Earth’s Rock and Roll

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


How the Earth Works

By: Professor Michael E. Wysession

Narrated by Professor Wysession

Michael Wysession (Lecturer, Professor of Earth and Plaentary Science at Washington University in St. Louis).

Professor Michael Wysession believes the origin of earth began with the “The Big Bang”.  He explains how earth is in constant motion. Wysession implies “The Big Bang” reverberates today as evidence of its truth.

Most know some of the story of earth’s creation, destruction, and re-creation, but few know everything Wysession reveals.  Yes, the world was once one large land mass amid a body of water that covered the earth.  This land mass broke apart to become seven continents.  What is surprising to some is that this singular land mass called Pangaea is only one of several land masses in earth’s history.

A precursor to Pangaea is Rodinia which is believed to have formed 1.3 to 1.23 billion years ago. Another singular land mass is Pannotia assembled 600 million years ago.

Rodinia (A super-continent long before Pangaea).

There were several super-continents before Pangaea.  Each iteration of a singular land mass evolved over millions of years based on moving plate combinations and re-combinations. Wysession goes on to explain the theory of Plate Tectonics.   

Contrary to the myth of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” there is no space at earth’s center.  The center of earth is solid iron; surrounded by a molten nickel-iron alloy.  Though the center of the earth is solid, it has movement but not like that experienced in the lithosphere. 

Despite the great heat at earth’s center, its center is iron that is not liquefied.  The geometric pressure of Earth’s interior overcomes lead’s liquefaction at its core 

Wysession explains that geologists have found several (more than seven and less than twenty-four) plates that float within a layer of earth called the lithosphere.  The lithosphere consists of the crust and upper mantle of earth.  This crust and upper mantle cover a solid core made of iron that is super-heated by radioactivity. 

Wysession notes the core of earth moves with pressures exerted by changes in the lithosphere.  Plate Tectonics affect earth’s molten nickel-iron alloy and its solid core.  Earth is always in a state of motion; often imperceptible to the eye but always moving.

Wysession explains how everything on earth moves but at different speeds.  Even the hardest and largest rocks move over time.

Wind can be a tornado or a breeze.  Water can be a gentle rain or a tsunami.  Rocks erode over centuries of wind and rain, but instantly break in avalanches.  Humans may think they are standing still, but the earth constantly moves in a circle and hurdles deeper into the universe as a small part of a galaxy.  Nothing on earth is at rest.

Wysession notes how apocryphal stories in the bible may be founded on the truth of earth’s history.  The threat of subduction in a tectonic plate could explain the legend of Atlantis or the parting of the “Red Sea” in the time of Moses. 

Wysession notes there are three types of faults that cause earthquakes.  There is a divergent fault, a convergent fault, and a transform fault.  The first is one that has two plates the move away from each other with molten rock plugging the gap.  The second is when two plates collide but one rushes beneath another, or if equal in size, create a mountain at the collision point.  The third is like the San Adreas Fault in California where tectonic plates rub against each other.

Wysession notes any plate movement can be disastrous and kill many people, but a transform fault shakes the earth while a convergent fault makes land disappear (subduct) or rise like a mountain.

A frightening observation by Wysession is the difference between the tectonic faults in the La-San Francisco corridor and Seattle, Washington. 

Both are at risk of earthquakes, but Seattle’s plate tectonics are convergent faults while San Franciso/LA’s are transform faults. 

Wysession’s observation on the difference in these faults suggests the geological change in Seattle from an earthquake will be much greater than in the LA-San Francisco area. Deaths will be equally catastrophic but the change in topography will be geometrically greater in Seattle.

Wysession continues with a detailed lecture on volcanic eruptions.

Anyone who lived in Washington when Mt. St. Helens erupted will confirm Wysession’s explanation of volcanic events.  Living in eastern Washington when that eruption occurred makes one fully appreciate Wysession’s lecture. Over 200 miles from the eruption, a beautiful summer day turns into night. (It was like a biblical event.)

You cannot see a hand in front of your face in a few hours after St. Helen’s eruption.  Cars are covered in fine flakes of ash.  Everyone with any sense stays indoors because unfiltered air is unbreathable.

There seems a surprise in every Wysession’ lecture. Things we did not know or fully appreciate are pointed out. There is the incredible power in earth’s weakest force, better known as gravity, that creates and destroys the universe.

