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Stephen Hawking's Universe Mass Market Paperback – June 1, 1989
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Author John Boslough wrote in the Prologue to this 1985 book, “Since 1962 Hawking had suffered from a wasting disease called motor neuron disease. It has slowly taken most of his nervous and muscular functions. He cannot walk and can barely talk… yet he has made some of the most significant strides in theoretical physics in his generation, changing the way we look at the universe… His accomplishment is not due simply to his will to live or to the fact that he is a survivor, though he is certainly a tough and stubborn man. He succeeds because of his intellect, and as the ravages of his disease have… taken his physical powers from him, he has come to live a life of the mind… A totally cerebral man, he demonstrates the power of the human intellect to fathom the universe when the restless mind is set free.”AWK
He acknowledges, “However, Hawking is not without his critics in the tightly knit physics community. One top theoretician at Princeton told me once, ‘He is working on the same things everybody else is. He just receives a lot of attention because of his condition.’ Other physicists have accused him of being overly dramatic and argumentative at science conferences.” (Pg. 21)
He notes, “On several occasions Einstein said or wrote, ‘God does not play dice with the universe.’ … Decades later Stephen Hawking replied, ‘God not only plays dice, but sometimes he throws them where they cannot be seen.’ It was not as pithy as Einstein’s remark, but it made Hawking’s point: time and knowledge have at last overtaken Einstein.” (Pg. 35)
He explains, “[Hawking and Roger Penrose] developed several key theories about the structure of space and time and singularities, showing that it was with a singularity that the universe began. Demonstrating that the universe began as a singularity of infinite density, similar to the end product of a star in ultimate collapse, was no easy task… ‘Most people working on the problem believed that to get close to the truth you had to have a complicated solution with numerous irregularities on a large scale,’ Hawking said with a laugh. ‘Nobody wanted to believe that the truth could be as simple as it was.’” (Pg. 42-43)
He observes, “Hawking and other theorists are convinced that the long-sought unifying theory in physics---the theory that would explain the central interaction of the universe---lies at the periphery of black holes or similar peculiar constructions… Such a mathematical construction should, at least in theory, be able to explain the construction of every bit of matter in the universe as well as all the forces that interact between this matter… Farfetched as it sounds, Hawking, assures me that physics is within twenty years or less of such an all-encompassing concept.” (Pg. 51)
He discloses, “In early 1974 Hawking… knew that if his ideas about exploding black holes were right, it would revolutionize astrophysics… If Hawking were proven wrong, it could take him years to regain his credibility. So he waited, going over and over the calculations in his head and talking to only a few close friends and colleagues about the black-hole emission that wouldn’t go away. It did not help that some colleagues questioned the results… [Dennis] Sciama quietly urged Hawking to publish his results… The initial reaction proved worse than he had feared. Could he actually be wrong? Hawking wondered briefly. The next month he published his results in Nature… Within days physicists around the world were talking about it… A few physicists even called the new theory one of the most significant findings in theoretical physics in years.” (Pg. 71-72)
He says, “I wondered about the problem of the universe at singularity, the ‘beginning of time,’ in Hawking’s language… ‘Well, certainly you might be able to construct a cosmological model without singularity using a bubble,’ [Hawking] said. ‘But I don’t really think that it would help the singularity in a gravitational collapse. And it still would not get rid of the singularity in black holes. In short, I don’t think the bubble concept would get rid of the initial singularity. But it is possible,’ he said, uncharacteristically uncertain.” (Pg. 94)
He quotes Hawking: “‘if we can apply quantum mechanics to the universe, then one is led naturally to a picture in which the universe has all sorts of different branches.’ Are these actual, physical regions that could be observed? ‘No, they would not be physical branches,’ he said. ‘It just means that there is a nonzero probability for the universe to have a lot of different forms. Just as there is a probability for it to be open and a probability for it to be closed. Maybe,’ he said, clearly enjoying the speculation, ‘it is just that we are in a particular branch of the universe which is just on the borderline between being open and being closed. The most remarkable thing about the universe is that is it so close to the borderline between open and closed. The probabilities against it being on such a borderline are enormous. Yet it is still so close that we haven’t been able to decide which side it is on.’” (Pg. 103)
Boslough states in the final chapter, “It may soon become evident that science will never be able to take us to the exact moment of creation---only up to that point where philosophy, metaphysics, and theology begin. Stephen Hawking has made a tentative foray into this uncertain area. ‘The odds against a universe like ours emerging from something like the Big Bang are enormous,’ he told me. ‘I think there are clearly religious implications wherever you start to discuss the origins of the universe. There must be religious overtones. But I think most scientists prefer to shy away from the religious side of it.’” (Pg. 109)
This is an excellent, clearly-written introduction to Hawking and his ideas---at least, as they were back in the 1980s. Hawking has changed a number of his ideas since that time, but this book is nevertheless an excellent introduction to the man, and his work.
Mr. Boslough has done a good job of putting together a short (150 pages), readable, and fast-paced overview of Hawking the person and the physics concepts associated with him.
Because of the compact format, many, if not most, of the concepts are described too briefly for my taste although they remain interesting and flow logically enough.
Recent observations and advances in cosmology have necessarily given this book an outdated feel. However, a person with a casual interest in the subject should be able to follow along easily and gain insights into Hawking's cerebral world of physics, thereby attaining a starting point for further study.
I found a couple annoying typos, but only a couple.
As most of those who follow cosmology probably already know, Stephen Hawking is afflicted with a serious neuromuscular disease. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease (after the baseball player who died of the disorder) had confined Hawking to a wheelchair by the writing of the book and has since put him on a portable ventilator. Having worked with people suffering with this disorder earlier in my career, I can attest both to the seriousness of the malady and to my surprise that the gentleman has survived as long as he has. Both facts make his intellectual achievements, the dedication of his caretakers, and his own personal tenacity for life very real to me and very impressive.
John Boslough, the author, is a scientific journalist. He appears to understand physics at least well enough to describe it for the layperson, and does so in a readable style. He also creates a biography that is flattering to the subject without diminishing the contributions of others to the field. The book is, however, extremely simple, more of a history of the development of the theory of the big bang and black holes than a thorough explanation of them, and the interested reader would do well to look at Hawking's own popular writings on the subject for a more thorough and professional point of view. My only complaint about the book would be that it does not contain any form of bibliography, a resource I always consider one of a book's most valuable assets. It helps the reader to find material for further study, and it also provides a measure of the preparedness of the author on his topic!
I'd recommend the book to any beginner who is curious about the Big Bang Theory, about black holes, the Theory of Relativity, the Theory of Quantum Mechanics, or about Stephen Hawking. I would also say that any person from junior high level or above would be able to understand the material.
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