinkers? ... though for Dawkins, I am really not
    sure what he is.

    Is a suitable metaphor the 'chess computer':
    brilliant at what it does, but why ask it anything
    outside its impressive but narrow capabilities?

    You are right in your feeling (I gather) that many
    scientists are the least capable of interpreting
    their work.

    I think you know these things, but you have
    my best wishes in your chosen pursuit ...

  3. Reactionary pig.

  4. Richard! I had no idea you knew Karl.

  5. He's my father. Speaking spiritually of course. Which is not to say that the spirit exists.-Which it doesn't. As I've proven.

    PS There may have been a bit of an error a second or two ago. Please delete if the same post arrived under a different name.

  6. Huxley had an interesting view on Joyce; "Ulysees is obviously an extraordinary work...though a great deal taken up with the large numbers of methods novels cannot be written."
    I think an awful lot of people are quite vulgar in their appreciation of art and are easily led down the path of novelty or technical innovation and brilliance. This exemplified and pointed out by Tarkovsky in the contrast between his own work and its methods, and those of Eisenstein. Eisenstein representing constant editing and a tyranical imposition of the artist's mindset over the work and hence the viewer of the art. A very intellectual process and ultimately self-referential and suffocating. And also utterly contrary to our natural experience of life and so ineviably quite an artificial and empty artistic experience. And this to an extent my reaction to Joyce also: though of course he could write wonderfully, I quickly feel a kind of revulsion of my being to him, as being suffocating and unhealthy. An intellectual maze to get lost in. And my experience of Pynchon, one of his progeny, was especially violent, giving up on Crying of Lot 49 after roughly one page. Perhaps the suicide of painting in can be looked at in similar light, being more concerned with its techniques rather than the natural outpurings of the artist's mind. The farce of most modern art whose sole purpose is for well-to-do intellectuals to talk about it.
    Anyway I've no idea how that piece of writing fits together but what the hell. One final thought which is that the true artist trusts in the art-work as he does in life, and his role to be as unobtrusive as possibel in unfolding the art-work(Trakovsky, Tolstoy) rather than the constant imposition of the mindset of its creator( Eisenstein, Joyce). The first results in a work in which the viewer is free, and the latter in which he is bound.

  7. Reading your article today provoked me enough to head online and seek out your blog...

    Now I may be maligning you but I am not convinced having read your article about Hawking that you actually have much of a grasp of the physics.

    Critiquing his work without a working knowledge of maths or physics to degree level seems as silly and futile as trying to critique Shakespeare without bothering to learn all the alphabet.

    Certainly you don't seem to grasp what the theory of everything is about - of course it may be superceded, but any implication that it won't be is a fault of the naming rather than the goal. If you really want it explained, then get back to me. But I suggest you also try studying physics - there are no real shortcuts in this one.

    And M-theory...well where to begin? You clearly do not appreciate what Hawking is getting at in his quotation. He is saying it is a good approximation. This is not "philosophy or theology", it is what science does, and always has done. Newton is a good approximation to the world, Einstein a better one; Quantum an annoying spanner in the works (Talking of which - do you even realise that your comment about science "disproving determinism" is about 80 years out of date? It already has).

    Each new theory gets us progressively closer to the truth, and each ultimately has important applications.

    I suggest that Hawking may get frustrated with you not because your criticism is close to the mark, but because of the sheer audacity of someone critiquing a world in which they are, at the very best, an extremly distant bystander.

  8. After looking at the Hawkins piece, I think we seriously undermine the notion genius when we apply it to idiots like Hawking. Harsh? "Science,” said Hawking last week, “after finding the ultimate theory, would be like mountaineering after Everest.” Ultimate theory, what the hell does it mean? Presumably all of life distilled within a mathematical formula. Which to put it mildly is insane. Can my experience of eating a banana, or listening to A Day in the Life be placed within a mathematical formula? These Dawkins and Hawkings haven't taken enough drugs. And their ill-founded assertions an attempt at revenge on life. Also the idea of Hawking's famous status being the perfect embodiment of a harmless and neutered intellect in an age that upholds the spirit of democracy, ie that we're all mediocre, and if we are going to admit the existence of genius, well, at the very least, it better be in a wheelchair.

