Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Science for Sensors

What a delight to see one’s deepest forebodings confirmed by the new-look Horizon.

Having abandoned the more educated part of its demographic, this is the way the BBC now does ‘science’ for non-intellectuals (the ‘sensors’ of Jungian type theory).
  • Pandering to the non-intellectual comfort zone of ‘curious facts’ rather than challenging the audience with novel paradigms.

  • Contemptuous of its audience by serving up inconsistencies and plain errors with nary a concern (see below).

  • Science-pornographic - leaving a nasty aftertaste of watching but not touching.
Professor Brian Cox, looking like the popular musician he once was, has I think his heart in the right place. He genuinely loves science. It must be his scriptwriters who are leading him astray by getting him to state utterly misleading misinformation to an increasingly confused audience.

It is not true that everyone has their own time-flow which is different from anyone else’s: this is only true for observers in relative motion or at different curvature points within gravitational fields. Relativity is meaningless without clarity about this.

It is not true that a quantum granular theory of time restores the ‘common-sense truth’ of ‘flowing time’ with a frozen past and open future, and that's not what the somewhat-photogenic young female researcher from Imperial College actually said. Special Relativity, which no-one is rejecting, has already destroyed that idea for good with the death of universal simultaneity. (But see here).

And can we finally lose for ever all those tiresome and lying graphics of the big bang as a vast CGI explosion within space and time, when it was a mode of expansion of space-time itself?

Any moderately intelligent viewer who eschewed ‘Survivors’ to watch this will have come away with a number of mutually inconsistent factoids in their head and will have reached the conclusion that modern science is incomprehensible.

Maybe it is, but not for the reasons presented in this programme.

Meanwhile, there is an essay competition currently running on the nature of time which may interest people disappointed with Horizon. The full list of essays is here, with some recommendations from Arcadian Functor here.

A particularly interesting essay, by Sean Carroll, can be found here.