Tuesday, June 17, 2014

John Oliver funnily interviews Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking has demonstrated that he's a good comedian once again.

John Oliver asked many important questions about the Universe, the alien life, the dictatorship by robots, and his abilities to date someone in a parallel universe.

Stephen Hawking could offer deep answers about all these questions.

At least I hope that Hawking has actively participated in this exchange – that it wasn't fully engineered by the writers in HBO that recently aired the interview.

I am actually sure that Stephen Hawking had to actively participate in writing the answers. In particular, his answer about the imaginary time as his most underestimated idea (or a meme he likes to think about) is something that I would fully expect and predict, and something that TV writers, comedians, and other idiots simply could have neither predicted nor fabricated. ;-)


  1. Very funny. Once (almost exactly 20 years ago) by chance I sat close to SH at lunch while he was discussing physics with an American colleague at the Newton Institute in Cambridge (he was having his lunch fed to him by his helper). Anyways his American colleague asked this huge long question that went on for what seemed like forever. When he finally finished there was a five second pause which ended when SH replied in his computer voice "no" followed by silence and the sound of me trying hard not to choke with laughter on my sandwich. So this interview brings that memory back.

  2. Hi Lubos, I guess you will have already heard echoes of the new solar theory proposed by David Evans, at the moment has been divulged in four parts at JoNova's web, starting here:


    I didn't hear anything from Leif Svalgaard neither from Nir Shaviv about this approach, so would be nice to hear your opinion on it...

  3. I am sure that Hawking must drown in adrenaline when he would prefer to destroy the opposition with a long enough powerful monologue but he doesn't have enough time to do so.

  4. I've been giving him tons of feedback - really lots, lots of hours spent on that.

    If he's not crediting me for that, he's bastard.

  5. I feel that Mr Obama is honest in the sense that he must really believe
    all these idiotic slogans about the trapped heat, record hot years,
    saving the world, and consensus in science. In that case, he is really stupid ...

    I think it's hard to say what "sincere" or "insincere" means with a mind like his. No doubt, he sincerely believes that he's married and has two children, plus many other things like that, but beyond this, I can't fathom him. I do think he's stupid, though.

  6. His speech was revolting. Btw, when I tried to read this post from the Twitter feed (via the bitly link I believe) it repeatedly said this page was no longer available. I had to go to your home page and link to the post from there. Just a glitch, or are you being censored by someone? Anyway, I found the post and will now go try to lower my adrenaline level, too. Obama has a talent for blathering on and on about non-problems while real problems in the world just continue to boil and fester. The middle east is in much worse shape than when he took office.

  7. Wow, thanks, so you're behind the curtains, I understand then that the matter is pretty serious and reliable. I suppose you'll get credit for your feedback, very bad if it's not the case.

  8. I think you're right — Hawking had a hand in crafting this.

    The response ("a π/2 rotation in the complex plane") to Hawking's statement about imaginary time is very unlikely to have been produced by any of the 'creative' types they have working in such media productions. And oddly enough it was wholly intelligible, at least in so far as it went.

    However, the 'double-bluff' mode of delivery was intended to suggest it was the kind of thing only another Einstein would understand. Doh! That clearly indicates the little darlings didn't have a clue as to what it meant and how simple it was, and that it was therefore suggested by someone outside their 'team'. Also, had it been incorrect, Hawking couldn't have let it pass, as that would make it appear that he accepts people talking complete bollocks as an explanation, so he must have vetted it at least. But, given the circumstances, it is much more likely that he actually crafted it himself, and simply because they asked him to.

    I rest my case.

    I don't find those pricks funny in the least. Al beeb seems to be full of the type these days. They're not a patch on the professional stand-up comedians you can hire. Also you get nice strippers too. :)

    Hawking was fine though.

    Incidentally, not being a physicist, that's first I've ever heard about imaginary time. But I imagine all that is is that some variable related to time is cast as a complex number—as so many intermediate-type variables are—but the imaginary part just drops out in the wash when an actual result is called for. Is that right?

