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Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking

April 26th, 2010 (09:00 am)

Saw the first two episodes (Aliens and Time Travel) of the TV series last night. The CGI was pretty good but the science in the second episode was troubling. Hawking is one of the smartest people on the planet so things have to be simplified if they're going to be explained to the average person. The problem is that if it's oversimplified people find flaws. Flaws that would have been address, if they were even still valid, in the complete version. So the public comes to doubt science because they found a "problem" with Hawking's claims.

For example in the Time Travel program there's a segment where a scientist uses a wormhole to open a portal to the same location but one minute into the past. He then shoots his past self through the portal causing a paradox. Hawking says it can't happen because feedback from radiation (going in a continuous loop from present to past) would quickly destroy the wormhole. The obvious answer is to move the other end of the wormhole so it's not in the same location. Duh! There, feedback problem solved. Anyone would think of that solution. Except there has to be a reason why moving the other end of the wormhole won't work. Hawking would have thought of that too and accounted for it. Besides, a wormhole that goes only one minute into the past would be impossible to make because it would already be running when you started.

I don't like the idea that "something" would go wrong if you tried to create a paradox. It implies a sentient mind with great power keeping an eye on time and deciding what to do in case someone went back in time to kill themselves that morning. The simplest solution would be to prevent the situation from happening in the first place.

Another problem I had with the show is that it said that once you approach the speed of light time slows down. That's not exactly true. For any moving object, regardless of speed, time slows down relative to an object at rest. Flying around the world in a jet, driving in a car, even swinging your arms around, they all move forward in time. Granted it's by very tiny amounts but it does happen. While it's true that you have to be moving at a good percentage of the speed of light for there to be a noticeable difference. The program should have said so and not imply that something magic happens at .9c.

The Time Travel show is riddled with problems like this. The Aliens episode was much more interesting. But that one ended with a more ominous ending. Aliens contacting earth would be more interested in plundering our resources than extending a "hand" in friendship. Problem with that is the fact it would be easier for a spacefaring race to get what they need from the asteroids or gas giants than us even if we were an "annoyance".