Watched Stephen Hawking’s lecture – “My life in physics” on TVO last Sunday night. It’s incredibly exciting that he’s here in Waterloo, though I’m not quite over my tantrum in Perimeter’s direction for not having a public lecture where we could see him in person. Cuz half the people in the “invite only audience” were clearly a) not understanding a damn thing he was saying b) bored c) a politician of some sort.
The night started off with a series of speeches from PI dignitaries (Mike, Turok), politicians (Uncle Dalton, Clement), business people (VP from BMO) and the requisite bilingual Mistress of Ceremonies (which sounds kinkier than it is). Mike was good – he emphasized why theory leads to pragmatic benefits and made sure to emphasize how important private funding is to the program (since Uncle Dalton was in the room). Turok was his usual self – unpolished, happy to have his friend Hawking there, and such a breath of fresh air after the Howard Burton era.
Where it got interesting though was in the political speeches. Beside the fact that Tony Clement can’t do public speaking (or French) to save his life, both he and McGuinty were at pains to reference God in the context of physics – i.e. that the pursuit of cosmology and quarks and the like are pursuits within or of the wonders of God. McGuinty even went so far as to compare Hawking to Sir Thomas More, of all people, via a quote from Man For All Seasons. Now, I was wondering what Hawking would have said at that point if he could fire off a quick comeback without having to peck it out on his voice machine.
Yes – Hawking also mentioned God in his speech. He argued that, back in the day, when the Big Bang was a theory in competition with the solid state theory of the universe, it was objected to because people thought it was appealing to a Genesis view of the birth of the universe. Of course, time, brilliant minds and “luck” have given us more answers about how this might have occurred through the evolution of the universe and more mystery in that we still don’t have all of the answers.
Nonetheless, it felt like a size 10 foot in a size 5 shoe, at least to me. And the only reason I can think of for the references to be so heavy-handed was appeasement. They are politicians, after all, and how dare we spend money on that godless science stuff.
Hawking’s speech itself was both a history of the field’s big names, and a brief walk through the many important areas of discovery that he’s been involved with. Some of the audience got his jokes, but it looked like many of them weren’t even aware when one was being made. I’m sure some were disappointed he didn’t touch on aliens or anything controversial.
He did put in a plug for his support of Perimeter at the end – as he should, now that he has his own wing. As he says, just bringing together all these minds from all over the world has got to be a step in the right direction.