Friday, 6 January 2012

Hawking dodging

Just heard Stephen Hawking answering questions for Radio 4's Today programme. In one he was asked whether there was a time (presumably pre-big bang) when there was nothing. Annoyingly, he answered in that traditional and unhelpful way, namely that since time as we experience it started with the big bang, it makes no sense to talk of "before" then. Thanks Stephen. He went on to illustrate his answer with the (also traditional) example of what's south of the South Pole, that is, nothing. How about he actually try to address the spirit of the question, namely discuss wider physical theories concerning pre-big bang "time" and extra-universe "space"? As it happens, he went on to answer another question with reference to multiple universes, but he was happy to answer this initial question with a trite put-down about the obvious limits of time.

It reminds me of when biologists, often eminent ones, respond dismissively to the suggestion that we are descended from chimpanzees by pointing out that both chimpanzees and humans are descended from an extinct precursor species. While, yes, this is obviously true, it obscures what the questioner was asking, namely were our ancestors hairy tree-dwellers, to which the answer is clearly yes. And they probably didn't look wildly different to chimpanzees to the untrained eye either.

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