I feel stressed when I don’t have a plan about where I am going to. I care about the future and I worry about tomorrow every hour of the day but I barely think about the past. I don’t wonder where I came from and how I got here and most importantly, I do not use this knowledge or experience to get more easily to where I am going. And even if sometimes I decide to crave on where I came from, I read philosophical non-fiction. I never thought I would actually read a book that combines physics, religion, and philosophy to arrive at a comprehensive understanding to all the theories about our origin. The famous scientist Sir Stephen Hawking (whom some compare to Einstein) presents a comprehensible picture of the way human beings thought about the beginning of the world and how they think now. Going from the Greeks, passing through Newton and Einstein, and arriving at the most contemporary theories, Hawking successfully transforms the largely misunderstood subject of quantum physics into something every non-specialist might understand.
A Brief History of Time is really brief. I don’t know how, but Hawking manages to encompass all stages of the development of human thinking, to summarize them understandably in 200 pages, and to even make this readable and enjoyable. For those of you who hate physics (as I do) or simply don’t get it (again as I do) there are no equations but Einstein’s famous E=mc^2. Instead, the famous scientist and Cambridge professor includes numerous graphs, which help understand the complicated features of the uncertainty principle, quantum physics, light cones, time, etc. Most interestingly, though, unlike a typical scientist, Hawking doesn’t exclude philosophy or religion from his reflections. He doesn’t exclude the possibility that God created the world but of course he asks the relevant question “Why did he created it this way?” Did he want us to understand the complexities of the surrounding world and if not, why did he create it in such organized fashion? From philosophical point of view, Hawking implies that maybe if the universe had been different, we would not be here. In other words, only in a few universes would the conditions be right for complicated organisms to develop; and only these organisms will be able to ask themselves the question “Why is the universe the way we see it?” The argument goes round in a circle but Hawking manages to comprehensively read the leader to the conclusion.
Newton, Einstein, Kant, and the other great minds are no longer incomprehensible but rather clear and easy to grasp. Hawking departs from his mind of a great scientist and comes closer to the ordinary reader in his attempt to enlighten the masses on the history of time, on its current developments, and on its future endeavors to develop a complete theory about the origin of the world. One of the most impressive theories on time and on the concept of its three arrows explains why we remember the past and not the future, why we move forward and not backward, and why the universe expands instead of contracting. The thermodynamic arrow (direction of time in which disorder increases), the cosmological arrow (direction of time in which the universe expands), and the psychological arrow (direction of time in which we remember the past but not the future) coexist in harmony because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t be here to even ask these questions.
I am not a believer but I appreciate that the author doesn’t exclude God from his equation. He admits his possible role and he even ends the book with an expression I liked very much: “If we find [a unified theory], it would be the ultimate triumph — for then we would know the mind of God.”
I fervently recommend A Brief History of Time. I was determined to like it because it was a present from a very important person but I say with certainty that my desire to like it didn’t in anyway affect my judgement. Indeed, it is a brief, comprehensive investigation of the deep and dark fields of physics, which, if it wasn’t for one of the most cherished scientists of our century, I wouldn’t have ever touched to. The fact that I still managed to extract philosophical conclusions about myself and my life from this book, speaks enough for me. I loved it. I just hope I really understood it since at times I was partially confused. Re-reading it is definitely in my short-term plans.