Monday, March 27, 2006

Captain’s Book Review: “The Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe”

This book is actually a collection of essays and lectures given by Stephen Hawking. For those who don’t know who Stephen Hawking is, I suggest you get with the program. Some would say he is the Einstein of our day.

The essays are ordered chronologically. It starts out discussing theories of the universe from a historical perspective – sorta the history of the history of the universe. I learned how the view of the universe has changed over the centuries and how, even though we are obviously learning more and more everyday, there has always been “scientists” who think that we’ve learned it all.

One of the reasons I admire Dr. Hawking is because he knows when to admit that he is wrong. In the book, he admits that he lost a bet because he originally though that nothing could escape from a black hole, which turned out to be somewhat incorrect.

I also like his sense of humor. While some scientists abhor science fiction (such as Star Trek), he seems to not only admire it, but contribute to it (see Star Trek Reference below). He also uses science fiction to help get his point across and for the occasional humor.

As the book’s title indicates, Dr. Hawking discusses various views on whether or not there is a “master theory”. He doesn’t say for sure if there is, but it seems that he leans toward the idea that there is no “master theory” to explain everything. Instead, you need a sequence of and infinite number of theories to get a more and more accurate description of the universe. If we were able to find a “master theory”, however, then we would “know the mind of God”.

Dr. Hawking takes a rather interesting view of God. From what I have read, he believes in God. For a good believer, it is not simply enough to accept that God exits. God has given us a mind to think and reason and expects us to use it in that way. Dr. Hawking does a wonderful job in stimulating ideas and thoughts. Some of my favorite parts of the book were:

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?... Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? Or does it need a creator, and, if so does he have any other effect on the universe? And who created him?”

“So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end, it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?”

I just found out something very odd about this book. According to Stephen Hawking’s official website (the supposed author of the book):

“It has come to our attention that the book "The Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe" has been published. Professor Hawking would like to make it clear that he has not endorsed this book. The text was written by him many years ago, however the material has already been published in books such as 'A Brief History of Time'. A complaint was made to the Federal Trade Commission in the US in the hope that they would prevent the publication. We would urge you not to purchase this book in the belief that Professor Hawking was involved in its creation.”

“The Theory of Everything” is quite short – only took me a few hours to read it while on the treadmill. Except for a few technical details that even a physicist-wannabe like me gets lost in, I enjoyed every though-provoking part of this book. However, I would follow Hawking’s recommendation to read “A Brief History of Time” instead – which is exactly what I intend to do shortly.

Star Trek Reference:
Stephen Hawking appeared in person on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was playing poker with the android Data on the holodeck. Also sitting at the table were Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton. For more detail about this, visit:


At 6:41 PM, Blogger Khomsta said...

I always wanted to read Hawkings' material. But I was always afraid I might get sucked into this physics vortex and I'd be sorely disappointed. Ah, I need to start doing things without thinking about the consequences. :P


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