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Brief Answers To The Big Questions

Stephen Hawking

Brief Answers To The Big Questions

The book includes 10 questions, starting with "Is There a God?" and ending with the very inspirational "How Do We Shape the Future?" Between these two, Hawking discourses on the existence of God (he denies it, with arguments that believers might find unconvincing while nonbelievers will take as essential atheistic gospel), on the origin of the universe and of life, on time travel, on what's inside black holes, on whether there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, on whether we can predict the future, on the real or imagined threats from aliens and artificial intelligence and so on.

If there is a unifying theme across the book, it is Hawking's deep faith in science's ability to solve humanity's biggest problems — be they in theoretical physics or the future of our species on Earth. His answers to the big questions illustrate his belief in the rationality of nature and on our ability to uncover all its secrets. His optimism permeates every page.

Hawking is a staunch defender of the search for a "theory of everything" in physics, an attempt to bring together the four (known) forces that govern how matter particles interact with one another into a single umbrella-like description. Hawking's enthusiasm is not deflated by the fact that many of the experimental signals for this theory have so far failed to materialize, despite active searches for the past four decades. "In 1980, I said I thought there was a 50-50 chance that we would discover a complete unified theory in the next twenty years. We have made some remarkable progress in the period since then, but the final theory seems about the same distance away. Will the Holy Grail of physics be always just beyond our reach? I think not."

To his mind, there has to be some underlying rational order to nature, one that is based on ultimate simplicity and symmetry. Still, given the experimental challenges to probe physics at the ultra-high energies where this unified behavior might materialize, he concedes that "to a large extent we shall have to rely on mathematical beauty and consistency to find the ultimate theory of everything." The ultimate nature of reality, then, would be an untestable construction of the human mind, a view that many scientists and philosophers consider very controversial. I have critiqued it elsewhere.

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