As I write this, I have just finished watching Professor (soon to be “Sir”, I’m sure) Brian Cox’s television show, “A Night with the Stars”, in which he valiantly, but lucidly explained quantum physics to an audience of what are considered to be our more cerebral celebrities. My wife, a mathematician, had her dearest wish realised. Here was Pro-Celebrity Mathematics on a mainstream television channel. Unfortunately, the celebrity concerned, who was once paid millions to host a national, weekly talk show, in which he would dress his dog in Halloween outfits for our entertainment and amusement, failed to divide two numbers written in scientific notation, but it’s a start. Quantum Theory for Celebrities was at least attempted. Many in the audience had looks on their faces that resembled dogs being shown a card trick, to quote the late, great Bill Hicks, though it is indicative of a small but significant sea change.
Finally, the fashion for anti-intellectualism may be turning. People are beginning to be proud of their wish to learn more and increasingly embarrassed at their ignorance, rather than wearing it as a badge of perverse pride. I applaud all concerned with the programme. Some deep thoughts were touched upon. The concepts were explained clearly and linked intelligently. Brian Cox performed with aplomb, humour, kindness and grace. It was a good show.
While the opening credits were rolling, we were shown scenes of the interior of the Royal Institution, a place where luminaries such as Michael Faraday once explained electromotive forces to the general public. The corridors were lined with books, chronicling the few hundred years of rapid scientific progress that we have had. Ideas about atoms are quite recent. I once met with the niece of Sir Ernest Rutherford, the first to propose a cohesive model of the atom. Uncle Ernest was somebody in living memory. This quantum theory stuff is comparatively recent. We’ve come a very long way in a very short time, as a species.
Seeing all those books on those shelves got me to thinking about e-readers and e-books. I would proudly carry a Kindle or some other sort of e-book reader, if it had full access to the contents of the British Library, the Bodleian Library, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian archives, the records and proceedings of the Royal Society and dozens of other famous collections and archives. That, to me, would be the very best reason to carry such a device.
I wonder if it will ever be possible, in my lifetime, to own the Bodleian edition of the Kindle, preloaded with every volume, or at least have those instantly accessible. I’ve already seen Pro-Celebrity Mathematics and Quantum Physics for Celebrities, so anything is possible. I sincerely hope so.