Monday, August 07, 2006
I interviewed Stephen Hawking just before the publication of A Brief History of Time. I wrote a nice enough piece, but I was uneasy for two reasons. First, I also interviewed his then wife and, entirely unprompted by me, she attacked him for his increasing intolerance. Secondly, I politely pointed out to him that his use of Wittgenstein in the book was simply wrong. He said it wasn't and would not argue further. After his subsequent rise to fame, I wrote other articles questioning his wisdom and received, as I recall, an angry letter from his mother. I also reviewed his later book The Universe in a Nutshell reasonably favourably, but pointed out that, this time, he had grossly misread the line from Hamlet that provided his title. The review will be in Selected Articles in a moment. This was such a gross misreading that it made me think Hawking either didn't care or he was unintelligent, the former obviously being the more likely explanation. Meanwhile, he has, of course, appeared in Star Trek and The Simpsons as a global emblem of high intelligence. Now he has also been in the news for raising the question - see here - how can the universe keep going for the next hundred years? He didn't have an answer, though he did say we would have to colonise space. I gather Hawking is a good physicist - though not, I am told, top rank - but his popular persona is palpably infantile and even illiterate, perhaps because he sees condescension as the appropriate vernacular for the masses. It is a most bizarre and ridiculous phenomenon.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:44 am