Jon de Vos: Maybe if it were written in crayon
May 14, 2009
I just finished reading Stephen Hawking’s “A Briefer History of Time”. It is, of course, a reissue and a simplification of his 1988 bestseller of similar name. Mr. Hawking wrote his book in English, oh, yes, but the words come out like a difficult Martian concept expressed in Swahili. On the plus side, the hardcover edition has big type.
It’s not Einstein Lite, the dust jacket tells us, the new edition has dropped a bunch of stuff Stephen Hawking deemed merely incomprehensible to help us understand the impenetrable and the inexplicable. Steve, (once you get to know him) discusses relativity using the illustration of a man, riding in a swiftly moving train while bouncing a ping-pong ball on a table. To the man in the train, the ball is going up and down with no apparent forward motion. To a man standing outside the train, however, (I threw in that “however” to let you know that we’re coming to the good part) the ping-pong ball appears to be moving forward by leaps and bounds. It’s simple until you approach the speed of light when a phenomenon occurs that scientists refer to technically as “something weird happens”. As a particle approaches the speed of light it also starts to approach infinite mass and time for the speeding particle starts to slow down compared to that guy watching the ping-pong ball. Sort of like “Church Time” versus “Fishing Time”.
Science and technology have gotten us to where we are today, the average American enjoys a lifestyle unattainable and unimaginable by kings and royalty just a couple of hundred years ago. You can bet Henry the VIII didn’t have daily mp3 downloads billed automatically to his debit card. And TiVo. TiVo allows us to watch endless and meaningless episodes of General Hospital at a more convenient time, dictated by us, not the greedy network cabal. We can watch Gilligan Island reruns at three in the morning if we’re so inclined and unemployed. Voip, voice-over-Internet-protocol, allows us to have bad telephone connections through the internet when we were just beginning to rely on cell phones for those times that we really needed a bad connection.
Could technology go too far? Has it already done so? I figure that I’d need a brain bigger than a breadbox to understand why sunlight that reaches earth in a mere eight minutes, cannot get out of a collapsed star called a Black Hole. New technology might someday allow us to go back and forth in time. It’ll be no secret when that happens. It will be the day that everyone in the world wins the Powerball Lottery, each winner moved a bit forward in time, wrote the six winning numbers on their hand, and returned to buy a ticket. For their trouble, each winner gets his original buck back, less administrative fees.
So how do judge when technology has gone too far? Well, for starters, when you walk down the aisle at Safeway and find Lemon-flavored toothpaste, that’s when. And vanilla. Vanilla-flavored toothpaste? “Hey, you kids better clean the last speck of that toothpaste off the shelves or I swear you’ll see it again next spring as ice cream topping.” I don’t understand.
I guess I’m just going to have to wait until it comes out in a coloring book.