We see the deterioration of monuments of granite from centuries of weathering and the force of gravity. Rocks fall down, the face of the earth changes, deserts are formed, and jungles evolve. But, we fail to comprehend the eternal change of our world because of geological time frames, and our short lived lives.

Today we worry about destruction of forests in Brazil because of the loss of carbon dioxide eating trees. We fail to realize the largest desert in the world is Antarctica, and jungles of the rain forest do not have enough organic material in their soil to grow food to sustain life. We underestimate the critical impact of a dwindling potable water supply.

The last chapters of Wysession’s lectures deal with climate change and the impact of geological change on the history of humankind.

Like many science specialists, Wysession’s claim that a principle cause of revolutions and other world events is closely related to geological events. It is a somewhat plausible argument but it fails to recognize the political will of those who are discontented with the status quo

Wysession assesses the worlds use of energy and concludes alternative energy sources will replace carbon based pollutants. He suggests harnessing the geological sources of natural energy like the sun, wind, and ocean currents. They offer plausible replacements for the earth’s dwindling supplies of coal, oil, and gas. However, Wysession thinks in geological time and believes humans have the capacity to innovate their way out of a sixth extinction. One hopes Wysession is right, but what if he is not?

One tends to be skeptical when leaders can arbitrarily change the momentum of environmental change.

There is a great deal more in this 24 hour and 31-minute lecture series.  On the one hand it is revelatory; on the other, it reinforces a belief that human life’s continuation is a chance as much as a choice.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Island of Dr. Moreau

By H.G.Wells

Narrated by: Simon Prebble

H. G. Wells (English Author, 1866-1946)

The Island of Dr. Moreau is an apocryphal story; i.e. it raises many human’ issues—like morality, ethics, meaning of life, and the boundaries of civilization. 

The original story is mired in 1896’ science but the story remains relevant for 21st century cloning and genetic manipulation.  Wells envisions a brilliant physiologist who finds a way to meld the physiological characteristics of man with beast.  This extraordinary feat is not technically revealed which diminishes the sense of suspended belief but the idea opens a Pandora’s Box of evil that is only mitigated by hope.

Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, uses CRSPR to modify the human genome in 2018.

Dr. Moreau’s demented intent is to civilize the animal kingdom by creating “humanimals” that offer opportunity for animals to talk and resist thoughtless instinctive actions.  The idea is crazy on many levels–not the least of which is the evil that lurks in human’ minds that compel equally animalistic instinctive actions; but, Wells tells an apocryphal and believable story about science run amok.

In the 21st century, science advances to the point of cloning and creating an identical living animal.  “Dolly”, the sheep is cloned in 1996.  Science is on the edge of creating new life forms, if not human copies.  The only obstacle appears to be politics; political resistance to the idea of creating life in a test tube. 

Dolly (Born in 1996, dies in 2003 from lung disease and severe arthritis. Her 6 year life span compares unfavorably with the 10 to 12 years of most sheep.)

Political resistance to cloning is weakening as evidenced by the first clone of a man’s leg cell and a cow egg in 1998.  The embryo is destroyed after 12 days but a level of viability is proven.  (Coincidentally, Wells includes a bovine human in The Island of Dr. Moreau.)

In 2008, a biotechnology company created five mature human embryos from the nucleus of skin cells planted into a human egg.  The embryos are allowed to mature to a viable inner cell mass called a blastocyst which is an early structure of mammals.  They were destroyed at that stage but the experiment shows viability at a later stage of human cloning than in 1998.  In 2013, scientists successfully cloned adult human cells.

It is possible to create duplicates of living animals, and human’ cells; add to that the potential of modifying genetic material–a feat achieved, but politically reviled by most scientists and the general public.  For science, “humanimals” seem a viable and potential human creation.

“Humanimals” is a mad-scientist idea.  The seductive interest in this science is that cloning and genetic modification offer opportunities for regeneration of damaged nerve cells, medical cures, organ and limb replacements; etc.  Fear accompanies this avenue of research because the “thrill of discovery” seduces scientists’ into pursuit of knowledge without philosophical, moral, or ethical consideration of consequence. 

