Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hawking, Dawkins, and me

It is not every day that Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, and I appear in the same essay in Nature (11 September 2013).

In fact, it was so thrilling that I did not even take exception to the fact that the journal Nature thinks I am "free from the constraints of celebrity". So that's why they don't publish more of my papers -- they don't want me to get too constrained. Thank you, Nature!

Anyway, it is a bizarre essay, and I mean that in a nice-ish way, speaking as a self-selected unconstrained blogger-person who may or may not* write about her workaday reality, but who is at least talking to herself, or the Universe, but probably not to Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins. And I am OK with that.

Hawking's recent memoir doesn't fare too well in the review by Robert Crease in Nature.

It is a concise, gleaming portrait, not unlike those issued by the public relations department of an institution.

Hawking, or perhaps his soul, is compared to a black hole. Ouch.

Other reviewers are not so harsh: Hawking comes across as an understated, hard-working, and likable physicist committed to understanding and explaining the cosmos. [Boston Globe]

I am not a memoir-reading person, so I do not have a strong opinion about whether such works should be polished, soul-baring, and/or filled with previously unknown and juicy details** about the author. I suppose the point is, however, to give a reasonably accurate picture of at least a part of one's life, although the choice of what to include or omit is likely to annoy various readers no matter what.

That is an advantage of a blog (and perhaps that is the point of the essay in Nature). I don't have to summarize my life, such as it is, in a concise way with perfect balance between the mundane (the everyday life of a scientist and teacher), the awesome (my most favorite scientific discoveries or teaching moments), the absurd (see posts on "gender-directed weirdness"), and the cats (see posts labeled "cats"). Unfortunately, blogging can be a bit of a black hole, but then so are faculty meetings, effort reporting, and filing annual grant reports on

* phrase added to keep alive the rumor that this blog is written by cats
** My family had three identical cats named Fluffy by the time I was 9 years old; not a one of them was actually fluffy.


Anonymous said...

Yes, is even worse than fastlaMe!

The only explanation is that the website developer is a friend of a friend of somebody really important...

Anonymous said...

If you do expand your blog into a memoir, I'd suggest not following the lead of Anthony Burgess’s fictional novelist Kenneth Toomey:

“It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”

Your cats might be scandalized

Mark P

Anonymous said...

Nice cite! Of course, it does seem a bit odd to compare a blog -- assumed to be somewhat ruminations in 'real-time' -- to a memoir looking back across the >cough< glorious sweep of one's experience. ;)

Does the writer of that essay know your publishing relationship with Nature?