Is Stephen Hawking Accessible


Is Stephen Hawking Accessible? Essay, Research Paper

That clear then?Did you buy Stephen Hawking’s latest book, The Universe in a Nutshell, in the hope it might explain away the mysteries of the universe – and provide material for impressing people at parties? Do you still not know what a p-brane is, though? Not quite grasped imaginary time? Puzzling over the idea of a 13-dimension world? Basically, does this book really help us understand any of these things? I asked experts and non-experts if they had made any sense of it. Jon Turney, senior lecturer in science communication at University College London What this book does is to give us an idea of the sort of subjects that physicists are puzzling over now. The truth is, if you want to truly understand quantum physics you would have to study at university and then go on to study the subject for many years after that, not sit down for a few hours with some pretty diagrams. This idea of popularising science is only good if it works, and that can only be by inspection – you don’t know whether or not this book is going to make things clear to you until you try it. People need to try, though, and this is an honest attempt, but I don’t know if it is possible to translate very complex maths into text. Ideas like that of a 13-dimension world makes sense mathematically but are difficult to explain. If these theories are telling us something about the universe, then let’s get those ideas into popular culture in lots of different ways. Paint a picture or choreograph a ballet to try and express these things, or why not write a book? Elaine Showalter, writer I thought it was absolutely incomprehensible even though I really tried and read sections of it over and over. Even the illustrations seemed more of a drawback than anything. It was very much like his earlier work, and although I applaud his desire for this unified theory of the universe and time and space, I just could not grasp it. I showed some passages of it to some friends who are scientists and they were astonished that anyone from a non-scientific background should be expected to get any of this stuff. He throws in these amazing terms like p-brane all the time along with these mind-blowing concepts of a world in 13 dimensions or something called imaginary time. I think that people are very gripped by this idea of a scientific answer to the hows and whys of the universe but I think there are other and better ways of getting this sort of scientific information if you want it. I wasn’t terrifically impressed by Hawking really. Dr Peter Rodgers, editor of Physics World It was better than the last one [A Brief History of Time] in that it is more accessible. It is a rather difficult topic to deal with, though, as it is so full of abstracts. The book does well to try and give a flavour of that complexity while trying to remain understandable. A lot of it is mind-boggling stuff and as a result it gets to a point with some subjects, like the idea of a 10- or 11-dimensional world, where you sort of have to say, trust me on this. To describe these things in full would require a ton of mathematics, so he’s set himself an impossible task to make it accessible to everyone. The nature of the subject is such that, even though he’s done well to try and simplify it, the reader will have to put the work in to understand all of it. It needs to be read and re-read if you are going to get any more than just a few soundbites. There are still bits I don’t understand – imaginary time for example – but then even an astrophysics professor at Oxford said he couldn’t quite grasp that part. Mark Lawson, writer and critic I thought that this was the least accessible of his books. I understood even less of it than I did of A Brief History of Time, even though I’ve read and grasped large parts of some of his other essays. I simply couldn’t read it and it was the only book I’ve ever reviewed where I had to sit at a desk and force myself to read – apart from Paddy Ashdown’s diary. I thought it was very technical but yet there was a lack of facts. Was he talking metaphor or science? I was never really sure. I think many people will have bought it to find some answers inside, like if time travel is possible, but he only says that it might be. I don’t think this is necessarily Hawking’s fault, though; I suspect the idea of it being “the accessible” book was dreamt up by the publishers after he’d written it. I feel that his previous work was the accessible one and this, with the extra years of study behind him, was the deeper book. He is a remarkable figure but whether he intended this book for anyone from a non-scientific background I don’t know. Reading it felt a bit like being back at school and studying for physics exams. Roger Highfield, science editor, the Daily Telegraph There is a joke that no one at all understands quantum physics so to make an attempt to popularise the subject is very brave. The basic problem with this sort of work is that it is impossible to get over the hurdle that, at heart, we are talking about arcane maths. When Hawking tackles such subjects as the M theory he doesn’t care that you can’t explain it, because he is a positivist. For him the important thing is that all the mathematics makes sense of it. No one should beat themselves up if they don’t understand what’s in the book. The ideas like “imaginary time” that he talks about are almost impossible for anyone to grasp because he is talking about an 11-dimension world. If you don’t get every nuance in the book then don’t spend time worrying about it, the heart of these things lie in very difficult maths. Joseph Silk, department of physics, nuclear and astrophysics laboratory, Oxford University This book does make sense. It is very dense but some of the concepts are easy and Hawking has done his best to make it accessible for a layman. The illustrations in particular are wonderful and break up the flow. It is a marked change from his last, which was renowned for its difficulty. The more complex ideas, like imaginary time for example, are just concepts, a mathematical metaphor almost, and we are a long way from fully understanding these things. Most of my colleagues still don’t and neither do I, so there is no point anyone agonising over the chapters, trying to get a complete understanding of them. It would be almost impossible to achieve that anyway, without using complex maths that would anyway be out of reach of most physicists, let alone anyone else. What this book does do however, is give a flavour of what is going on in the world of physics today. At least now the ideas become accessible and we can all talk about them. The book is worth reading just for that. · The Universe in a Nutshell is published by Bantam Press at ?20

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