A host of moral and philosophical conflicts are raised as science advances toward the creation of life.  When does life become life and what right does a living human being have to end or create life?  One might answer–society already has laws which allow life to end life; so why not create laws that allow creation of life.  There lays the restraining influence of politics; i.e. not all agree with life taking life, right to choose life, right to choose death; so on and so on. 

Politics mitigate the consequence of mad science. However, money, power, and prestige motivate the good and bad of humankind.

Growth of skin cells save a 7 year-old’s life by replacing 60 percent of skin loss from disease in 2015.

Doctor De Luca cultures skin cells from a portion of the boy’s body that is not diseased.

Ray Kurzweil suggests the future of human beings will involve a merger of human’ DNA and micro-technology.   The Island of Dr. Moreau may be re-titled “The Island of Dr. Anonymous” with island earth populated by “humanimals” and “humotics”. 

Like Well’s hero, Edward Prendick, surviving humans may have to leave island earth if they want to remain “only” human.  The fable of Pandora explains that “hope” is the politics of the possible. It may be all that is left at the bottom of the box.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Unnatural Causes

By Dr. Richard Shepard

Narrated by Dr. Richard Shepard

Dr. Richard Shepard (Author, UK Pathologist who investigated many celebrity deaths including Princess Diana.)

Dr. Richard Shepard is an English forensic pathologist.  In a cathartic examination of his profession, Shepard reveals how obsessiveness is a boon and bane in life.  From youth to late middle age, Shepard reflects on his life.

In “Unnatural Causes”, Shepard examines the causes of others’ death. With ever-present foreshadowing, a listener recognizes a man who is going to experience a mid-life crisis. 

In Shepard’s dissection of life, many male listeners will see their own narcissistic lives.  The expense of self-absorption is delusion, and often divorce.  For a male obsessed with a career, the cost of delusion is a crisis of personal identity. 

The cost of divorce is different for men than for women.  The biggest cost of divorce is paid by a wife.  She not only loses a part of her identity; she loses the security of family, friends, and income.

Shepard does not overtly acknowledge the inequity of divorce, but one senses his feeling of guilt.

The personal part of Shepard’s story is a sad commentary on relationship between men and women in the modern world.  It is a picture of many men who grow old with their first wife and abandon them when youth has been spent. 

The primary purpose of Shepard’s book is not to explain men’s narcissism but to explore the profession of forensic science.

There is no question that Shepard’s experience qualifies him as an expert in the field.  From terrorist events in England and 9/11 in the U.S. to the death of Princess Diana, Shepard practices his profession as a revered and respected pathologist.  He explains his obsession for “cause for death” from childhood. 

Having lost his mother at an early age, her absence motivates Shepard to understand what causes death. Though unsure of himself when he first encounters dissection of a human being, Shepard notes how curiosity shuts out any discomforting feelings in cutting and examining internal organs of a human corpse.  His focus is on finding the true cause of death.

In the course of Shepard’s career, his search for “cause of death” is found to be difficult, but not because of death’s pathology. 

Shepard explains how political pressure from the public, the police, and the judicial system influences diagnosis of death. The public may want to know the “cause of death” because of preconceived notions.  The police may want to know the “cause of death: because of their perception of someone’s guilt or innocence.  The judicial system may want “cause of death” based on witnesses for the defense or prosecution.  To Shepard, what someone wants is not relevant.  Only the truth is relevant.

Shepard’s conviction that truth is all that matters leads to a professional crisis. 

A less than reputable couple lose their child to what Shepard concludes is SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).  Based on Shepard’s diagnosis, the couple is set free.  Years later, the couple has another child.  Both parents are alcoholics according to reports given in Shepard’s account of the case.  Years after Shepard’s SIDS determination, a second pathologists reviews the record and finds what he believes to have been child abuse.  The court agrees with the new pathologist and the child is taken from the parents.  Shepard is brought before a board of inquiry to determine whether he should keep his license.

Shepard’s book is worthy of a listener’s time to find out what the board of inquiry decides.  Both the personal and public crises Shepard faces will resonate with anyone who has obsessively pursued a career and had his/her personal integrity challenged.

There is the added benefit of hearing how “inequality of the sexes” is a deeply rooted social phenomena.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe

By George Dyson

 Narrated by Arthur Morey

George Dyson (American author, historian of technology.)

