The questions asked are pertinent, and the effort put into this endeavor is commendable. The approach – asking groups of three “ordinary people” to do certain experiments – is simple, as one would expect from a basic popular science show.
At the end of each experiment, the participants “discover” the answer, or more precisely are guided towards the answer desired by the producers. Being “ordinary”, these participants are easily awed and do not really have any challenging follow up questions that would break the spell.
The show is not about discovery or hard questions with multiple, conflicting answers, but about the producers trying to convince the audience to adopt their beliefs. Having undersigned the show, Stephen Hawking must be at least in agreement if not the source of these beliefs.
It is thus very disappointing to see the shallowness of the set of beliefs held by this living genius worshiped by millions. If he has any doubts about the standard dogma, the show certainly does a good job of hiding them.
To address just two of the “experiments”: in Episode 5: “What Are We?” a seemingly random collection of yellow and blue magnetic pieces are held in a tray that is shaken in an apparent random motion. Some yellow pieces attach to each other forming yellow balls while some blue pieces form blue balls. The idea is that order and complexity “evolves” from chaos without any intervention. This is nice, except the pieces were designed to fit just right and the setup was probably thoroughly tested before the show. Had the audience known, the whole premise of random and chaos would have been compromised.
The following experiment takes place at a castle where the “mindless” volunteers make initially “random” shapes that then are launched with a trebuchet at an establish target. The closest landed pieces are then duplicated by the “mindless” until all pieces converge “unguided” to the “fittest for survival” shape. But again, the whole set-up is designed by humans and if the target means anything, it means only to the designers.
Either way, this show is much more thought provoking than the standard “science” show that jumps straight to the dogmatic preaching without ever bothering to ask a decent fundamental question.