  9. Hey, Andrew, you sure it wasn't *unified* theory?

    I can't stand Pynchon or John Barth -- bleh! Curiously, the only people I've ever met who really love those writers are middle-aged white guys who doubtless first read 'em while stoned in the '60s and '70s.

    Whoever said a study of lit. theory could put you off literature for decades is right. I had a megadose in the mid-80s and am still recovering.....

  10. So this is you then :)

  11. Andrew, the ultimate/unified theory is really rather different from what you seem to believe it is - all you seem to know about it is its slightly grandiose (and possibly ill-advised) title.

    It is the current holy grail of physics and it involves uniting a series of contradictory equations - it doesn't pretend to distill your life into a mathematical formula as you seem to believe. It is also something in which Hawking is only a bit player.

    At the moment we have a number of equations to describe different things - small particles, gravity, electromagnetism. The problem is many of these equations contradict each other, so they can't all be right. What physics wants is an equation that will iron out the contradictions. That's all. It's not inflammatory, it's not arrogant, it's just the gentle steamroller of science.

    I think before people criticise something as complex as this, they should bother making the most cursory of investigations themselves.

  12. No, Susan, I quoted directly from Bryan's piece, which presumably quoted directly from Hawking.

  13. I read with interest your piece on Hawking. It was with a sense of déjà vu
    that I listened to his broadcast on Radio 4 last week, in particular his
    claim in his A Brief History of Time that it was possible to work out a
    final theory of physics, which then would enable us to know "God's mind."
    But, Professor Hawking knows full well (and has stated so on his web-site)
    that Godel's theorem shows that no physical theory, however encompassing,
    can be final. Kurt Godel's paper, which has never been refuted, shows that
    it is not possible to come up with an axiomatization of mathematics that
    would have its proof of consistency within itself. Therefore, any theory of
    physics which contained more than a trivial form of mathematics, is subject
    to the restrictions of Godel's theorem. There can be no final physical
    theory, such as that of Professor Hawking, which would be necessarily true
    at least in its mathematical part.

    These points have been repeatedly argued by Prof. Stanley L. Jaki, a Gifford
    Lecturer and a Templeton Prize winner. Professor Jaki, whose work has been
    scandalously neglected, has shown in a whole series of fine works the true
    relationship between science and religion. This is summarised by him in
    "Questions on Science and Religion" (Real View Books). All of his books can
    be obtained from this publisher, to be contacted at
    See also, and

  14. I read your article on stephen hawkings and I agree with alot of what
    you said. Theories really are little more than speculations to be
    tested, and his idea of a grand unification theory (while quite
    probably is ultimately true), is impossible to test just like string
    theory. I was actually more irritated by his comment on humans
    colonising other planets, it was frankly insulting that he felt such a
    stupidly obvious statement was actually contributing something to
    general thought. I'd be surprised if anyone with an IQ over 100
    wouldn't respond to that with "well no shit sherlock!", maybe he
    thinks we all have IQs under 100.

  15. In any event, the below essay indicated, electrical theory has predicted and quite well, if you truly have an interest in a superior explanation of what we are observing.

    I have attached Halton Arp's essay as well.

    On the other hand, if you do adhere to mainstream dogmatism, then don't complain about Hawking. This book is worthy of consideration, Kicking the Sacred Cow.

    Poincaré, at the conclusion of the preface to his book, 'Hypothéses Cosmogoniques', states “One fact that strikes everyone is the spiral shape of some nebulae; it is encountered much too often for us to believe that it is due to chance. It is easy to understand how incomplete any theory of cosmogony which ignores this fact must be. None of the theories accounts for it satisfactorily, and the explanation I myself once gave, in a kind of toy theory, is no better than the others. Consequently, we come up against a big question mark.”

    Nothing has changed in 100 years. Spiral galaxies remain an enigma to astrophysicists who have had to resort to magical 'dark matter' in an attempt to save appearances. Consequently there is no recognition of a connection with other spiral forms seen much closer to home.

