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My theory on the Big Bang Theory January 30, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in humor, physics, science, science fiction, societal commentary.
Tags: , , , ,

I really don’t watch much TV, but I do own all of the Big Bang Theory that’s available on DVD.  Most of my friends really enjoy it, too, and I have a theory why that is:  I think that it’s one of the few TV shows that nerds can stand to watch because it is far more factually correct than most TV shows.

Most of the nerds I know are the ones who annoy everyone else at movies by making commentary throughout about the impossibility or improbability of what they’re witnessing.  (In particular, my older son is this way.  Of course, he also likes to tell you what’s going to happen next, so he’s been banned from speaking during movies.)  Suspension of disbelief becomes a little harder when you’re faced with something you know cannot possibly happen.

I think this became obvious to me in where Sheldon was waxing (un)poetic about how great Isaac Newton was.  Leonard made some comment meant in sarcasm, and Sheldon’s response was to say that Leonard disputed Newton’s claim that he invented calculus so Leonard wanted to put Leibniz at the top of the Christmas tree.

Most people who have no clue about calculus would probably laugh at this scene because Sheldon missed the point of the sarcasm.  On the other hand, those of us who know anything about calculus might have been laughing because we knew exactly to what he was referring.  And it made me ponder…would I want Newton at the top of my tree, or Leibniz?  For the record, I would have been fine with Newton at the top of the tree because he did a lot more than invent calculus…but I still am glad for Leibniz’s wonderful notation. Either way, you couldn’t have just thrown any mathematician or physicist’s name out.  It HAD to be Leibniz because the rivalry is so historic and well-known among mathophiles.

As I go through the show, I find little details like that a lot, and I really enjoy them.  Whether or not I want to, I tend to pay attention to those points and letting them go is tough.  Sometimes they even draw me in more than just the storyline does.  In the episode where Sheldon is attempting to teach Penny physics, I kept thinking, “There’s better ways to explain that.”  And when she was supposed to answer a question, it felt like sitting in a classroom and wanting to blurt out the answer.

It’s a real treat to watch a show that doesn’t use science as some sort of nifty backdrop to the story, where the science actually is important to the story or at least makes it more fun.  And better yet, it still manages to entertain all the non-physicists out there, too.


1. Carmen Parisi - January 30, 2012

Great point. So many times I find myself yelling at the TV because of something stupid a character has said or done. What makes it ten times worse is the fact that a 5 second Google/Wikipedia search could have told the writers how ridiculous most of their premises are. The fact that The Big Bang theory strives to be correct and factual is a huge plus in my book.

Carmen Parisi - January 30, 2012

To further prove my point I offer up this Cracked.com article 8 Scenes That Prove Hollywood Doesn’t Get Technology. (Mildly NFSW writing)


2. Katiesci - January 30, 2012

The biggest complaint I’ve heard about the show is the stereotyping of scientists as socially clueless geeks. I love the show but I can understand how that would annoy people.

Carmen Parisi - January 30, 2012

Yeah, occasionally I’ll see a spot in an episode where, in my opinion, a joke was shoehorned in for the sole purpose of perpetuating the scientist stereotype. These moments don’t really fit and just come across as awkward and forced. Thankfully these moments are pretty far and few between and I’m still a big fan.

mareserinitatis - January 30, 2012

You know, given the physicists I know…I’d actually have to say they’re spot on most of the time. :-D Any other science, probably not. I think they could also pull this off if the main characters were mathematicians.

3. Blaise Pascal - January 30, 2012

I will fully admit to not having watched much BBT (I haven’t had broadcast TV service since before it started, and it is not available through any streaming service I subscribe to), but my recollection of what I saw was that the science wasn’t important to the story.

Yes, it’s important to the characters, and the science they show and mention is accurate, but would the stories be that much different if, instead of Leonard and Sheldon being physicists arguing about Newton and Liebnitz they were auditors arguing the merits of cash-basis and accrual-basis accounting?

The dialog would change, the stereotypes would be different, but would the basic stories be different?

mareserinitatis - January 30, 2012

Probably not…although there are a few episodes where it does become important, like when sheldon gets stuck working on a theory.

But if they got the facts wrong, it was just be plain irritating to watch.

4. joshuca - February 6, 2012

I love the BBT!

5. nicoleandmaggie - February 20, 2012

Definitely Leibniz. Doesn’t Newtonian notation in physics drive you crazy? I can’t stand it in economics and translate to Leibniz whenever I can. But maybe that’s my math background as I was a mathematician before I was an economist.

mareserinitatis - February 20, 2012

I’ve only seen a couple examples of Newtonian notation, but based on that, I’d have to agree.


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