I Wanna Be Literated #247

I Wanna Be Literated #247

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

The Theory of Everything
The Origin and Fate of the Universe
by Stephen Hawking

It’s probably a good idea if we collectively started consuming a little less fiction and read more non-fiction, particularly stuff that challenged and helps us understand the world around us, right? Someone on my block didn’t think so and put this book in a “Free” box on their stoop and I couldn’t help but give it a good home. What I like to think is that the contents of this book were too basic and this person felt it best to just discard it and move on to something more complex.

I was a little hesitant reading this book because I had realized years ago that maybe print media wasn’t the best format to understand such complex ideas. A TV show or movie where you could see diagrams, animated sequences and the moving parts is a far better medium. At least if you want to facilitate the dissipation of knowledge. I actually watched the documentary A Brief History of Time as a primer for the ideas here. It helped. At least, I think it helped. I’m not sure.

The Theory of Everything is comprised of a series of lectures Hawking gave on the origin of the universe and theories on where it is going. It’s also a biography of sorts and a discussion of his contributions to our understanding of the universe, like black holes. It’s written in mostly plain English and the first few chapters on the Ideas of the Universe and Expanding Universe are fairly straightforward but soon afterwards the book starts going over the reader’s head. This is mostly because Hawking starts his chapters with a “simple” idea that anyone not familiar with quantum physics would need time to grasp and starts applying them to wild and complex situations, like explaining black holes, how we would perceive what’s going on inside it, how its event horizon would look, then what would happen if two black holes collided. Frustratingly, there are zero pictures or diagrams here which would have facilitated our understanding of what Hawking is trying to say. Also, Hawking doesn’t really walk us through the basic science that we need to know to understand how these theories are being applied or how they work. And of course, a lot of this book discusses math but doesn’t show us any of it (would we want it to?), so we have to take him at his word that we live in a world that has countless tiny universes embedded into it.

There are ideas scattered throughout this book that are astounding and give the reader a lot to think about, and those moments are valuable in a world that’s constantly trying to make us dumber, but as a whole, I think the big picture Hawking is trying to discuss will go over most of our heads.

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