By Chet Yarbrough
A Brief History of Time
By Stephen Hawking
Narrated by Michael Jackson
Stephen Hawking (English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author)
In Physics time, this is an old book because it dates before the year 2000. However, it remains a fairly good layman’s overview of the state of physics.
This surprise bestseller is not easy to understand in spite of its brevity and avoidance of mathematics. Without additional reading, “A Brief History of Time” is less intelligible than more recent “physics for the laymen” books (see previous reviews).
Hawking describes the relativity of time, black holes, the big bang theory, God, and string theory (the most current research subject involving unified field theory).
An interesting and revealing observation in Hawking’s book is a comment about the lack of philosophical perspective in the field of Physics. Hawking suggests that philosophers choose not to examine theories of physics because of the abstruse and specialized nature of the research that make it difficult for outsiders to understand. There is some truth in that observation but one can read Will Durant’s 1929 edition of “The Mansions of Philosophy” or his revision (“The Pleasures of Philosophy”) in 1953 and see that Durant believed philosophy was in decline long before specialized research in physics.
Hawking explains that time is not a constant measurement for all observers. Time is relative. Depending on one person’s speed of travel, his measurement of time is different from another person’s measurement of time if the other person is traveling at a different speed. The theory suggests that time travel is possible if man can travel at speeds nearing the speed of light.
Black holes are high density, gravitational points in the universe that are so powerful that anything within their grasp (their event horizons) will be sucked into their maws, never to be seen again. The belief is that black holes (though not actually black) come from imploding stars; i.e. stars that have lost their source of nuclear reaction that become so dense that their force of gravitation draws anything near them into their mass.
Hawking believes time began when our universe exploded from a single point in the cosmos. Before the big bang, there was no concept of time. Our universe is expanding from that singular event and will do one of three things. It will continue to expand, it will expand to a point and than contract, or it will reach a point of stasis.
The quest for a unified field theory is a physics journey that began with Newton and progressed through Einstein and Dirac. The search continues, passing to future generations. Finding a unified field theory, in Hawking’s opinion, would be like reading the mind of God.