Tales From The Industry XXXII: A Matter of Time

patzcuaro_clocksHere are some clocks I saw at the House of Eleven Courtyards (Casa de los Once Patios) in the historic town called Pátzcuaro (at the aforementioned lake of the same name). It was a convent, and is now a place to go and see lots of arts and crafts in action, as well as buy some. The clocks, housed in copper, mark the entrance to an entire room of copper workmanship in various forms.

The clocks have reminded me to give you an update on something else. Through some of May and June, I did a lot of work for the show The Universe, which airs on the History Channel (as you probably already know from reading here over the years. See here.). There will be, as usual, several topics covered over the upcoming season, and it will be interesting to see how the various filmmakers put together their episodes. It is worth noting that the History Channel have done something remarkable here. This is now the longest run that any cable channel has had for a science show. They built an audience with a solid show, and kept producing good episodes and gathering more (and it is worth saying, an admirably diverse set of) viewers over the years.

In fact, the show has been so successful that they are going to, I predict, pay an interesting penalty for their success. Several other channels have been noticing that there’s a thirst for these sorts of shows, and (predictably and understandably) have been developing their own shows in direct response, to get a piece of the advertising action. At least two of these have rolled out recently, and rather than let the science alone be the headliner (as the History Channel has done), they’ve gone for the old model of having a Big Personality draw the audience. So there’s now a Stephen Hawking show and a Morgan Freeman show. I suspect that this might pull some audience away from The Universe as a result. On the other hand, I don’t know exactly how things will go scheduling-wise, so maybe people will just watch all of them. On a third hand, perhaps the winners are science on TV and the audiences who want to see more of it. I wish all the shows well. After all, there is certainly plenty of room, and it is good to see channels maneuvering over this type of program, raising the level in this genre above just blowing up pumpkins and so forth.

As usual, there’s a good mix of solid science in the episodes (aspects of the universe both near and far) as well as some of the more speculative material. I hope they are both treated well and carefully. When asked for my advice, any filmmaker tacking the more speculative stuff hears from me that they need to be extra careful not to mislead the public and confuse speculation and pure science fiction with actual established fact. Extraordinary claims, if made, should be backed up by extraordinary evidence, and so on an so forth. Some filmmakers get this, others don’t and think that their primary goal is to entertain at all costs. (There’s a third way, of course. Accuracy and entertainment are not mutually exclusive.) universe_time_shoot_2 I think that the people overseeing the production of the series have over the years done a good job of selecting the filmmakers that lean toward the former tendency as opposed to the latter, learning from mistakes here and there (you’ll recall my thoughts about one or two particular episodes from some years back – look through here).

universe_time_shoot_1There’s an episode discussing the nature of Time coming up, and I am sure you can guess that there’ll be quite a strong mixture of solid science with some wondering and speculation about what might be. I’m happy to note that they picked a filmmaker who is very good for handing this type of thing. Darryl Rehr works hard to understand the science as much as he can, doing a lot of research and having a lot of discussions with scientists before he starts making an episode treating a subject. (It sounds like an obvious thing to do, but believe me, this is still relatively unusual behaviour for science on screen.) I worked with him on the excellent and popular Light Speed Episode some years back, and we did some fun things together to illustrate the science. So I am hoping this is going to be a good episode.universe_time_shoot_3 I am not going to tell you a thing about the content (as usual) so you’ll have to wait for when it airs, but I’ll leave you with a few shots (look to the left – click to enlarge) from the set of a shoot we did in the heart of Los Angeles two weeks ago to enhance the episode, illustrating a concept I explained to camera. You may well be able to make some interesting guesses based on details you might spot in the pictures if you examine them closely.

You are welcome to speculate in the comments.


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9 Responses to Tales From The Industry XXXII: A Matter of Time

  1. Angela Tyson says:

    Dear Professor Johnson:

    I watched Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole and you are in no danger of losing me as a viewer of The Universe. I watch them all. I am not an astrophysics major by any stretch, however, I have “intuitive leaps” as I like to call them. My intuition says that Through the Wormhole got it wrong on the possibility of time travel and how it works. It was mentioned that the universe itself would have to rotate for it to work. I disagree. From many years of watching and being victimized by hurricanes in Florida, I noticed something…that eye! I knew all spiral galaxies had to have a super massive black hole “eye” in the center and its their rotation that spins the galaxy of suns around it….the universe doesn’t need to spin to enable time travel because the black holes where time stops does that for us; also i suspect that the size and location of black holes will determine distance (small hole – short interstellar/quadrant jumps, super massives at galactic core – jumps for intergalactic space to any other galaxy – they are the stargates i believe that link all together – i have no theory for elliptical or irregular galaxies…yet ) and WHEN you jump will determine whether you go forward or back in time. I also feel that time is just a distance marker and will be or is used to translate distance into terms we can use to program coordinates into the jump drives if and when we ever figure out how to build them??? Unfortunately, I don’t have the maths to describe what i’m trying to say and must sound extremely daft to you but I had to try. Either I’m on to something here or have the beginnings of an intruiging sci-fi novel.

    At any rate, I am pleased you allow us mere mortals to share our thoughts here.

    Kindest Regards,


  2. Clifford says:

    Hi Angela,

    Glad to hear from you that you’ll continue watching. It is indeed great that you watch them all.

    I’ve no comment on their show’s content since I did not see it, but I hope that they were careful to emphasize throughout that while it is fun and interesting to speculate about time travel, there is nothing in the way of solid science to suggest that it is possible (not counting going to the future, of course….we’re all doing that) any time soon, if ever. We do not understand the physics of space and time well enough, nor the types of matter and energy needed, in order to do it. For all we know the required stuff does not exist. The best source on this is Kip Thorne’s Black Holes and Time Warps. Research continues, of course.

    All the best, and thanks for commenting and for watching!


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  4. Angela Tyson says:

    Clifford, I will take a look at Kip Thorne’s Black Holes and Time Warps. Thank you for the suggestion. I found it very intersting that on one of the more recent episodes of Wormhole that the arcs produced in the light coming from the most distant galaxies (apparently caused by the presence of dark matter) has led to the ability to create a visual model/prototype of “dark matter” where it has concentrated to form visible matter. You’re absolutely right we are barely on the cusp of understanding the space-time contiuum well enough to use it for time travel. It must be a most exciting time for you! I don’t believe I’d be getting much sleep if I understood the math well enough to dig deeper. Best Wishes…Angela

  5. Clifford says:

    I hope you enjoy the book!


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  7. Angela Tyson says:

    So wonderful to see you again on “Einstein”. BRAVO!

  8. Clifford says:

    Hope you enjoyed it!



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