Farewell to ‘Master of Universe’ | Sunday Observer

Farewell to ‘Master of Universe’

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking

The celebrated British physicist and world famous author of ‘A Brief History of Time’ Prof. Stephen Hawking’s death has sent shock waves among the scientific fraternity and ordinary readers who have read his books with absorbing interest. Hawking became world famous after completing his mathematical model for Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and the nature of the universe, such as, the Big Bang and Black Holes. In addition, he co-wrote 15 books, overall.

Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England. His family moved to Oxford from North London to escape the threat of the World War II rockets. In 1963 he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a rare medical condition. However, being a brilliant student he completed his doctorate in 1966 and was awarded the fellowship at Cambridge. Two years later he published, ‘Large Scale Structure of Space and Time’. In 1970, after carefully studying the Newtonian Theory of Relativity and Quantum theory, he proposed that Black Holes leak energy and fade into nothing. The phenomenon was later known as, ‘Hawking Radiation’. Up to then the accepted theory was that Black Holes were regions of space where gravity was so strong that not even light could escape.

Magnum opus

In 1976, Hawking said, when Black Hole disappears all information about everything inside the hole also disappear, leading to the Black Hole Paradox. In 1985, fate dealt a severe blow to Hawking. After catching pneumonia he had to undergo tracheotomy. As a result, he could not speak naturally. He had to depend on a head-controlled speech synthesizer to communicate with others.

Confirming the truth of the old saying ‘Every dark cloud has a silver lining’, he published his magnum opus ‘A Brief History of Time’ in 1988. Ten million copies of the book were sold within a few weeks. Despite his handicap, Hawking spent the rest of his life writing books and essays in addition to his numerous scientific articles explaining the way the universe is governed. In 2014 his life story was portrayed in the film, ‘The Theory of Everything.’

In ‘A Brief History of Time,’ Hawking dealt with a series of questions and tried to answer them scientifically and philosophically. Some of the questions he was dealing with were: Was there a beginning of time? Could time run backwards? Is the universe infinite or does it have boundaries? Before answering such questions, he reviewed the great theories of the cosmos from Newton to Albert Einstein. To this day ‘A Brief History of Time’ remains a staple of the scientific canon, and its succinct and clear language continues to fascinate readers.

Time, although an abstract concept, forms an essential component of matter and space, as opposed to energy. Most scientists would agree that only space and matter have a time dimension. Time has meaning, when there is change and if there is no change, it is irrelevant. Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity added the time element to space to explain the existence of gravity.

Big Bang theory

Hawking supports the Big Bang theory, the only credible alternative to creation by an omnipotent creator God. The universe began with that momentous event and is now going through its expanding phase. Physicists believe that the universe will expand for a few more billions of years. Like everything else in life, the universe too will reach a point beyond which it cannot expand.

Hawking in his book, ‘The Universe in a Nutshell’ says, “There seems to be various possibilities on the amount of matter in the universe. If there is more than a certain critical amount, the gravitational attractions between the galaxies will slow them down and eventually stop them flying apart forever. They will then start falling towards each other and will all come together in a big crunch that will be the end of the history of the universe in real time.”

It is pertinent here to mention what the Buddha said about the universe. He spoke about “Many eons of world contractions, many eons of world expansions, many eons of world contractions and expansions.” These words resonate with the emerging cosmological view that the universe expands and then contracts with a “Big Bang” and ending in a “Big Crunch” in a continuing series of “Big Bangs” followed by “Big Crunches”.

Expanding universe

In ‘A Brief History of Time’ Hawking agrees with the proposition that the universe is expanding. However, he has given prominence to the laws of gravity because they shape the structure of the universe. You will note that the laws of gravity were incompatible with the view held until quite recently, that the universe is unchanging in time. This is because gravity implies that the universe is either expanding or contracting.

Towards the end of his book Hawking says, philosophers have not been able to keep up with the advances of scientific theories pertaining to the universe. It may be recalled that in the 18th century most philosophers considered the whole sphere of human knowledge, including science, belonged to them. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries science became too technical for traditional philosophers. In fact, the great philosopher Martin Heidegger admitted that the sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language. Hawking saw it as a come down from the great tradition of philosophy from Aristotle to Emmanuel Kant.

We are grateful to Hawking for coming up with a reliable theory of the universe. Therefore, he deserves the sobriquet “Master of the Universe” originally conferred on him by the Newsweek magazine. 

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