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When Eyesight is Fully Industrialised

John Kerrigan, 16 October 1997

Open Sky 
by Paul Virilio, translated by Julie Rose.
Verso, 152 pp., £35, August 1997, 9781859848807
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... can produce perverse results, not least when disability is discussed. Oddly for a book which cites Stephen Hawking as an authority on space, Open Sky discounts the good that motorised aids can do and presses the theory that smart-buildings and computers are making the able-bodied no better than cripples. Soon, Virilio grumbles, the ...


Theodore Zeldin, 26 October 1989

Pan Encyclopedia 
edited by Judith Hannam.
Pan, 608 pp., £8.99, August 1989, 9780330309202
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Longman Encyclopedia 
edited by Asa Briggs.
Longman, 1179 pp., £24.95, September 1989, 0 582 91620 8
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International Encyclopedia of Communications: Vols I-IV 
edited by Erik Barnouw.
Oxford, 1913 pp., £250, April 1989, 0 19 504994 2
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The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives 
edited by Francis Robinson.
Cambridge, 520 pp., £30, September 1989, 0 521 33451 9
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Concise Encyclopedia of Islam 
by Cyril Glass.
Stacey International, 472 pp., £35, February 1989, 0 905743 52 0
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The World’s Religions 
by Ninian Smart.
Cambridge, 576 pp., £25, March 1989, 0 521 34005 5
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The New Physics 
edited by Paul Davies.
Cambridge, 516 pp., £30, March 1989, 0 521 30420 2
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The Middle Ages: A Concise Encyclopedia 
by H.R. Loyn.
Thames and Hudson, 352 pp., £24, May 1989, 0 500 25103 7
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China in World History 
by S.A.M. Adshead.
Macmillan, 432 pp., £35, June 1988, 0 333 43405 6
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... one has no illusions about how dough-like one is. It is exciting to be offered ten pages by Stephen Hawking trying to paint space-time, confident only that however many equations are solved ‘we would still be a long way from omniscience.’ It is nice to hear Abdus Salam speculating that the best way to test a unified theory would be to carry 100 ...

Nobel Savage

Steven Shapin: Kary Mullis, 1 July 1999

Dancing Naked in the Mind Field 
by Kary Mullis.
Bloomsbury, 209 pp., £12.99, March 1999, 0 7475 4376 3
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... Even now, the cover of A Brief History of Time sets a tiny, and almost literally disembodied, Stephen Hawking against a vast backdrop of the starry heavens. But already by the Sixties and Seventies a new presentation of scientific self began to circulate. James Watson radically confessed that his thoughts strayed to ‘popsies’ even while working ...


Richard Lloyd Parry: Alex Garland, 15 October 1998

The Beach 
by Alex Garland.
Penguin, 439 pp., £5.99, June 1997, 0 14 025841 8
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The Tesseract 
by Alex Garland.
Viking, 215 pp., £9.99, September 1998, 0 670 87016 1
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... the size and impersonal complexity of the universe are familiar from other works of fiction post-Stephen Hawking – Martin Amis’s Night Train, for example. ‘Imagine an atom of hydrogen,’ Alfredo says. ‘Then imagine that you have enlarged the nucleus by five million million, bringing it up to about the size of a one peso coin. To scale, the ...

Devil take the hindmost

John Sutherland, 14 December 1995

Shadows of the Future: H.G. Wells, Science Fiction and Prophecy 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Liverpool, 170 pp., £25, July 1995, 0 85323 439 6
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The History of Mr Wells 
by Michael Foot.
Doubleday, 318 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 385 40366 6
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A Modern Utopia 
by H.G. Wells, edited by Krishan Kumar.
Everyman, 271 pp., £5.99, November 1994, 0 460 87498 5
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... are indistinguishable from the current hypotheses of theoretical physicists like Kip Thorne and Stephen Hawking. Parrinder’s chapters take the form of free-wheeling meditations on Wellsian topoi – ‘Possibilities of Space and Time’, ‘The Fall of Empires’, ‘Utopia and Meta-Utopia’. In Part Two of Shadows of the Future, he branches out ...

That Wilting Flower

Hilary Mantel: The Lure of the Unexplained, 24 January 2008

Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained 
edited by Una McGovern.
Chambers, 760 pp., £35, October 2007, 978 0 550 10215 7
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... chemistry you missed. It’s the people cringing from their scientific illiteracy who buy Stephen Hawking books they can’t read, as if having them on the shelf will make the knowledge rub off; they snap up tracts on atheism, too, to show that if they’re ignorant they’re at least rational. But still, our understanding of the mechanisms of ...

