Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Science: Hawking 1

1. I can't say that I am a big Stephen Hawking fan. Obviously I never met him. I enjoyed the movie based on his life. I like a lot of the same stuff he did. He was funny on the Big Bang Theory.

I always got the impression that he was a bit of a donkey. Perhaps that's unfair. I imagine it must be hard when you're that much smarter than everyone else not to think that everyone else is an idiot. Of course so much smartness in one area can also entail immense density in other areas. I'll let God handle all that.

2. I bought A Brief History of Time a long time ago, probably from Joseph Beth Bookstore in Lexington, Kentucky in the early nineties. It came out in 1988. For some reason, I just couldn't get into it. I never made it out of the first chapter. It neither grabbed my attention nor did it get past the atrium of my thick head.

One of the benefits of a slowing metabolism is that I can read more and more. And with the death of Hawking this week, I sense it's time for me to buckle down and read this thing. There was a second edition in 1998 with an extra chapter, which I downloaded on Kindle to be able to get any revised thoughts he might have had.

The last ten years have not smiled on Hawking's intuitions. He had bet against the Higgs boson. He lost. In fact, he made one big discovery that, in retrospect, doesn't seem so startling at all. He was just the one to put it together. He concluded that black holes "evaporate" as it were. Yeah Hawking.

3. The first chapter is called, "Our Picture of the Universe." Some in this chapter is well known to those who are interested in these things. But there are a few surprises.

Here are the main points:
  • Aristotle (300s BC) and Ptolemy (200s AD) both thought the world was a sphere, but they thought that the sun, stars, and planets revolved around the earth.
  • Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and finally Newton came up with equations that worked a whole lot better, supposing that all these things revolved around the sun, with the moon only going around the earth.
  • No one seems to have asked if the universe was expanding until the twentieth century. There was an assumption of a static universe. Why then did the universe not collapse under gravity? Newton thought by supposing an infinite universe, the pull would be equal in every direction. But this apparently is not how infinity works in this instance.
  • Heinrich Olbers in 1823 then asked the question about line of sight. In a static universe, there should be stars everywhere we look, a completely lit sky.
  • In 1929, Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe everywhere was moving away from us (red shift). This brought the question of the universe's beginning into science.
  • The beginning had always been there in religion. Augustine suggested that God created time when he created the world. So it makes no sense to talk about time before the creation. As a side-note, this is the current convergence between science and faith--both believe that the universe had a beginning.
  • The last part of the first chapter has two main points of interest. The first is the incompatibility of general relativity with quantum mechanics, the physics of the very large and the very little. Hawking longed for a "grand unified theory" or, as his biographical movie was titled, "a theory of everything."
  • He also endorses Karl Popper's philosophy of science. Science should be oriented around falsifiability. A good theory is one that has not yet been falsified. You can never finally prove a scientific theory. A good scientific theory thus has two characteristics: 1) it must accurately describe a large class of observations and 2) it must make definite predictions about future observations that are not falsified.


Martin LaBar said...

A few years ago, I posted an analysis of Hawking's The Grand Design, here.

There were a lot of problems with it, including Hawking's dismissal of philosophy and religion, but some serious scientific problems, too.

Anonymous said...

There is definately a great deal to know about this issue.
I really like all the points you've made.