  9. Emperor 0blamea - If it weren't for the straw man argument, he'd have no argument at all!

  10. Obama-Lover-UntraceableJun 17, 2014, 8:01:00 PM

    I love Obama. https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=picture+of+Obama

  11. Well, Charlize Theron dates Sean Penn, so John Oliver should have a shot.

  12. Stephen uses his imaginary time to produce his "no boundary" condition" and to do away with the initial big bang singularity.
    I thought you (Lubos) didn't like its use in cosmology, but I likely am mistaken. It is just a Wick rotation.

  13. Dear Gordon, I agree that every physically valid form of imaginary time is a form of Wick rotation - also used in thermal calculations.

    But in GR, it may be done in many ways because there are many things that may be called "time coordinate" and all of them may be complexified. I have been saying that these things are important, and will be even more important in quantum gravity, for years.

    The flat-space Wick-rotated Euclidean calculations, thermal calculations, and Hartle-Hawking wave function using imaginary time are just three initial examples of a toolkit that will be getting more extensive and important in the future.

    You must be mistaken that I was a foe of the concept/method. On the contrary, I spent sime time fighting - e.g. Jacques Distler - to defend the method! Check e.g. the discussion under


  14. Apologies. Maybe I was attributing Jacques' position to you. It must have been something else. Of course, I support Hartle and Hawking's position and think it neat.

  15. Speaking of destroying the opposition given a properly prepared retort, I'm not sure if you knew that Hawking could rap as well ;)


  16. --read the links--what great didactic posts, Lubos--very clear.

  17. What happened to the topic "David Evans' notch-filter theory of the climate is infinitely fine-tuned"? (http://motls.blogspot.com/2014/06/david-evans-notch-filter-theory-of.html)

  18. The guy is deeply physically unconnected and he managed to commit adultery. Who can deny his greatness?

  19. It was anatoli bugorski that got the proton beam through his left brain in 1978. This happened in russhia and was kept secret for at least 10 years.

    He lost hearing in his left side bit was still able to finish his PhD.

  20. Dear John, I suspended the blog post for a few more days because Jo told me that maybe, they still haven't released it, despite the appearances of 4 big articles on her blog, so the embargo could still be continuing for some time.

  21. didnt someone mention he has 3.9something model that he is preserving for future http://www.science20.com/a_quantum_diaries_survivor/lubos_motl_prospective_winner_of_higgs_challenge-138071 ?

  22. LOL, maybe. Based on what I know about the method, he will jump from 3.1 to 3.2 or so.

  23. :)

    I think someone will crack 3.8 soon... nhlx5haze seems to be struggling now

  24. Dear abhi, let me point out that is someone cracks 3.8 in the preliminary table, it doesn't mean that I lose my bet because a part of the scores are due to the good luck emerged from the noise, and this good luck won't be repeated for the same submissions in the final score that is computed from different events. This is really an important part of my position. I was ready to admit that the preliminary scores could get above 3.8, they very well could, but it's a different question than the question in the bet.

  25. What happened to the longer response which was at http://motls.blogspot.com.es/2014/06/david-evans-notch-filter-theory-of.html ?

  26. Dear Plazaeme, I will make the blog post visible again in a few days.

    Jo wrote me that an e-mail "the results go public" all of us received combined with 4 hugely excited articles on her blog doesn't mean that the embargo is lifted yet. So I suspended the reaction. I should have waited for some (unspecified?) later moment in the future when it becomes possible to talk about these matters. I don't understand Jo's rules here, she's being rather emotional about all these things.

  27. Thank you. I understand your situation.

  28. While the cash prizes are great, I think the HEP meets ML Award carries far more prestige for the winner because they're looking at the elegance of the algorithm. And Lubos must be one of the favourites for this prize, if his claims of being a poor programmer are true, yet's currently managing third place right now.

    There's also the NIPS Workshop prize that may be offered to strong performers in the competition to be invited to an NIPS workshop. Worth sticking right to the end then, eh Lubos?

  29. Dear John, thanks for your interesting ideas. In general, I would agree that some intrinsic strength of the algorithm and thoughts is more important.

    My problem with that attitude, however, is that those things are so subjective. I have a problem with treating some feelings by some committee members about the elegance of something to be credible and objective.

