By Prarthana Mitra
In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Stephen Hawking offers his final salvo on the mysteries of the universe. Published posthumously in October 2018, the book contains the late physicist’s final thoughts and draws extensively from his essays, keynote speeches, lectures and questions often asked of him, by political leaders and the public alike.
Presenting the gist of his most significant and groundbreaking revelations about the planet, the book reiterates all that he considered being instrumental knowledge for the future of humanity. Not only does he touch upon the possibility of the existence of other lifeforms and the controversy regarding the beginning of the universe, Hawking advocates the exploration and colonisation of other planets and moons in search of a new home, contending that planets in other solar systems may be a more viable option than ours.
The first chapter asks, “Is there a God?” In response, Hawking says no, “The universe is propped up without help from God.”
“There is no God. No one directs the universe,” he writes. “For centuries, it was believed that disabled people like me were living under a curse that was inflicted by God,” he adds. “I prefer to think that everything can be explained another way, by the laws of nature.”
A critic described this apophthegm as a break from the theological belief that the universe worked like clockwork, replacing the conception of the universe as a musical instrument instead. The latter, unlike the clock, requires an operator to make sense of and affect its physical state.
Future of the human race on earth
In Big Question…, Hawking also convincingly argues that population explosion coupled with exploitation of the earth’s resources is the bellwether for an imminent apocalypse. His portentous warning against global warming comes at a deeply divisive moment in international action against climate change, but Hawking is almost certain that the earth’s temperature will soon resemble that of Venus, and it may be too late to prevent that.
After several seemingly leading questions like “How did the universe begin?”, “Is there other intelligent life in the universe?”, the “Big Question” culminates by the end of the book: “Can humanity survive on Earth?”
The “Brief Answer” is to explore the infinite space outside the blue planet. Hawking reportedly hints that even if scientific and technological advancement can postpone the extinction of the human race on earth, the same cannot be said for most other species, and “that will be on our conscience as a race”.
The merit of the book, according to some critics, lies in the importance of the issues he addresses. Unlike “A Brief History of Time,” Hawking mingles wit and humour with scientific facts and findings, weaving them into a series of anecdotes. Throughout the book, he has alluded to conversations with his son, his own childhood dreams, school life and various other personal notes to illustrate his points. In a way, this is the last glimpse into the cosmologist’s works and how personal relations prefigure his philosophies.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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