Brief Answers to the Big Questions: the final book from Stephen Hawking Hardcover – 16 Oct 2018
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A beautiful book from a brilliant mind (Daily Telegraph)
Almost everything in Brief Answers is effortlessly instructive, absorbing, up to the minute and - where it matters - witty (Guardian)
The best, most mind-bending sort of physics: black holes, time travel, the origins of the universe (The Times)
It is that ultra-distinctive voice (modest, profound, sometimes very funny) that knits this book together (Sunday Times)
The final book from Professor Stephen Hawking, the bestselling author of A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME and arguably the most famous scientist of our age, BRIEF ANSWERS TO THE BIG QUESTIONS is a profound, accessible and timely reflection on the biggest questions in science.See all Product description
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The most interesting chapters for me were the purely scientific ones; on Black Holes and time travel. However, I was disappointed that, on page 93, Hawking explains the Uncertainty Principle incorrectly. He describes it as the impossibility of measuring the position of a particle (e.g. an electron) without disturbing its speed by shining a quantum of light on it. This is true but it is not the Uncertainty Principle which says that a sub-atomic particle does not have a precisely defined position and momentum (due to its wave-nature).
As other reviewers have noted, there is quite a lot of repetition; the last two chapters could have usefully been edited into one. Hawking can sometimes be quite naïve, as when he suggest that Artificial Intelligence will help us eradicate poverty. If we had the collective will, we could have eliminated poverty already. AI is not likely to improve our willingness to co-operate as one world. Hawking is very keen on us colonising other planets in order to preserve the human race; but is it morally right, having stripped the Earth of resources and polluted it, to do the same to other worlds?
Then there is the God question. “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science” (page 29). “Laws of science” (better –“Laws of Nature”) can mean two things. First, it means the regular way in which matter/energy interacts with space/time. Second, it means the theories and equations by which scientists describe the orderly way in which these ingredients of the universe interact. If there is nothing – no matter/energy and no space/time – there can be no Laws of Science/Nature. In the second case the Laws exist in the minds of scientists. So if the universe was created according to the laws of science/nature, those laws presumably pre-existed in a mind – which could well be the mind of God.
Hawking says that the energy balance of the universe is zero (page 31f). The positive energy produced in the Big Bang is exactly balanced by the negative energy of space produced by gravity. His analogy for this is a man digging a hole to make a hill on a flat piece of land. “This is the principle behind what happened at the beginning of the universe” (page 32). One obvious flaw in this analogy is that an agent (the man) is required to carry out the process. What is the equivalent agent for starting off the universe?
Lucy Hawking provides a moving Afterword on her father’s funeral but I was surprised (even shocked) when she wrote that her father “got up every day, put on a suit and went to work” (page 217). He didn’t. He had carers who got him up, washed him, fed him, toileted him and dressed him. I am disappointed that Lucy Hawking offers not a single word to thank or recognise these carers. I have tried to find out something about these people but have only been able to discover that there were four nurses to provide 24/7 care; not to mention the technical staff who enabled him to communicate and be mobile. I fully respect Hawking’s scientific genius and his resilience and determination in overcoming his physical limitations but it seems to me that it is this anonymous group of carers who are the real heroes of the Stephen Hawking story.