Friday, April 24, 2009

Everything is a Theory

18. The Theory of Everything by Stephen Hawking

First off, don't ask me to explain Stephen Hawking's theories. I did learn what he thinks is going to happen to the universe (though even he admits he doesn't fully understand), but I did not comprehend his simple but oh so baffling explanations.

The book is comprised of seven lectures. The language is concise, with simplistic examples to illustrate what is happening to the universe. Hawking provides a brief history of research into the origins of the universe, black holes, the time line, and the fate of the universe. His research, and all the modern research up to the time the lectures were published (2002), are included. At the time, Hawking believed that he and others were working toward a unified theory that would explain the origins and fate of the universe, and would combine quantum mechanics, general relativity, string theory etc.

Some of Hawkling's theories (I can't say conclusions, because science, especially physics, by its nature is never concluded), include that the universe is expanding (there is evidence for this in the spectra of stars that have been analyzed and certain radiations that have been observed), that the universe is finite but without boundary (he rejects, but still flirts with the Big Bang theory), that black holes exist and, contrary to definition, emit radiation, and that imaginary time or alternate timelines exist.

His theories are quite a bonanza for science fiction, in my opinion. What I could understand sounded logical, but most of what I could not understand sounded very contradictory. I think this is just because the breadth and depth of his theories are so intense, and well, wild. If the universe had no beginning, how can it be finite? Wouldn't it have to be infinite? And if black holes by definition suck everything in, including light, how can they emit radiation? And string theory is just crazy, crazy stuff. I'm not even sure if the strings in question are hypothetical or not. How can imaginary time exist and not exist at the same time? (And how do you define existence then...)

Hawking mentions the Creator a lot too, he is careful to include openings citing the possibility that God could still exist, but in the end he does ask where there is room for the Creator in a universe without a boundary. Hawking is not shy either, he suggests he could win the Nobel Prize if there is sufficient evidence for one of his theories about black holes. However, since it is a lecture, I could understand how many of his self-congratulations would make more sense when speaking to a class, perhaps ironically.

This is definitely something I need to read again, and something that needs to be taught in schools, until children understand it. Hawking remarks that if a unified theory could be achieved, then a simplified version of it could be available for everyone, not just specialists. Then, maybe we could use that information to improve our sense of peace with ourselves and others.

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