Blowing Melvin’s mind

Deep joy to be had from subscribing to Melvin Bragg’s “In our time” newsletter, that supports the Radio4 show of the same name.

This week our hero, Melvin, describes having his mind blown early one morning by a bunch of physicists explaining string theory to him:

“Hello

This morning’s programme was a tough one for me. I gave up physics at
the age of 14 because the school to which I went was very small and at
that time, in the mid-Fifties, you had to make what proved to be
crucial decisions ridiculously early. I was also not much good at
physics.

About 15 years ago when, as I discovered like many people in my
generation, I saw that some of the most intense, vivid and beguiling
ideas around were to be found in general books about science, I tried
to get some sort of grip on what I had left behind quite happily at
the age of 14.

It’s proved to be extremely difficult and this morning was clearest
proof. Sometimes you hold on by your fingertips. Sometimes you hold
on by your fingernails. I was holding on by what could be called a
planck length which is so infinitesimal as to make the head of a pin
look like Wales.”

Read the full newsletter below:

IN OUR TIME NEWSLETTER 26.3.04

Hello

This morning’s programme was a tough one for me. I gave up physics at
the age of 14 because the school to which I went was very small and at
that time, in the mid-Fifties, you had to make what proved to be
crucial decisions ridiculously early. I was also not much good at
physics.

About 15 years ago when, as I discovered like many people in my
generation, I saw that some of the most intense, vivid and beguiling
ideas around were to be found in general books about science, I tried
to get some sort of grip on what I had left behind quite happily at
the age of 14.

It’s proved to be extremely difficult and this morning was clearest
proof. Sometimes you hold on by your fingertips. Sometimes you hold
on by your fingernails. I was holding on by what could be called a
planck length which is so infinitesimal as to make the head of a pin
look like Wales.

Those who were explaining string theory and other concomitants of the
Theory of Everything were extraordinarily lucid and, as usual with the
academics who come on to In Our Time, very generous in their efforts
to condense a lifetime’s intense study into words and phrases which
could net the general listener, I think.

There are some things, though, which have to be explained in detail
and about which you have to be more fully informed than I fear I can
ever be about physics. This is the problem for someone who leaves a
scientific education too early. When it is, in my opinion. I have
some sort of grid in my mind for history, for English, for languages,
perhaps for politics, to a much lesser extent for philosophy and other
of the arts/humanities. There’s no grid for the hard sciences.
Therefore, although I was from time to time in the heady position of
feeling I understood totally what Messrs Greene, Barrow and Gibson
were saying, I am afraid that were I to try to recollect the detail in
three or four weeks’ time, much less pass an examination which a 15
year old could hurdle quite effortlessly, I’d be found wanting.

Never mind. It’s some sort of compensation to have been there,
listening to those people being so clear about what is, perhaps, the
most important intellectual conundrum that exists. But I will tell my
grandchildren that there was a moment on the morning of March 25th
2004 when I almost had sight and even understanding of the Theory of
Everything.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Visit the In Our Time website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/
and the Radio 4 Homepage: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/

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