IN MY VIEW: At last: A real reality show

To this writer, this year would appear to be the winter of his discontent made glorious summer by the publication of two fascinating but difficult books. They appear to shed some new light on our universes and begin to give us some ideas for tackling everything else.

Jeffrey Bairstow, contributing editor
Jeffrey Bairstow, contributing editor

To this writer, this year would appear to be the winter of his discontent made glorious summer by the publication of two fascinating but difficult books. They appear to shed some new light on our universes and begin to give us some ideas for tackling everything else. I kid you not; but these two intellectual cannonballs could go a long way in spreading the word about contemporary quantum physics to the rest of us.

However, let me first put your mind to rest, as I am sure you are eagerly awaiting the names of the contenders. The first heavy-weight is Cycles of Time (Knopf, New York, 288 pages) by Roger Penrose, reviewed in my column that appears in the August 2011 issue of Laser Focus World. The second volume is The Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch (Knopf, New York, 487 pages) reviewed in this column, albeit somewhat summarily. The book is subtitled “Explanations That Transform the World.” I don’t really know if that’s the case for all scientists, but it works for me—some of the time.

I first encountered the fast-talking David Deutsch in the pages of The New Yorker (Yes, The New Yorker!) as a profile in the section slugged “Annals of Science,” written by Rivka Galchen, a Brooklyn-based freelance writer (May 2, 2011). The article is more of a layman’s personality profile than a serious, scientific review of Deutsch’s body of work. I would recommend that you get your choppers into Deutsch’s first book, The Fabric of Reality (Allen Lane, 1997). Reading both of his books will give you some idea of how far Deutsch’s radical views have progressed.

By the way, in passing, Deutsch recommends that “[e]veryone should read The Ascent of Man, by Jacob Bronowski (BBC Publications, London, 1973).” Exiled to London from Warsaw in 1939, Bronowski was a scientific advisor to the British government during World War II. Later he wrote and directed some classic TV science programs, which are described in the book noted above. A search on “Bronowski” on YouTube will bring up many excerpts from these TV programs.

But I think you get the idea: The books mentioned here are primo material for a genuine reality TV show whose working title will be “The Beginning of Infinity: The Road to Reality.” The executive producers of this show will be David Deutsch and Roger Penrose. The shows will start off with a big bang. This is “high concept” and someone should take it to the “Coast” as soon as possible.

All joking aside, the Penrose and Deutsch books are certainly very important works that should be essential reading for researchers, doctoral and post-doc students, and physics lecturers. I would like to see companion CDs/DVDs with each book so that we can all have the benefit of hearing the authors hard at work. Such DVDs are quite simple to make and certainly cheap enough to replicate.

When you know that you are intellectually superior to most of your fellow Homo sapiens, there is a strong tendency to make pontifical edicts. Deutsch is no exception to this. He concludes, “What lies ahead of us is in any case infinity. All we can choose is whether it is an infinity of ignorance or of knowledge, wrong or right, death or life.” How did Patrick Henry put it? “Give me liberty or give me death.” Assuming that liberty is preferable to death, are we condemned to a life of endless ignorance? Will there yet be intelligent life in the Infinity Hotel? In my view, there will be intelligent life in “another galaxy far, far away.” Deutsch would seem to beg to differ.

In 2001, eminent scientist and author Stephen Hawking was quoted in the British Daily Telegraph as saying, “I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.” Score: Hawking 1, Deutsch 0. I’m with you, Stephen.

Jeffrey Bairstow, contributing editorJeffrey Bairstow, contributing editorJeffrey Bairstow
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