I cried at the conclusion of tonights’ second episode of GENIUS, Stephen Hawking’s television series demonstrating that we, too, are capable of figuring out the conceptual ideas driving philosophers, physicists, astronomers and others for the last few thousand years regarding the earth and the place of humanity within the larger universe. The sense of wonder at the greatness of the universe just left me in tears of awe, and looking forward to being shown all that the L-rd has created in His goodness.
The premise of the show is based on putting actual volunteers, young adults without much experience yet in length of life on this planet, to work on various simple, physical experiences which demonstrate the conceptual ideas perplexing to our ancestors: such puzzles as the size of the earth, its shape, its distances to other planets, the rotation of planets around the sun, etc. Stephen Hawking’s narration throughout is perfect — never an extraneous word, easy to understand without condescending or patronizing language, and leading seamlessly from one experiment to the next, building ideas upon the ones just demonstrated.
For instance, the volunteers are brought to a lake and are given various measurement tools to determine whether the lake is level. They need to find the tools, figure out what needs to be done based on what they find, and set out to complete the experiment. It’s kindof like a reality show for science nerds. But, it’s done in such a normal, laid-back way, that it presents science in a non-threatening way that the layman can understand, and even can find fascinating.
Well, we all know that water likes to level itself, due to gravity and its liquidity, right? And that the bodies of water on the earth — its lakebeds, and rivers, and oceans, etc. — are generally just water which has filled-in crevices and craters in the earths crust, right? Looking at a lake, you can see it’s flat, right? Well, you’d be surprised.
First, the volunteers measure the lake with a telescope and tripod. They find about a 6″ difference in height, further away. Next, they take a special, powerful laser and beam it across shore and two separate locations, and find it about 6′ feet in difference. Finally, a helicopter whisks the two girls off, while the guy monitors their flight some miles away. The helicopter suddenly disappears over the horizon beyond what appears to be the top of the lake — But, it hasn’t landed, yet. Speaking by radio, the pilot tells them, at the point of “disappearance”, that they are still 24′ feet off the ground, indicating the curvature of the earth. Combined with its distance, the calculations can be extended to figure out the diameter of the earth. Cool!
Other such physical testings are done, and its all alot of fun. There are plenty of things to wonder about. For instance, how can I generally sense the presence of Kitty, in her stealth and silent feline stead, outside the door or hiding somewhere outside, site, and sight, unseen? I feel like she has such insights and senses on such a more highly developed plane than we have, practically seeming to read my mind by telepathic empathy. It’s really amazing.
If you get a chance, please watch the show. It’s presently being broadcast on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS – Channel 2, generally) in America, as well as being available as a DVD at their online “gift” (or donation) shop, as well as on itunes. It’s good for you, without feeling like it.
Update: An informed reader of this post has supplied the conceptual parameters to conduct a scientifically-sound investigation of the phenomenon which is being explored in this t.v. segment, indicating curvature of the earth. The “scientists”, themselves, were actually students of, perhaps, middle-school, or high-school age, figuring out for themselves, with supplied tools and instruments, scientific/mathematical processes to reach their conclusions. With what they were given, the students were able to figure out the steps mostly needed to demonstrate the principle in effect. However, it appears that the experiment the students conducted may have been scientifically-flawed, based on the lack of using all of the needed steps or equipment necessary to reach an accurate conclusion, as spelled out in additional commentary to this article provided by Nick, whose explanation can be read in the comments section. It is ponderous to wonder just why these students may not have been given the appropriately necessary equipment to more-accurately assess, quite literally, their surrounding environment. My posit was that it was to pare down the essentials to cater to the “lowest common denominator” of the television audience, while still serving to present the main gist of the idea in laymen’s terms which most people could grasp. Is this the real motivation for this action, or could there be other reasons? What are your thoughts about this? Meanwhile, I have recently learned that Stephen Hawking supports the bigoted actions of the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) movement against the homeland of the Jewish nation, Israel. I guess this means that even those to whom we might credit incredible GENIUS are capable of complete ignorance in the most simplest of matters.