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stephen hawking - new york times book review

Discussion in 'Channel Zero' started by mental invalid, Dec 11, 2001.

  1. mental invalid

    mental invalid Dirty Dozen Crew

    Joined: May 11, 2001 Messages: 13,050 Likes Received: 8
    i know some heads on here dig him so i thought id post it...its from todays new york times.....i wasnt aware he had a new book out....now i know what i want from santa....



    Cracking the Cosmic Code With a Little Help From Dr. Hawking
    By DENNIS OVERBYE




    Like some quantum particle popping into existence out of nowhere, "The Universe in a Nutshell," by the University of Cambridge physicist Stephen W. Hawking, was published and immediately popped onto the best-seller lists a few weeks ago.

    Physicists say such magical seeming appearances, called quantum fluctuations, are more likely when there is a large energy field to draw from, and this book draws from one of the largest energy fields in the history of publishing, namely Dr. Hawking's 1988 book, "A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes."

    As a result, many thousands of Americans could spend the holidays confronting statements like: "We have come to realize that this standing still of real and imaginary time (either both stand still or neither does) means that space-time has a temperature, as I discovered for black holes," as Dr. Hawking writes on Page 63.

    Dr. Hawking's first book for a wide audience, "A Brief History of Time," took readers on a tour through black holes, the gravitational traps from which not even light can emerge, and imaginary time as he described the quest for the vaunted "theory of everything" that would enable us to "know the mind of God." It lived on the best-seller lists for two years, selling 10 million copies.

    The question that still haunts publishers, critics and others, incredulous that there could be as big an audience for a serious discussion of the origin of the universe as for the life of a movie star, is why?

    According to popular and publishing lore, it was also one of the great unread classics of our time — with James Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" or David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest" as coffee-table monuments honored mostly in the breach. So a lot of people, suspicious that the earlier book was bought for Dr. Hawking's celebrity or its egghead aura — are already wondering if the same thing will happen to the new book.

    To colleagues, Dr. Hawking is a stubbornly intuitive theorist whose work on black holes has helped light the way to an eventual union of relativity and quantum theory — a union that neither Einstein nor anybody else has yet been able to broker. To the world, he is the personification of courage and brilliance, St. George in a wheelchair tilting with galaxies and the unknown, who as been accorded some of the ultimate accolades in pop culture — appearing as Einstein's poker buddy on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and as a guest star on "The Simpsons."

    While a graduate student, in 1963, he learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and was given a few years to live. He has moved about in a wheelchair for more than 25 years and now speaks only through a voice synthesizer. Dr. Hawking, for whom the word "puckish" seems to have been invented, has often said his disability is an advantage because it frees him to sit and think. Next month his colleagues will celebrate his 60th birthday with a weeklong all- star symposium in Cambridge.

    In the new book's introduction, Dr. Hawking admits that "A Brief History of Time" was "not easy going" and laments that some readers got stuck and did not finish it. He has tried, he says, to make this one easier. Slightly longer than the earlier book, "Nutshell," at 216 pages, is embellished with colorful illustrations that give it a coffee-table-book look.

    So far the critics are in qualified agreement; one, Bryan Appleyard in the The New Statesman of London, called it "difficult, though not absolutely so." The Times of London, did an informal poll, asking seven reporters and a math student to read it and report on its accessibility. The verdict was mixed. "It all made beautiful sense as I read it, though it tended to vanish like a dream when I put the book down," one wrote.

    Albert Einstein once said that scientific theories should be able to be described so simply that a child could understand them. Complaints that modern physics fails this standard abysmally are as old, well, as modern physics, and are not confined to the childlike public.

    The story goes that when the astronomer Arthur Eddington, whose observations of light bending during a solar eclipse in 1919 confirmed Einstein's general theory of relativity, was congratulated by a colleague on being one of the three people in the world who understood the abstruse theory, Eddington fell uncharacteristically silent. Chided for exhibiting a false modesty, Eddington replied, on the contrary, that he had been trying to imagine who the third person could be.

    This newspaper's early accounts of Einstein's and Eddington's 1919 breakthroughs focused on the theory's incomprehensibility. "Efforts made to put in words intelligible to the nonscientific public the Einstein theory of light proved by the eclipse expedition so far have not been very successful," began a article on Nov. 10, 1919.

    Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, once said that anyone who was not outraged on hearing about the theory — with its waves acting as particles, particles acting like waves, and the microscopic randomness and uncertainty it ascribed to nature — had not really understood it.

    Recent advances have made it even harder to explain the universe. The latest version of the putative theory of everything posits a universe with 10 or 11 dimensions, instead of the 3 of space and 1 of time of everyday experience, inhabited by wriggling strings or membranes. Nevertheless, scientists go on gamely trying to tell us what they are up to, in a book-writing tradition that includes Darwin's "Origin of Species," and Einstein's, "Relativity: The Special and the General Theory," written in 1916 and never out of print.

    Part of the lure of these books is the chance to reclaim one's citizenship in a troubled and baffling cosmos by hearing the word from the horse's mouth, from someone who has touched the cosmic mystery personally. But another part is surely being treated like an adult, of entering a rough-hewn colleagueship by being trusted to put work into deciphering statements like the one at the beginning of this essay, or to deal with straight talk of the nature of science and the universe.

    Here, for example, is Dr. Hawking about those troublesome extra dimensions required by string theory but apparently unavailable for parking cars. "I must say that personally, I have been reluctant to believe in extra dimensions," he writes on Page 54 of the new book. "But as I am a positivist, the question `Do extra dimensions really exist?' has no meaning. All one can ask is whether mathematical models with extra dimensions provide a good description of the universe."

    In other words, if the experiments come out right, it doesn't matter. This could be considered jarring if you cling to the notion that science is the search for a reality that is deeper than the measurements on a laboratory table. But, quantum theory and relativity have taught us, science is about what can be observed and measured or it is about nothing at all. In science, as in democracy, there is no hidden secret knowledge, all that counts is on the table, observable and falsifiable. All else is metaphysics.

    When it comes to putting the goods on the table without condescending, Dr. Hawking is a genius. While many authors of science books plough through chapters full of fundamentals before getting to the new stuff, Dr. Hawking, with perhaps a heightened appreciation of time, breezes speedily to the frontier without apologies.

    For those who cannot keep up, Dr. Hawking has also provided a legacy. The success of his earlier book and that of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" are widely credited with having given a commercial lift to the science-book genre, helping pave the way for efforts like "The Elegant Universe," by Dr. Brian Greene, a Columbia University string theorist; "The Inflationary Universe," by Dr. Alan Guth, cosmologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and "The Quark and the Jaguar," by the Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann.

    To the extent that Dr. Hawking's earlier success has spawned imitators and widened the circle of readers and their sophistication, he has engineered a kind of positive feedback, and he has increased the odds that the readers will follow him and get to the end of the book this time
     
  2. THE LAW

    THE LAW Guest

    "It all made beautiful sense as I read it, though it tended to vanish like a dream when I put the book down," one wrote.


    haha....this is the same way THE LAW felt reading Brief history of Time.
    but no doubt he'll scoop this one up too.
     
  3. mental invalid

    mental invalid Dirty Dozen Crew

    Joined: May 11, 2001 Messages: 13,050 Likes Received: 8
    ...yeah man i completely identified with tha quote too....sweet dreams though...r.
     
  4. Zack Morris

    Zack Morris Veteran Member

    Joined: Jun 23, 2001 Messages: 9,728 Likes Received: 4
    I had to take notes on brief history of time as I read it...and things are still a bit fuzzy.
     
  5. imported_MoeLarryCurly

    imported_MoeLarryCurly Member

    Joined: Jul 18, 2001 Messages: 375 Likes Received: 0
    ".....and that is why gravity is the ultimate force"
    maybe i should read this book if i ever have time.. ohhhh nice no AP physics homework for me tonight damn that suff is a drag
     
  6. boogie hands

    boogie hands 12oz Legend

    Joined: Feb 15, 2001 Messages: 16,059 Likes Received: 13
    "We have come to realize that this standing still of real and imaginary time (either both stand still or neither does) means that space-time has a temperature, as I discovered for black holes,"

    that one made my brain fizzle.....one of the most interesting sujects ever.....
     
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