The Superhuman Upgrade

Steven Shapin: The Book That Explains It All, 13 July 2017

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow 
by Yuval Noah Harari.
Vintage, 528 pp., £9.99, March 2017, 978 1 78470 393 6
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... Joy’s anxieties have been echoed since by Bill Gates and the Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, and Stephen Hawking too has warned that ‘the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.’ So to the degree that Harari’s vision of the future seems plausible, it’s perhaps because it’s familiar: we’ve been well ...

Quantum Influencers

Adam Mars-Jones, 7 April 2022

When We Cease to Understand the World 
by Benjamin Labatut, translated by Adrian Nathan West.
Pushkin, 192 pp., £8.99, May 2021, 978 1 78227 614 2
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... they apply for jobs and grants. Nothing to see here! No one doubts the assertion, reported by Stephen Hawking in the preface to A Brief History of Time, that every equation in a book of popular science halves its readership. The same is true of notation in a book about music. These mark the point at which readers admit that they don’t understand ...

The Concept of ‘Cat Face’

Paul Taylor: Machine Learning, 11 August 2016

... examining the risks associated with uncontrolled artificial intelligence. Stephen Hawking has suggested that building machines more intelligent than we are could lead to the end of the human race. Elon Musk has said much the same. But such dystopian fantasies aren’t worth worrying about yet. If there is something to be worried ...

His Fucking Referendum

David Runciman: What Struck Cameron, 10 October 2019

For the Record 
by David Cameron.
William Collins, 732 pp., £25, September 2019, 978 0 00 823928 2
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... The former heads of MI5 and MI6. The head of the Church of England. Nine out of ten economists. Stephen Hawking, Tim Berners-Lee and Richard Branson – truly great Britons who so many people admire and respect. ‘Maybe it’s a conspiracy,’ I would say. ‘Or maybe all these people are right.’This is disingenuous. First, the case being made was ...

Serious Mayhem

Simon Reynolds: The McLaren Strand, 10 March 2022

The Life and Times of Malcolm McLaren: The Biography 
by Paul Gorman.
Constable, 855 pp., £14.99, November 2021, 978 1 4721 2111 0
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... for several years, lunching with industry bigwigs (he pitched Spielberg a movie in which Stephen Hawking was a pop star) but getting nothing off the ground. One project he did complete, after returning to the UK, was his student film, Ghosts of Oxford Street, remade as a Channel 4 Christmas special without any of the original footage. Originally ...

Flowery Regions of Algebra

Simon Schaffer: Pierre Simon Laplace, 14 December 2006

Pierre Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Determined Scientist 
by Roger Hahn.
Harvard, 310 pp., £21.95, November 2005, 0 674 01892 3
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... given a French accent. This is the comfortingly Newtonian Laplace who figures, for example, in Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time, as the celebrated author of a version of determinism which nevertheless left open the choice of physical laws and of initial configuration, and whose optimism about the possibility of deducing all future states of ...

The Darwin Show

Steven Shapin, 7 January 2010

... featuring the ‘African-American Atheist Rapper Greydon Square’, the ‘self-styled “Walking Stephen Hawking”’. In Manhattan, the Ensemble Theater produced Darwin’s Challenge (‘On his trip aboard the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin wanders into a cave on Galapagos and finds himself on the set of a 21st-century reality TV show … He gets kicked ...

At the British Museum

Julia Smith: ‘Thomas Becket: Murder and the Making of a Saint’, 15 July 2021

... letters (the 12th-century equivalent of texting), of which 189 survive. He preferred hunting, hawking and fine clothes to the discipline and asceticism of religious life, all of which left him heavily in debt. He didn’t direct his energies to grand episcopal projects like his contemporary Henry of Blois, the wealthy bishop of Winchester, who oversaw the ...

Rough Trade

Steven Shapin: Robert Hooke, 6 March 2003

The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Strange and Inventive Life of Robert Hooke 1635-1703 
by Stephen Inwood.
Macmillan, 497 pp., £18.99, September 2002, 0 333 78286 0
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... to any government agency that funded the research – which usually declines – they will start hawking the IP about to see if any entrepreneurs or companies want to license it. Priority in your IP is protected at this stage, and you can now go ahead and publish if you wish, but eventually you may proceed to a full (or utility) patent, where property rights ...

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