The beginning of one of many Faustian bargains between government and science is revealed in George Dyson’s book, “Turing’s Cathedral”. 

John von Neumann (1903-1957) A Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, computer scientist, and polymath, joins the American military/industrial complex before it became known as the “complex”.

Calculations for ordinance trajectory and explosive impact became increasingly important during WWII.

George Dyson’s book recounts the confluence of military might and computer invention. The military wants more accurate estimates of ordinance trajectory and damage to improve murder rate. Manual calculation was too slow and prone to error.

With government backing, von Neumann is midwife to the birth of the computer generation.  Presuming von Neumann knew of Alan Turing’s 1936 paper on mathematical logic, he wrote a paper about a universal computing machine. Hired by the government to improve the accuracy of military ordinance, von Neumann works with Oswald Veblen at the Moore School of Engineering in Philadelphia. Von Neumann, and Veblen expand a math and engineering department that changes the world.

To the right is the Moore School of Engineering in Philadelphia–The fruit of the new department’s labor is a vacuum-tube, wire bound, contraption called ENIAC.

Before Eniac, human calculations could not efficiently or effectively determine the course of a flying howitzer shell, or the measured impact of a flying-fortress’ bomb.  What the military needed was a better calculating tool than the single human brain.

John Mauchly (left) J. Presper Eckert (right)–Mauchly and Eckert were the inventors of the first universal computing machine at the Moore School of Engineering. 

(There is a controversy over who created the architecture for this machine because von Neumann came to the Moore School of Engineering after Mauchly and Eckert had already begun work on ENIAC.)

Though this is an historical account of the invention and consequence of computer manufacture, listening to “Turing’s Cathedral” seduces one into seeing war and the military as a primary source of technological advance. Science is shown to advance from growth of the military/industrial complex and the destruction of war.

Rocket science grows from Hitler’s pummeling of London during WWII. Nuclear science grows from Truman’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Space exploration grows from a moon shot heavily subsidized by the Kennedy administration. In the foreseeable future, government’ satellite and cyber research grows from late twentieth century advances in software development.

What strikes one’s imagination is how critical government expenditure, particularly the military, is to R and D (research and development) in science. 

Interestingly, the requested budget for R and D in 2019 is reduced to $131 billion.

(President Trump is intent on building a wall between Mexico and the U.S.; i.e. not unlike Hadrian’s wall, a first century method of defense. Not what one would call a technological advance.)

One wonders if the computer would ever have been invented without the advance of a horrendously destructive war.  At the very least, war accelerated the invention of the computer generation.

The innate brilliance of Philadelphia’s Moore School mathematicians creates more efficient and effective methods of mass murder. One might argue that the Moore School opened a Pandora’s box. Turing’s, von Neumann’s, Mauchly’s, and Eckert’s theories and inventions open a door to artificial intelligence; i.e. an intelligence beyond human understanding that may improve or destroy humanity. 

The first hydrogen bomb explodes in 1952. According to Dyson, one person is killed while monitoring the explosion. He is the first victim of the hydrogen bomb that is 50 times more destructive than the bombs that fell on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

One wonders, without government, without the military, and sadly, without war, would humankind have reached into the universe in the 1960s?

This is an important book, somewhat difficult to track because of its non-linear presentation, but a valuable insight to a giant step in the history of science.  One cannot help but be troubled by the source of mankind’s twentieth century leaps in scientific discovery. So many scientific advances seem closely tied to perfection and invention of potential weapons of mass destruction.

Dyson adds to the case for war’s efficacy as an engine of science. Invention of computers plays an important role in breaking enemy military codes, designing bomb sites, and improving accuracy of big and small projectiles. Computers also open the door to artificial intelligence, a two edged sword that can defend or destroy the human race.

Parallel Worlds

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Parallel Worlds
By Michio Kaku
Narrated by Marc Vietor

Michio Kaku (American physicist, author, professor)

Michio Kaku valiantly tilts Don Quixote’s lance at physics in writing “Parallel Worlds”. The fictional Quixote quests for knowledge as a knight errant. Michao Kaku pursues knowledge as a renowned physicist. Time will tell if Kaku is a errant physicist or a clarion of knowledge.

