There is no word, God, in Hawkins’s latest book.
A Briefer History of Time (2005) is a deceptively simple book of just 162 pages but is a very hard going reading indeed.
I grappled with it for sometime and then honestly given up! But one can read it or glance through the pages for the rare observations, one or two lines that in themselves would be enlightening for laymen! “Ancient people tried hard to understand the universe, but they hadn’t yet developed our mathematics and science.
Today we have powerful tools: mental tools such as mathematics and the scientific method, and the technological tools like computers and telescopes. With the help of these tools, a lot of knowledge scientists have pieced together about space. But what about the universe? How do we know it? Where did the universe come from? Where it is going? What is the nature of time? Can we go back in time? Will it ever come to an end? Recent breakthroughs in physics, made possible in part by new technology, suggest answers to some of these long standing questions. Someday these answers may seem as obvious to us as the earth orbiting the sun. Only time (whatever that may be) will tell” (page 4).
No educated man or his library can be compelling without this little gem of a book. It takes us from the ancient times to the present moment. We may not be able to fully understand the concepts of time and space. But we would be ahead of others in realizing these are the very basis of our existence in this vast cosmos. My one reading or glancing through the pages gave me an immense sense of relief!
At least or at last, I realize that the business of universe, the galaxies is a pretty bloody business of realizing the unique nature of human intelligence, how we humans have acquired this intelligence and we have traveled at least the long (or very tiny brief?) time from Aristotle to our own author of this book, the one tied to a wheel chair and producing one of the memorable readable book of all time! Readers might be interested to know that when the first book, A Brief History of Time, was published in 1988, it was on the London Sunday Times best-seller list for 237 weeks and has sold about one copy for every 750 men, women and children on earth!
Though a reviewer in the Nature science journal called the new book: “The topics that it claims to treat more carefully, have been covered better elsewhere. In any case, many of the topics left in and flagged as more introductory are just as baffling, abstract and abstruse to non-scientists as those left out “Anyway, I count myself lucky enough to have read the book’s review as well!
Incidentally, Hawking, like Dawkins, is married thrice, a grandfather today and he is being looked after by a team of nurses round the clock. It is said that today he commands 50,000 pounds for a single lecture in the USA! For a TV appearance 100,000 pounds! So, he is a rich man and hugely enjoys his fan following!
I live in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India and I meet a number of high earning IT persons, IT couples and what appalls me is their sheer ignorance of the larger world. They seem not to know any developments in the liberal arts, except in a superficial way, the latest glossies and the pop music and such Yankeeisation. Even see even the big it czars! What they speak is some superficialities or mere clichés! They have no idea that the larger society is much more demanding and you need an all-rounded education to pretend to come to have some grasp of the issues.
What about the common people, the schools and colleges, the teachers and the scientists and science teachers? The sort of people I have in mind: the middle classes or the class of people who have some education, even those who have so many education qualifications, the BAs, MAs, and PhDs and occupy formally-looking socially prestigious jobs?
In India of the present day, we see so much talk on public platforms by the high
Richard Dawkins’: the Oxford professor of public understanding of science to me is ‘one of the richest accounts of evolution ever written’. Clive cook son reports in the Financial Times.
Richard Dawkins the undisputed master of evolutionary biology since the death of his great rival, Stephen Jay Gould, in 2002, had produced no new book since Unweaving the Rainbow six years ago, and we were wondering what the Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford was up to.
The Ancestor’s Tale is Dawkins’ triumphant answer. When I first saw this new book, a glossy two-kilogram monster, I thought: “Oh no-after all the waiting, he’s produced a coffee table book”. It felt and looked too heavy and too lavishly illustrated to be a serious science book. But my reaction turned out to be quite wrong – for someone who has castigated publishers in the past for their failure to illuminate science books with lively graphics and illustrations.
In The Ancestor’s Tale, Dawkins traces human ancestry over 4bn years back to the dawn of life on Earth. The result is one of the richest accounts of evolution ever written. It is also an object lesson in the way thorough picture research, carefully commissioned illustrations and good design can enhance even the best text.
He cannot resist applying similar logic to the contemporary world, with chilling effect. With George W.Bush as US president, he believes there is a significant chance of a nuclear catastrophe.
“The present leader of the largest nuclear power in the world things the word is ‘nuclear’,” Dawkins writes. “He has never given any reason to suggest his wisdom or his intelligence outperforms his literacy. He has demonstrated a predilection for ‘pre-emptive’ first strikes. What are the odds against a terrible mistake, initiating Armageddon-don? A hundred to one against, within any one year? I would be more pessimistic. We came awfully close in 1963, and that was with an intelligent President…It only has to happen once.”
“Then something unusual happened… A fashion for walking bipedally arose, and it arose as suddenly and capriciously as fashions do. It was a gimmick…” Dawkins suggests that an admired ape gained status through his unusual virtuosity in walking upright. Others imitated him and it became the thing to do. “Everyone’s talking about a new was of walking…”
As Dawkins notes, styles of walking have a certain contagiousness among modern humans, whether it is the English public school swagger or the loose-limbed “pimp roll” of American dudes. (Indeed, he claims that Tony Blair, as “Bush’s poodle”, imitates the president’s cowboy swagger in his company.
When it comes to the evolutionary swelling of the human brain, Dawkins follows a number of recent authors in suggesting that sexual selection was responsible, as our hominid ancestors competed to lure their mates with dancing, singing, sweet-talking, and story-telling and so on.
Dawkins has spent almost his entire professional life at Oxford. Indeed, as Marek Kohn shows A Reason for everything, his lucid account of the British tradition in evolutionary biology, “Dawkins is nothing if not Oxford.”
At the age of 63, Dawkins can still weave a Darwinian spell as powerful as the one that bewitched specialists and non-specialists alike when his first book, The Selfish Gene, appeared in 1976. Some other distinguished writer scientists such as Martine Rees (astronomy) and Susan Greenfield (the brain) have recently strayed into fields far from their original areas of expertise – with less than satisfactory results.
Although Dawkins could write well about anything, I hope he will stick to evolutionary biology. Genetics is moving ahead fast enough to give him plenty of new material for another masterpiece in few years.