Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins

Sep 15, 2013

Clive Cookson finds some surprising similarities between Britain’s two most famous scientists. A review of ‘My Brief History and ‘An Appetite for Wonder’


My Brief History, by Stephen Hawking, Bantam Press, RRP£12.99/$22, 144 pages

An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist, by Richard Dawkins, Bantam Press, RRP£20/Ecco, RRP$27.99, 328 pages

The simultaneous publication of memoirs by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and cosmologist Stephen Hawking is a wonderful opportunity to compare and contrast Britain’s most famous scientists. It is also a reminder that these two remarkable men have rather more in common than we think.

Most striking is the similarity in their backgrounds. They were born in the early 1940s to families in the professional middle class – not wealthy but comfortably off, with a strong commitment to intellectual endeavour and public service. Both had fathers working in the British colonies of east Africa, who were keen to send their sons to their old Oxford colleges – and both succeeded, Dawkins reading zoology at Balliol and Hawking physics at University College.

Neither author takes a very favourable retrospective view of his secondary education in the 1950s, though both went to good independent schools. At Oundle, Dawkins writes, the dominant motivation for doing anything was peer pressure and the ethos of his peers was anti-intellectual, with an antipathy to hard work. “There was too much adulation of the rugby team and too little prestige attached to intelligence or scholarship.”

 

Written By: Clive Cookson
continue to source article at ft.com

0 comments on “Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins

  • 3
    Alan4discussion says:

    Neither author takes a very favourable retrospective view of his secondary education in the 1950s, though both went to good independent schools. At Oundle, Dawkins writes, the dominant motivation for doing anything was peer pressure and the ethos of his peers was anti-intellectual, with an antipathy to hard work. “There was too much adulation of the rugby team and too little prestige attached to intelligence or scholarship.”

    Yep! Competitive sports before brains, although some brains flourished in spite of this anyway!



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  • “too much adulation of the Rugby team”

    It reminds me of one of my favorite Chomsky quotes:

    You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? [laughter] I mean, I don’t know anybody on the team, you know? [audience roars] I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why I am cheering for my team? It doesn’t mean any — it doesn’t make sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements — in fact, it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that’s why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on.

    From: http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/1992—-02.htm



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  • 5
    Stephen of Wimbledon says:

    In reply to #4 by Red Dog:

    I played for my School Hockey Team. We got very little in the way of adulation, even though we were the best team for miles around (boo hoo).

    Chomsky’s interpretation is typically (for him) over the top. There is no doubt that sports teams are used in all sorts of institutions to nurture group identity, but it rarely descends to jingoism.

    Now if Chomsky had been talking about professional sport, he might really be on to something. Desmond Morris’s The Soccer Tribe is a great introduction to the group psychology in sports fans.

    Peace



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  • 6
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    In reply to #2 by justinesaracen:

    Well, I know what I’m going to ask for, for Christmas.

    I’m not sure I can wait that long. 🙂



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  • 7
    CdnMacAtheist says:

    In reply to #6 by NearlyNakedApe:

    In reply to #2 by justinesaracen:

    Well, I know what I’m going to ask for, for Christmas.

    I’m not sure I can wait that long. 🙂

    I definitely can’t wait that long, so I ordered my copy in July, and it’s due to be mailed soon…. 😎



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  • 9
    Zeuglodon says:

    Neither author takes a very favourable retrospective view of his secondary education in the 1950s, though both went to good independent schools. At Oundle, Dawkins writes, the dominant motivation for doing anything was peer pressure and the ethos of his peers was anti-intellectual, with an antipathy to hard work. “There was too much adulation of the rugby team and too little prestige attached to intelligence or scholarship.”

    Still a common attitude in schools, sadly. And, I suspect, in mainstream British culture generally.

    In reply to #5 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

    In reply to #4 by Red Dog:

    I played for my School Hockey Team. We got very little in the way of adulation, even though we were the best team for miles around (boo hoo).

    Chomsky’s interpretation is typically (for him) over the top. There is no doubt that sports teams are used in all sorts of inst…

    Have to agree that Chomsky seems to be overselling it. It would be more sensible (if less interesting) to point out that team favouritism is not training for jingoism, but that both come from the same psychological impulse towards tribalism. This is such a common finding in psychology that the effect can be achieved by dividing a group of people based on nothing other than a coin toss.



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  • 10
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #5 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

    I played for my School Hockey Team. We got very little in the way of adulation, even though we were the best team for miles around (boo hoo).

    I remember in my student days the college rugby team was challenged to a charity hockey match by the girl-students hockey team.

    I have never seen a more beaten-up rugby team anywhere! They just could not handle the weapons!

    (I must admit my favourite relaxing school activity on a sunny afternoon, was volunteering as last batsman on the batting side of a reasonably competent cricket team!)



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  • 11
    Stephen of Wimbledon says:

    In reply to #10 by Alan4discussion:

    I remember in my student days the college rugby team was challenged to a charity hockey match by the girl-students …

    Yes, we did the same – we won, but I never heard so many complaints about bruises! When it comes to dirty tricks, we were the students that day.

    The boot was on the other foot when the annual student – staff summer match came round … oh yes.

    … my favourite relaxing school activity on a sunny afternoon, was volunteering as last batsman on the batting side of a reasonably competent cricket team

    Halcyon days.

    Cheers.



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