November 14, 2003 8:40 AM   Subscribe

The elegant universe. A 3 hour PBS NOVA documentary on string theory [in 24 ~5-10 minute chunks of real player or quick time video]. Welcome to the 11th dimension.
posted by srboisvert (18 comments total)
Review: A pretty, but painfully boring series that lends itself more to a drinking game then anything else. The program spends vastly more time telling you about how wonderful string theory may be then about what string theory actually is.

Granted, I don't expect them to delve into calculus on television, but you could really sum up the actual information presented on the show in a couple of pages. Very, very fluffy and repetitive.

If you do want to see this (it is, after all, very pretty), I strongly recommend skipping the entire first episode if you already can name the four basic forces, which theoretically is high-school level knowlege. (At least at my high school, which wasn't anything that special.) Skip the second if you know how electricity and magnetism were unified over a hundred years ago. In fact, you might all just want to start on the third; it's so repititve that the only thing you'll really have missed was the "quantum cafe" segment, which was pretty cool. (I think that's in the "Multiple Dimensions" segment of the second hour, but I can't watch the videos on this machine, corrections welcomed.)

Yeah, I know the linked page has summaries that seem to promise more from each segment, but each segment has very little more then those little summaries do.

I applaud the idea of the series but it should have been an hour, maybe hour and a half, tops. Even the video was repetitive; by the end of the series I could recognize the four or five little string vibration patterns they had, because you see them so often.
posted by Jeremy Bowers at 8:53 AM on November 14, 2003

Still haven't found that Unified Theory, eh , professor?
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:58 AM on November 14, 2003

Wait - you say this string vibrates?
posted by crunchburger at 8:59 AM on November 14, 2003

The book of the same name is also somewhat painfully boring at parts, but a lot of it is damn fascinating to the casual physics spectator that I am.
posted by angry modem at 9:05 AM on November 14, 2003

The Internet is my Tivo.
posted by stbalbach at 9:06 AM on November 14, 2003

I thought the series was pretty good. It's aimed at a very basic level: even explains what atoms are, but I thought some of the graphics were pretty handy for explaining the rolled-up extra dimensions and such. First episode is very basic though.

Not nearly as good as the excellent book, which was excellent and detailed.

I like the graphics. The worst kind of TV to me is a book-on-screen. If all you need are words and static diagrams, you're better off sticking with a book than watching a TV show.

Outside of a black hole, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a black hole-- ah, skip it.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:15 AM on November 14, 2003

This is great. I haven't watched the series yet (I'm at work), but I read the book of the same name, and I was facinated. I was planning to re-read soon it to rehash my memory and to understand it better, but this series will probably make a stronger impression in my mind.

Can't wait.
posted by VeGiTo at 9:23 AM on November 14, 2003

This thread might get yanked as the double post it is, but...

I agree that the series was repetitive, but that's a benefit for people like my mother, who is interested in the concepts but doesn't have much understanding of physics. The third hour is definitely the best -- some mind-bending ideas in there about how the universe might have been created through the collision of giant "membranes."

Also, here's a good Brian Greene interview from Scientific American.
posted by Dean King at 9:27 AM on November 14, 2003

Jeremy Bowers: Have you watched the series before, or did you just skimmed through it in 13 minutes?
posted by VeGiTo at 9:28 AM on November 14, 2003

Ahhh... double post... I see.
posted by VeGiTo at 9:30 AM on November 14, 2003

Inside of a black hole-- ah, skip it.

inside it's too dense to read?
posted by trondant at 9:59 AM on November 14, 2003

This has been running here in the UK for the last couple of weeks. It's terrible. Cheesiest documentary on theoretical physics imaginable, and completely impossible to take seriously.
posted by influx at 10:48 AM on November 14, 2003

I always get the impression that Brian Greene just loves being on television. I like my cosmologists with faces for radio and voices for newspaper.
posted by McBain at 11:01 AM on November 14, 2003

<curmudgeon>I tivo'd it thinking it would be good but the constant repetition ruined it for me, I also found the graphics a little overdone and Greene most definitely loves himself </curmudgeon>
posted by zeoslap at 11:09 AM on November 14, 2003

This was a terrible disappointment. Repetitive, inane and patronizing.

They let the multimedia department have too much free reign. Any graphic that appeared on the screen had to be accompanied by a "Pop" sound (which started to really grate on me). And God forbid you put a static picture of Isaac Newton without making him do something goofy like roll his eyes around.

Its too bad because they could have created something lasting and educational but instead it feels like a particularly bad episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy.
posted by vacapinta at 11:35 AM on November 14, 2003

Nova's occasionally OK, but I've been spoilt by Horizon, and the Open University. Cosmos was just about the best science documentary series to escape from US television, and that's dated badly. I watched it back to back with Connections recently, which has weathered much better.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:40 PM on November 14, 2003

VeGiTo: Yes, I watched it on PBS. I thought I mentioned that but I must have editted it out before posting. I *wish* I could have skimmed in 13 minutes... ;-)

Bear in mind that I wanted to like it, but it epitomized everything I dislike about science education. God forbid somebody out in the audience might not catch something, so lets just repeat it 20 times to make sure. (And if you count the number of times "But now, String Theory may reveal how the universe works" (forgive the accuracy of the quote, it was a couple of weeks ago), I think you'll find it easily was literally 20 times; I'm not just exaggerating. Also count how many times it was pointed out that gravity was a very different force; granted, it was said in two or three different contexts but it was said far more then two or three times.)

Also bear in mind that I have enjoyed many, many other Nova programs in the past, including many on physics (like the search for the top quark one), so it's not like my expectations are so lofty that they can't be met.

But those focused on content, not flashy graphics.

Perhaps the problem is simply that the Nova crew have never had this much money before, and they got hit with DTP-syndrome. ("DeskTop Publishing syndrome" - the first time you sit down in front of a WYSIWYG word processer and produce a document with 23 distinct fonts, not counting color, bold, and italicized variations. Made even worse in the Multimedia Era when you could embed sound and movies, too.)
posted by Jeremy Bowers at 1:41 PM on November 14, 2003

I thought it was pretty good, and the special effects were definitely entertaining, but it seemed there were factual errors abound.. which is quite amazing in a program about theory!

More than watchable though, and in a nice format. I have little to no interest in the non-computer sciences, never bothered listening in science class at school, and so have even less knowledge on the subject. While I understood what was being said, some of it was new to me (Strong forces and weak forces? I don't remember any of that from school).

The third episode is on tonight in the UK, so I'll give it a watch, but I don't think the series bears a repeat showing. The whole bit about multiple dimensions at the end of the second hour was quite interesting, however.

Now bring on the documentaries about practical uses of calculus in algorithm development, database normalization and domain key normal form, and virtual machines, and I'll be on the edge of my seat! ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 1:59 AM on November 16, 2003

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