Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Time travel and other casual conversation topics

What I like so much about Cambridge is all these close encounters of the fourth kind. Today I was invited by a guest scholar to lunch in his college, and after lunch we were drinking coffee in the Combination room when two elderly gentlemen came in, and my host introduced us. They turned out to be astrophysicists, and I said some of my staple phrases about my love of astronomy, and then they asked me what I was doing. Now, I am well prepared for people's reactions to my reply, but this was different. Do you know, one of them said eagerly, that What's-her-name has a very accurate description of time travel in the third Harry Potter book, which he has mentioned in a footnote to one of his studies in the history of astrophysics. I admitted that I had noticed it and allowed myself to point out that Rowling was by far not the first to have done so, which I could say with confidence since I wrote my PhD on time travel in literature, and that literature has frequently predicted the most daring scientific ideas, including the twin paradox, the butterfly effect and many other fascinating phenomena. He confirmed that time travel was technically possible as if I needed to be persuaded. From that we went on discussing Fred Hoyle, whose October the First is Too Late I had re-read only recently, but whose The Black Cloud I had not read since I was in my teens when it was a cult book in Russia. What I didn't know then, however, is that obviously, The Black Cloud has a very accurate description of the very first computer in Cambridge, if not exactly in the room where we were sitting so very close nearby. Then I couldn't help mentioning my old fishing buddy, but my new acquaintances were not impressed. Nobody in Cambridge is impressed by you knowing a Nobel Prize winner. My host seemed to have lost track of what we were talking about, which made me feel awkward.

The first thing I did when I came home was order The Black Cloud from Amazon. Since it was instantly delivered to my Kindle I will read it tonight.

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