Book Review, Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions

Stephen Hawking,
in Brief Answers to the Big Questions

"If you believe in science, like I do, you believe that there are certain laws that are always obeyed. If you like, you can say that the laws are the work of God, but that is more a definition of God than a proof of his existence." [Page 26]

"I would like to speculate a little on the development of life in the universe, and inparticular on the development of intelligent life. I shall take this to include the human race, even though much of its behaviour throughout history has been pretty stupid and not calculated to aid the survival of the species." [67]

"I think computer viruses should count as life. Maybe it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. Talk about creating life in our own image." [69]

"When an artificial intelligence (AI) becomes better than humans at AI design, so that it can recursively improve itself without human help, we may face an intelligence explosion that ultimately results in machines whose intelligence exceeds ours by more than ours exceeds that of snails." [184]

Table of Contents

Foreword: Eddie Redmayne                ix
An Introduction: Kip Thorne             xiii
Why we must ask the big questions       1

1.  Is there a God?                     23
2.  How did it all begin?               39
3.  Is there other intelligent life
        in the universe?                65
4.  Can we predict the future?          87
5.  What is inside a black hole?        99
6.  Is time travel possible?            123
7.  Will we survive on Earth?           143
8.  Should we colonise space?           163
9.  Will artificial intelligence
        outsmart us?                    181
10. How do we shape the future?         197

Afterword: Lucy Hawking                 213
Acknowledgements                        219
Index                                   221

Book Review
Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions
Published in the U.S. by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House
First U.S. edition, 2018, 230 pages
ISBN - Hardcover 9781984819192, Ebook 9781984819208

In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, as he did in his previous bestseller, A Brief History of Time, Hawking shows that he can talk to people about the most advanced scientific and philosophical topics without any use of mathematics.

It is an unusual origin for a nonfiction book. After Hawking (1942-2018) died, his family and colleagues compiled his personal collection of the replies that he had given, to interviewers and to leaders of society, regarding some of the "big questions".

The 11-page introduction by theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Kip Thorne is a great warm-up act, after which Hawking elucidates many of the most-requested topics.

In addition to space and time, of course, Hawking has something to say about celestial objects, entropy, general relativity, the uncertainty principle, quantum phenomena, the role of the Large hadron Collider, the search for a "theory of everything", future space missions, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, environmentalism, human society, and a lot more.

This is classic -- the Cambridge professor offers a 14-page answer to the inquiry, "Is there a God?"

The author doesn't merely explain things, but he also argues for viewpoints. One of his fascinating arguments is that a computer virus should be viewed as a form of life. [Page 169] Another correct position to take, according to Dr. Hawking, is that people should not set their hopes on ever achieving time travel. The laws of nature impose a limitation. It would require one to be in possession of an infinite supply of energy. [130]

The author originally became famous for being the world's foremost authority on black holes, and that is the subject of chapter 5. As you may have heard -- as you approach the event horizon, you (dead by then) would be stretched into spaghetti. [114]

The chapter "How did it all begin?" is not only about about how the universe began, but, also, how the human search to understand the beginning of the universe began, that is, the efforts of the ancient philosophers and founders of religions.

The author proceeds with some patience when he explains that, besides the energy that you already knew about, the universe is filled with so much negative energy that all of the energy in the universe adds up to zero. [32-33] "It means that if universe adds up to nothing then you don't need a God to create it." [33]

The book is recommended not only to the science student but also to the individual who believes that a science-literate citizen is a more useful member of society, and that a life of curiosity about nature is a vastly more pleasant one.

- - - - - Book review by Mike Lepore for