    To be very specific what I mean, let me admit that I think that I've seen so many would-be objective but in reality politically and personally biased assholes who undervalued some important ideas etc. - my and not only my ideas of course - for petty reasons that I just don't believe that even similar committees at CERN could be much better.

    While my comparative advantage is obviously much lower in the "brute force" benchmarks such as the AMS score, it's still a better discipline because it isn't being twisted by the failing human factor.

  30. No higher scores for over 3 days. Except Mr potty just bumped his score to 3.79 at 0:0:15 hours.

    I still think the 3.81 limit i^-i will hold for non-lhc employees who can pass a drug test.

    The guy must be working in the LHC time zone as the west coast california would not buy seeds from Holland.

    Three more months to go,................


  31. If one assumes, as I hypothesized, that the great scores are mostly due to good luck now, the upper tail of the Gauss curve, it predicts that improved records will be increasingly rare.

    The observations seem to confirm my hypothesis pretty well in recent days, don't they?

    There is a new guy in the top-9 above 3.7, Peter Sadowski.

  32. Sound like it will get harder and harder to get small improvements. Looks like a gauss tail for sure.

  33. Exactly, you made my comment more specific and accurate than what I wrote. That's what I meant. We're probably probing the Gaussian tail.

  34. Oops you just got bumped by Gabor Melis.

    Looks like the top contender have day jobs as they only submit better scored on the weekends.

    At the lhc they did not label actual higgs events. They only detected an excess of events above a background of very similar events at certain energy levels.
    So how is this contest even possible ???

    Should we not just be looking for a bump in a frequency vs total energy curve???

    Perhaps just choosing random events in this bump will give as good a score as any.

    Just stinking out loud!!

  35. Gabor Melis has a pretty impressive bio.

    "It all started with writing five-in-a-row players.

    Apart from Kaggle competitions, I am also responsible for Six, a Hex playing program for KDE that won the gold medal at the 2003, 2004 and 2006 Computer Games Olympiad.

    Naturally attracted to A.I. related fields I studied and prototyped online recommender systems, trust networks. Participated in the Netflix Prize.

    Won the second Google AI Contest, came 11th in the first.

    I am the author of various open-source libraries including SVD, LSA, Boltzmann Machine, ANN implementations and a libsvm wrapper (see http://quotenil.com for a more complete list).

    On the professional side, I worked a couple of years with Natural Language Processing and algorithmic trading."

  36. Exactly. Gabor Mellis (and this very bio) is actually the #1 person who made me think about the transformers and terminators, and competing against terminators in terminating and against transformers in transforming. ;-) One may find his name on the Internet in relation with these contests, it's formidable.

  37. Gábor Melis just managed to 3.805xx .

  38. wow lubos..that was my thought , only you articulated it so much better than I...
    "force X"? maybe phlogiston?

  39. Lubos, great to see you've added 2000 points to your score from just one submission today. 1st and 2nd places must be getting a little anxious with you breathing down the back of their necks.

  40. I was thinking how you count it so that it is 2,000 points. I call it 0.016 but your units are clearly ppm, parts per million. ;-)

    As in every other day, I have a plan to stop their suffering tomorrow early in the morning. Five salvos are already fully ready. I will mindlessly do what I want to send and compute and chances to beat 3.81 are 30%.

  41. RobotUnicornAttackJul 10, 2014, 8:00:00 PM

    Did you read this?


  42. LOL, overfitting is one half of the evil things that one has to fight against in such contests.

    But a huge decrease in the final table is unlikely because even the preliminary score is computed from a dataset different from the training file.

    So your local score you get after training is always way too optimistic, due to overfitting, but you already learn about this fact and about the magnitude of the overfitting - the magnitude saying how much the local estimate of the score is overoptimistic - once you submit your submission to Kaggle, i.e. immediately.

    In the final table, the ordering may be different but the difference between the preliminary and final scores will be pretty much noise uncorrelated to the amount of overfitting in the users' model.

  43. Well, glad to see that you think UC Irvine sort of sucks. You might find some interesting reading here:

    Did you know that it as an institution in general, and as a physics department in particular, is more highly ranked than your own beloved alma mater? I guess there is plenty of suck to go around..