This is not in any way the kind of book that usually frequents my bookshelf. But after Hawking’s recent death I felt compelled to read his most famous work, perhaps to try and better understand the man.
This review covers the three most simple things that I took from reading this incredible book.
1. Stephen Hawking was an incredible man
No-one could possible deny it. Indeed, to watch the news coverage on his sad passing only serves to highlight just how respected and how loved he really was.
However, on reading A Brief history of time, I developed an even greater sense of his incredible talent, and I became (if possible) even more in awe of him. Hawking’s knowledge – it goes without saying – is beyond impressive, but his wit and also his ability to share the most complex of details in the simplest way, makes him truly awe-inspiring.
“Questions about our origins were once regarded as the territory of philosophers and theologians. But gradually the answers have been proven by science; speculations have been replaced by hard facts.”
2. We are small. And we are young.
Everyone knows that the universe is enormous, virtually infinite in nature. But to read about it in such great depth as Hawking has provided, one starts to comprehend just how truly small we are.
Hawking refers to, and draws on, a lot of theories developed by scientists throughout history, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Galileo etc. It really began to resonate with me just how young mankind really is, when Hawking referred to outdated theories that were made hundreds of years ago, but also refers to the origins of the universe billions of years ago.
“So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be.”
3 The Universe is mysterious
Reading this book made me so incredibly curious. What secrets of the universe have we yet to uncover? What wonders might we find through further study and experimentation.
Take for example Hawking’s explanation of the black hole. The event horizon; from which not even light can escape. Reading Hawking’s words had me questioning just what secrets a black hole has and what might possibly exist beyond the event horizon. (If you’ve seen Interstellar you might expect the inside of the black hole contain a floating Matthew McConaughey behind a child’s bookshelf.) But the possibilities are fascinating.
Up to now, most scientists have been too occupied with the development of new theories that describe what the universe is to ask the question why. On the other hand, the people whose business it is to ask why, the philosophers, have not been able to keep up with the advance of scientific theories. In the eighteenth century, philosophers considered the whole of human knowledge, including science, to be their field and discussed questions such as: Did the universe have a beginning? However, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, science became too technical and mathematical for the philosophers, or anyone else except a few specialists. Philosophers reduced the scope of their inquiries so much that Wittgenstein, the most famous philosopher of this century, said, ‘The sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language.’ What a comedown from the great tradition of philosophy from Aristotle to Kant!
However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason–for then we would know the mind of God.
I loved how this book detailed such huge and difficult concepts for a wider audience. I generally find reading about theories and scientific information quite challenging- often they can be presented in a very dry way. I find it difficult to focus on the details being explained and often struggle to understand a concept fully without reading the thing four or five times! But with A Brief History of Time, Hawking has constructed his words in such a way that is easily accessible to a mainstream audience. The examples that he has given allow the reader to better understand the comparisons that he gives and therefor gain a better understanding of the concepts depicted.