This is a book about Physics, the baffling science of mathematics, and those who wish to understand why Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Planck, Michael Green, and Ed Schwarz et al are important to all of us who are confused.

In spite of the abstruse subject, Kaku reveals some understandable break through discoveries in cosmology, and mankind’s pursuit of the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is a unified field theory that explains everything there is to know about matter and energy in one combinatoric theory.

Physicists continue to search for a theory that will explain how electromagnetic, gravitational, weak, and strong forces follow one fundamental rule of existence.

Einstein’s theory of special relativity, implies predictability. Quantum mechanics exclusively relies on probability. How can these two fundamentally different rules be made into one theory?

Contrary to Einstein’s belief that “God does not play with dice”, God lives in Las Vegas.

On a subatomic level, repeatable experiments show that it is impossible to predict the exact position of an electron. With measurement of either position or energy of an electron, its location or power is changed. Electron movement is unpredictable by any known criteria of measurement.

Experimental proof of a theory demands measurement; without measurement, there is no proof. For example, one reason “string theory” is unproven is that the dimension of strings is too minuscule. Technology has not advanced enough for experimental proof. It does not make the theory wrong. It’s simply not experimentally provable.

The God question inevitably raises its head in sciences’ pursuit of a unified field theory.  However, putting philosophical discussion aside, Kaku tells the story of Einstein’s unsuccessful pursuit of a unified field theory. 

Einstein refuted some of Newton’s laws.  Bohr refuted some of Einstein’s speculation.  Their research leads to discoveries that only a science fiction writer could conceive.  Bohr introduces quantum mechanics to Einstein’s discovery of the interchangeability of energy and mass.

With science pursuing the universe’s origin and its component makeup, only telescopes like Hubble and CERN’s Hadron collider in Europe have made any progress in identifying dark matter or energy.

Smaller and smaller elements of matter and energy are discovered by scientists, but an estimated 75% of the known components of the world are unknown.  Dark matter and dark energy make up that 75%. (Discovery of Higgs-bosun in 2012 is the most recent addition to component knowledge.)

Another hope of discovering a UFT in theoretical physics is Ed Schwarz’s and Michael Green’s string theory postulation.

Schwarz’s and Green’s theory provides a more inclusive categorization of the basic elements of the world. Kaku describes string theory in terms of a stringed instrument that changes the character of matter by shortening or lengthening strings.

Just as Einstein’s theory of the curvature of space-time is not proven until Stanley Eddington’s measurement of an eclipse in 1919,
Swartz and Green wait for technology to catch up. String theory waits for another Eddington.

When the strings are plucked they resonate at different frequencies. That change in vibration changes the elemental nature of the particle even though the string is fundamentally the same.

String theory, if it proves correct, opens many doors in the sub-microscopic world. It opens to the speculation of possible parallel worlds.  Kaku overwhelms listeners with the potential of a scientifically verifiable unified field theory.  He suggests the possibility of time travel and space exploration through black holes and white holes. 

“Parallel Worlds” ends its exploration of physics with notes of caution and optimism about our world’s progress.  The book is semi-understandable (possibly, horribly misleading) but worth reading.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Brief Answers to the Big Questions

By Stephen Hawking, Eddie Redmayne-foreword, Lucy Hawking-afterword

Narrated by Ben Whishaw

Stephen Hawking (English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author)

“Big Answers to Big Questions” is Stephen Hawking’s last book. It is posthumously compiled by others.

Though many books have been written by Hawking, none are as popular as “A Brief History of Time”.  However, this compilation of Hawking’s thoughts deserves equal, if not greater, popularity.  It is simpler to understand and addresses a wider range of subjects that puzzle human beings.

“Brief Answers…” does not definitively answer the questions that are raised.  It does offer a perspective from a person that is one of the great minds of modern science.

Karl Popper’s dictum is that “He who decides one day that scientific statements do not call for any further test…retires from the game.” By that criteria, Hawking’s “Brief answers…” can only be right or wrong.  Even Einstein’s theories are still being tested. 

What is the origin of life? 

Hawking’s answer is the “Big Bang”.  The origin of life begins with the “Big Bang”, a somewhat pejorative term that describes a black hole.  This black mass is formed from a consolidation of gaseous and fragmented material that compresses to a point smaller than a pea.

