Wednesday 4 February 2015

World Of Seeming

Parmenides as imagined by Raphael

Having slagged off the Imitation Game in my last post I was expecting to do the same with my latest cinema excursion to the Theory of Everything (about Stephen Hawking's first marriage) which my Mum took me to, this time at the excellent Theatr Mwldan in Cardigan.

I assumed this too would be a politically-correct homily to British ingenuity with predictable stereotypes constructed by a committee of right-on producers pressing the buttons of a soft, middle-class audience looking for a benefit-of-hindsight, self-righteous confirmation of their liberal viewpoint: that was certainly what the Imitation Game was about and it increasingly irritates me as I recollect it.

I had a potential further problem of distraction which was that the film was largely shot in St John's College, Cambridge where I went. I was astonished to find that they didn't just use the exterior views but went inside too - so I recognised my own rooms and the choreography of parties between staircases which were no doubt similar in those few years before my own time (the bunk bed didn't ring true - there was squalor enough having to walk across a mediaeval court to get a bath but never bunks).

I should also confess to some prejudice towards Prof Hawking based (unfairly I now feel) on the assumption that he is taken more seriously by reason of his disability.

And yet...

This was a charming and subtle love story, amazingly well-acted, which was hugely uplifting. Talking to my Mum afterwards I realised that oddly the film had no anti-heroes: many including the main characters showed weakness but everybody tried to be decent. That could sound boring but actually it seemed realistic, and why shouldn't it? It was especially surprising that the obvious cheap shot of of having somebody prejudicial towards Hawking's disability was not exploited - amazing. It was also so clever to portray Hawking's development of a sexual relationship with his nurse in a way which was understandable and sympathetic.

See it - it's good for you.


The one weakness in the film was that it tried to make something out of his scientific theories being an antidote to religion. This worked to an extent at a human level, including an understated contrast with his wife - and her lover - having a Christian background. Rather like Darwin's personal and marital dilemma.

But it was a clumsy distraction and, besides, the real Hawking has rightly eschewed that interpretation of his work.

I haven't read Hawking's book any more than the 10 million people who bought it did. But I suspect that he isn't very interested in the implications of his theories for religion, perhaps realising (unlike the messiah of the blindingly obvious Prof Richard Dawkins) that such matters were wholly resolved anyway in the 1780s in Britain - and actually worked through before that by Montaigne and before that by Lucretius, based on what Epicurus said, and first articulated by Parmenides before that (well, on my interpretation). Indeed Parmenides' challenge against the inexorability of time in cosmology is - unsurprisingly for thoughtful philosophers - rather akin to Hawking's theory, surely.

Those people who have been able to complete a career in the world of seeming (as Parmenides described the timeline of history) with time to spare can then look at the world of truth - a sensible way to divide a lifetime, I think and have chosen. This is not the business of Stephen Hawking but perhaps he assists by breaking down the assumptions of the seeming world?