John Oliver traveled to Cambridge to interview Stephen Hawking for the June 14 episode of Last Week Tonight, kicking off its new feature “People Who Think Good.”
When asked what one thing he wished people would understand about his work, Hawking replied:
Imaginary time. People think it’s something you have in dreams. Or when you’re up against a deadline. But it’s a well-defined concept. Imaginary time is like another direction in space. It’s the one bit of my work science fiction writers haven’t used. Because they don’t understand it.
Oliver and Hawking are thoroughly entertaining as they alternate between cosmic truth and abrasive wit.
Isn’t Hawking’s imaginary time much the same as the premise of Heinlein’s Number of the Beast, which involves two additional axes of time — “tau” and “teh” in addition to the “t” axis we normally perceive — all three at right angles to the others, like the three spatial dimensions? Perhaps other SF writers understand the concept perfectly well, but have been wary of using it because of the association with an established work?