    On this website I have made many successful yet unusual predictions based on the Electric Universe cosmology. For example, what would be seen when close-ups were taken of Io's 'volcanoes'; the initial flash and unexpected outburst from Deep Impact; what would be found beneath the clouds of Titan; and the link between spiral forms at the poles of Venus and the 'hot spot' at Saturn's south pole. If the test of a good theory is successful predictions, the Electric Universe is unparalleled. Even better if it can simply explain details in the new images of Saturn's south pole.

  16. Fair nuff, Tom W. But I am not the one talking in terms of knowing God's mind and Ultimate Theories of Everything. If Hawking insists on using such terms he should be judged according to them. By doing so Hawking clearly does think that physics somewhow does amount to "everything" and has philosophical implications that it just doesn't have. Though it could be saud that its limitless depths do have implications- its just that they are the polar opposite to those made by the likes of Dawkins.

  17. And just to add that in science, a discipline where one would imagine a great necessity for rigorous language, it would seem interesting that Hawking is so quick to lapse into fatuous vagueness with his "theories of everything"; "everything" here amounting to something a hell of alot less than everything.

  18. I think calling Hawking an idiot is mistaken, Andrew. If he's an idiot, then I'm an amoeba. Moreover, I don't believe he is a man who is careless with his use of language. He uses figurative language and metaphor to convey ideas to people like me who will never fully understand his work but may form some vague notion of what it's all about if it is stated in more accessible terminology. By the way, I'm working on something myself at the moment, something groundbreaking: a unified theory of nothing much. When I have completed the mind-boggling mathematical noodles involved, I think we might finally know the mind of a dog.

  19. By the way, very enjoyable articles, Bryan. Haven't read Pynchon myself. Though I'm tempted now, just to see what all the fuss is about.

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  21. ! very much liked your excursion into hawking/dawkins territory in today's ST. metaphor is such an elephant trap for the unwary scientist, possibly why most think they abhor it: let's hope there's an M+1 theory round the corner (unlikely)? vil

  22. My first response to your Hawking article was, well I suppose that's
    right though it seems a bit mean-spirited. I brightened up considerably
    with your remark about Wittgenstein, and was actually ready to proclaim
    you're our finest failed intellectual after reading your own line on
    that concept. Let me know if ya require any further chronological
    accounts of my inner states!

  23. There are many people who may be very adept in their chosen disciplines but hopelssly inept in their broader awareness as human beings. In my ignorants I would also have thought that physics was nowhere near the vantage point of certainty from which to be talking about theories of everything. Though I like your theory of nothing, Neil. Will it help me get out of bed on cold mornings?

  24. Gerry O'DonnellDecember 04, 2006 9:58 am

    My chemistry master, on a field trip, held up a handful of earth and said, "in here is the answer to everything in the universe." He was right. Only science fiction writers imagine that beyond our 'nutshell' there is an alternate reality we have yet to discover. The truth is that what 'matters' here, 'matters' there. (Forgive the pun.) In or out of the nutshell its all the same.

  25. Reactionary pig. And failed intellectual.
    It took me two hours to write that so you better print it, you bastard.

  26. Ok, is there no better insult than calling someone here a Reactionary Pig? Too much repetition. Or is this the example of Unified Theory in practice?

    As for the theory itself, I started my education in atomic physics because I fell in love with the beauty of the theory as a teenager! I gave it up midway in my course at the university for a more practical control systems theory (cybernetics) when our esteemed professors got to read their own notes in the lectures - the stuff was so dense (and consequently also boring in presentation)that even they could not sustain concentration for two 45 mins periods!

    No such problem in robotics at all!

    What I wonder is, why do we have as paragons these humourless men? No wonder Melvyn Bragg and his guests last thursday bemoaned lack of student of physics in UK. Who is there to inspire them?

    Give me Richard Feynman any day! Or Steven Jay Gould - who, though a paleontologist, some years ago just wonderfully demolished Richard Dawkins in a debate in London.

  27. Reactionary prig.