Is there an explanation for something being created from nothing? 

Hawking’s answer is related to the theory of the “big bang”.  Time did not exist before the big-bang.  The arrow of time is created by the instantaneous expansion of our universe’s compressed black hole.  Hawking argues before time there is nothing.  The creation of this world came from the physics of compression and its consequence; i.e. inflation, the instantaneous expansion of a black hole.

From that tiny spot in the cosmos, Hawking argues a universe is born. This minute point of compression is postulated by Hawking to expand instantaneously (termed cosmic inflation). 

In accordance with Einstein’s law of physics, mass and energy are equivalent and cannot be destroyed.  Instantaneous inflation is a changed form of energy and mass with space being its primary constituent.  That instantaneous expansion of a black hole made the universe.  This universe is made of many galaxies (estimated to be between 200 billion and 2 trillion); of which we are only one, called the Milky Way.   

From the big bang, the elements of life are formed. Hawking explains chemical interactions from the explosion lead to the first carbon-based life’ forms.  That combination of chemicals evolves into plants, animals, fungi, protists, archaea, and bacteria. 

Is the only explanation for the existence of earth an omniscient and omnipresent God?

The “big bang” is Hawking’s answer; without insisting that there is no God.  Hawking’s argument is founded on science that offers a plausible alternative explanation.

What are the greatest threats to life on earth?  Hawking notes four.  One, nuclear war; two, global warming; three over-population, and four—an asteroid collision with earth.

Not surprising to some, Hawking suggests the first two are accelerated by the election of Donald Trump.  The third and fourth are another matter.

Does life exist on other planets? 

Hawking believes it is probable.  However, he believes it unlikely to be humanoid.  He suggests the evolution of humankind is a confluence of serendipitous circumstances that are unlikely to be repeated. 

How will human beings survive on a world with diminishing resources?

Hawking believes human survival depends on habitation of other planets.
He argues that the same thing that motivated Columbus to find a new continent motivates humankind to journey into space.

Through a combination of curiosity (born partly of greed for wealth and power in my opinion) and necessity, explorers expanded their domains.  Hawking suggests the same holds true today.

Will humankind visit other solar systems? 

Hawking explains the limitations and problems of space travel and habitation.  The distances involved in finding a planet like earth are currently too great.

Planets in other solar systems are not reachable with the energy limitations of current propulsion technology.  Long distance space travel is not insurmountable, but presently it is beyond the capability of experimental science. 

Hawking argues that funding for space travel research needs to be increased.  Planets and moons in our solar system will require elaborate survival systems to deal with a lack of water, harsh climate, and unbreathable air. However, planets like Mars offer some refuge based on technological innovation.

Will a law of nature that explains everything about everything be discovered? 

Hawking believes someone will find a theory that combines quantum theory with the special theory of relativity.  The present state of science suggests “God does play dice”, contrary Albert Einstein’s belief.  What remains unknown is how the theory of a causal world can be the same as a probabilistic world.  Hawking believes the melding of quantum theory and Einstein’s theory will be the answer to the puzzle of existence.

Is Artificial Intelligence a danger to humankind? 

Hawking argues that A.I. is potentially dangerous, but also a possible boon to humankind.  He believes A.I. will exceed the capability of human reasoning.  Hawking argues human beings must responsibly limit actions taken by A.I. that might be detrimental to humankind.

With the advance of genetic engineering (like Crispr), Hawking argues the human genome will be modified.  That modification may involve A.I. in ways that enhance human capability.  On the other hand, it may destroy human consciousness (whatever that is). 

Hawking explains a dire prediction for A.I. is its potential to improve itself at the expense of humans.

Despite the four possible causes for human extinction, Hawking believes the more likely cause of human extinction will be an asteroid collision with earth.  Humans, like the dinosaurs, will die in a bang, rather than a whimper.

There are other interesting thoughts from Hawking but a final question is–what discovery, in Hawking’s opinion, would be the most valuable to the world?  What discovery would hold the most promise?

Hawking suggests the world’s energy and environmental problems can be addressed by one discovery.  The discovery of a method for creating energy from nuclear fusion.  Such a discovery would diminish degradation of our environment and improve the odds for interstellar travel.


Audio-book Review
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 question of the existence of God is raised and unresolved.

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.