Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Hawking’

08 JANUARY, 2014

Stephen Hawking’s Charming Children’s Book about Time-Travel, Co-Written with His Daughter

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A pig and a supercomputer walk into a black hole…

It’s not uncommon for famous authors of “adult” literature to have also penned lesser-known but no less lovely children’s books — take, for instance, those by Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, E. E. Cummings, and Sylvia Plath. Famous scientists, on the other hand, are more likely to become the subject of a children’s book rather than the author of one. But not so with Stephen Hawking, one of the great geniuses of our time, born on this day in 1942.

In 2007, Hawking wrote George’s Secret Key to the Universe (public library | IndieBound) — a charming, imaginative story about the mesmerism of space and the allure of time-travel, featuring lovely semi-Sendakian crosshatch illustrations by Garry Parsons. What makes the book especially endearing is that Hawking co-wrote it with his daughter Lucy.

One morning, George — a little boy raised by lo-fi, bookish parents who believe technology is evil — discovers that his pet pig Freddy has disappeared. Befuddled, he traces Freddy’s hoofprints to the neighboring house, where he meets a scientist named Greg and his daughter Annie.

Greg warms George up to science — “Science is a wonderful and fascinating subject that helps us understand the world around us and all its marvels,” he says as he shows the boy the enchanting science behind everyday phenomena in the kitchen — and introduces him to his own “pet” of sorts, Cosmos. Cosmos is the world’s most powerful computer and not only speaks but can also empower approved users to travel across space-time.

George is enormously excited about the prospect of time-travel, but he first needs to take the Oath of the Scientist — a promise to only use scientific knowledge for good — in order to become approved.

And so begin the adventures, on which George encounters black holes (and learns — of course! — about how Hawking radiation makes them slowly disintegrate) and floats across four billion years.

George’s Secret Key to the Universe is bound to tickle curious young readers into falling in love with science. Complement it with Hawking’s theory of everything, animated in 150 seconds, then revisit this fantastic 1991 Errol Morris documentary about Hawking.

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25 SEPTEMBER, 2013

How the Universe Works: Stephen Hawking’s Theory of Everything, Animated in 150 Seconds

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A Brief History of Time in no time at all.

Legendary theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking is among the greatest scientific minds in human history. In this charming animation for The Guardian’s MadeSimple series, UK-based animation studio Scriberia — who also made the wonderful trailer for Oliver Burkeman’s Antidote — condenses Hawking’s expansive, mind-bending theories down to 150 seconds. Reminiscent in spirit of the RSA animations, though much better-executed creatively, the short video is the visual equivalent of the art of the soundbite.

Though undeniably delightful, I can’t help but wonder whether such quick visual syntheses of the life’s work of boundless genius might be our era’s version of the aphorisms that Susan Sontag worried commodify wisdom. But let’s go with optimism and hope that, rather than exercises in reductionism, formats like this are, as Neil deGrasse Tyson said of the soundbite, triggers for interest which “set a learning path into motion that becomes self-driven.” In other words, let’s hope this gets more people to read A Brief History of Time, one of these seven timeless reads about time.

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08 JANUARY, 2013

A Brief History of Time: Rare 1991 Errol Morris Documentary About Stephen Hawking, Free Online

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For the celebrated cosmologist’s birthday, revisiting a near-forgotten trifecta of genius.

Iconic theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose 1988 classic A Brief History of Time is not only one of these 7 favorite books about time but also among the most influential science books published in the past century, celebrates his seventy-first birthday today. While many films have been made about Hawking and his theories over the years, none compare to documentarian extraordinaire Errol Morris‘s 1991 masterpiece about Hawking’s life, titled after the seminal book and featuring original music by none other than Philip Glass.

Though Morris tweeted exactly a year go that he planned to re-release the film, it remains virtually unfindable on DVD, Bluray, or any digital format, and only exists on VHS, which might explain the dreadful quality of the video below. Still, what a treat to have the film available online in its entirety — the content itself is absolutely, mind-bendingly priceless, just like a Hawking/Morris cross-pollination might imply. Enjoy:

Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.

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