Hawking...some Q&A

Here are some interesting Q&A to Stephen Hawking posted by Sydni Moser on November 9, 2010 at 4:00pm in Atheists who love Science!

A question I would like to pose to him is: Was the formulation of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity a matter of time before someone got it right; and what would the status of physics have been today, without it? (OK 2 questions!)

If God doesn't exist, why did the concept of his existence become almost universal? —Basanta Borah, BASEL, SWITZERLAND

I don’t claim that God doesn’t exist. God is the name people give to the reason we are here. But I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God.

Does the universe end? If so, what is beyond it? —Paul Pearson, HULL, ENGLAND

Observations indicate that the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate. It will expand forever, getting emptier and darker. Although the universe doesn’t have an end, it had a beginning in the Big Bang. One might ask what is before that, but the answer is that there is nowhere before the Big Bang, just as there is nowhere south of the South Pole.

Do you think our civilization will survive long enough to make the leap to deeper space? —Harvey Bethea, STONE MOUNTAIN, GA.

I think we have a good chance of surviving long enough to colonize the solar system. However, there is nowhere else in the solar system as suitable as the Earth, so it is not clear if we would survive if the Earth was made unfit for habitation. To ensure our long-term survival, we need to reach the stars. That will take much longer. Let’s hope we can last until then.

If you could talk to Albert Einstein, what would you say? —Ju Huang, STAMFORD, CONN.
I would ask him why he didn’t believe in black holes. The field equations of his theory of relativity imply that a large star or cloud of gas would collapse in on itself and form a black hole. Einstein was aware of this but somehow managed to convince himself that something like an explosion would always occur to throw off mass and prevent the formation of a black hole. What if there was no explosion?

Which scientific discovery or advance would you like to see in your lifetime? —Luca Zanzi, ALLSTON, MASS.

I would like nuclear fusion to become a practical power source. It would provide an inexhaustible supply of energy, without pollution or global warming.

What do you believe happens to our consciousness after death? —Elliot Giberson, SEATTLE

I think the brain is essentially a computer and consciousness is like a computer program. It will cease to run when the computer is turned off. Theoretically, it could be re-created on a neural network, but that would be very difficult, as it would require all one’s memories.

Given your reputation as a brilliant physicist, what ordinary interests do you have that might surprise people? —Carol Gilmore, JEFFERSON CITY, MO.

I enjoy all forms of music–pop, classical and opera. I also share an interest in Formula One racing with my son Tim.

Do you feel that your physical limitations have helped or hindered your study? —Marianne Vikkula, ESPOO, FINLAND

Although I was unfortunate enough to get motor neuron disease, I have been very fortunate in almost everything else. I was lucky to be working in theoretical physics, one of the few areas in which disability was not a serious handicap, and to hit the jackpot with my popular books.

Does it feel like a huge responsibility to have people expecting you to have all the answers to life’s mysteries? —Susan Leslie, BOSTON

I certainly don’t have the answers to all life’s problems. While physics and mathematics may tell us how the universe began, they are not much use in predicting human behavior because there are far too many equations to solve. I’m no better than anyone else at understanding what makes people tick, particularly women.

Do you think there will ever come a time when mankind understands all there is to understand about physics? —Karsten Kurze, BAD HONNEF, GERMANY

I hope not. I would be out of a job.

Yes. Once Special Relativity (SR) appeared on the scene, the pursuit of GR was the inexorable next order of business because SR dealt only with uniform motion, so it was natural to wonder how the picture would change in the case of accelerated motion.

SR itself was also inevitable, given the work of Lorentz, Minkowski and others in trying to make Maxwell’s electromagnetism invariant under uniform motion. “Invariant” here means that Maxwell’s equations should retain the same form for each of two or more observers in uniform motion relative to one another. In the Galilean scheme, this invariance was not preserved, which was known to be wrong from both experiment and theoretical considerations.

Einstein’s genius was in reformulating space and time, hitherto thought independent of one another, by binding them together into spacetime with its metric that naturally renders Maxwell’s equations invariant under uniform motion. A “metric” is a single equation or a set thereof that defines the essential nature of an abstract mathematical space. In 4-D spacetime, the metric relates distance and time measurements to one another. If Einstein hadn’t hit on this idea, someone else would almost certainly have done so within the space of a few years.

For one thing, we wouldn’t have reliable GPS. We would be baffled by gravitational lensing, the bending of light by massive stellar objects and the precession of Mercury’s orbit. If we didn’t have SR either, our particle accelerators would not work properly. In physics, we would probably still be deeply baffled how gravity is able to exert action at a distance.


what a guy!!

Thanx Mefiante. One could possibly comment that SH’s response re the existence of a God was a bit weak but someone commented that

if you equate ‘God’ with ‘the laws of physics’, what is ‘the law of God’? You guessed it: ‘the law of the laws of physics’. I.e, ‘the meta-law of physics’, which is equivalent to ‘the law of metaphysics.’

QED. So, Hawking believes the universe is ruled by metaphysics. Ack!

I don’t agree that he was equating god with the laws of physics, merely saying as did Einstein, a personal god is naive; it’s mans’ way of rationalising the unknowable? ???