Beautiful minds, today Stephen Hawking

The second of two fascinating films about two very beautiful minds, Hugh Everett III and Stephen Hawking.

I am slightly hesitant in pursuing this, after my article about Hugh Everett on the 19th.  Said slightly tongue-in-cheek following a fascinating, as always, exchange of comments with Patrice Ayme.  Here’s a taste of Ayme’s writings, and here’s the exchange,

Patrice first wrote,

The question is: what happened? The multiverse answer is that, whatever it is, it happened in one universe, and it did not happen, in another universe. And if it is not a matter of discrete choice, as in a 2 slit experiment, an uncountable number of universes will be created. In other words, if one wants a proof of the insanity of some of today’s physicists, the multiverse is all we need. According to this lamentable spasm of the mind, during every single, smallest amount of time imaginable, an uncountable infinity of universes appear.

OK, the inflationary universe has the same problem, and is about as insane. But being surrounded by mad men does not excuse one’s own insanity. So we shall laugh.

To which I replied,

Dear Patrice, the challenge presented at this end, in terms of how to evaluate your comment, is that your anonymous profile (that is truly respected, by the way) makes it impossible to determine your academic and social backgrounds. Therefore are you replying from the position of a great thinker, or of a great thinker with significant scientific and philosophical accreditations? Your writings are powerful and impressive but nonetheless to assume (as I read into your approach) that the world of quantum physics is a ‘done deal’ is not something I can share. I anticipate that you will feel similarly ready to laugh on Thursday when I publish some words on Stephen Hawking. ;-)

Eliciting a further very thoughtful reply from PA,

Thoughts have to learn to stand on their own. The authority fallacy (if you forgive this neo sentence) is no ersatz for truth. Some (previously) immensely respected physics Nobel prizes were member of the Nazi party before Hitler. That did not make their physics any less insane.

Most top thinkers of the scientific revolution in the 17C were not respected tenured professors at the university (although Galileo and Newton were, not so for Kepler, Bruno,Descartes, Fermat, Pascal, Leibnitz…). We have no historical distantiation to judge what’s going on now.

I respect some of the work of Hawking. And certainly respect him tremendously as a person (although he dumped his wife for his nurse).

I appreciate the fact you tease me with Quantum Mechanics as a “done deal”. I actually believe that QM is the most precise theory we have, but it’s most certainly false or crazy as Newton basically said about his own theory of gravitation, and pretty much for the same reasons… This shows that I have to express myself more clearly…

In any case QM got no traction with the Quantum computer, so far. To say the least, many questions have been found to not be answered…

As far as accreditations are concerned, I will refer to the PhDs of Qaddafi’s children, and the movie “Ghostwriter”. Speaking of Harvard, what about Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”, of an incredibly low scholarly level, and the numerous professors there on Qaddafi’s payroll? Does that mean they were accreditated by Qaddafi?

I am quite familiar with academia, and I think too much credit is given, quite often.

I am going to put a more extended version of my various remarks on my site, insisting on the fact QM, however impressive, is no deal. The multiverse was a desperate attempt to make it a deal, precisely, as it was made to eschew the problem of the non existence of a detailled mechanism of wave packet collapse. [Ironically I was once punished on a “philosophy” site for saying that QM was a live subject of research; I never went back to that site, which has academic pretentions: they had told me they checked with physics professors…]

Best wishes to you too, and I look forward chewing on Hawking very slowly… meanwhile I shall put my anti-multiverse blast on my site…

So here goes!

Prof. Hawking

Professor Stephen William Hawking was born in 1942 in Oxford, England.  His own website has a nice summary of his life which may be read here.  There is a huge amount that could be written about this most amazing man.  His book A Brief History of Time has sold in the millions which for a man who deals with some pretty big personal challenges, is no small feat.  Here’s a relatively recent talk (2008) from TED2008,

But like the Hugh Everett posting, I wanted to draw your attention to the 48 minute programme, originally from the BBC Horizon series, that explores some of the challenges that are starting to appear to Hawking’s long-held theories about the start of the universe.

The film may be watched from here.

6 thoughts on “Beautiful minds, today Stephen Hawking

  1. Thanks for the compliments, Paul!
    I listened to the Hawking presentation. Very nice, impressive.
    I agree completely with the last two parts, about life, and civilization. It’s clear that life started very fast on Earth, as he says. It’s all the more remarkable because the collision which created the Moon happened after 50 million years or so, and would have melted the Earth.

    Because of this and the cooling from the outside, it seems likely, at this point, that Earth’s life started on… Mars.
    Ejecta can reach Earth, staying mild enough inside for even (some) bacterial survival.

    The first part of Hawking talk about the evolution of the universe is well done, and much of what he says is known to be correct. However I have mean logical objections to make.

    First an argument everybody will understand: Hawking claims that we know the laws of evolution of the universe, and he evokes Maxwell (that is electromagnetic theory, known to be 100% correct under known conditions, which include QED), and Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation (ETG, aka GR). The latter works splendidly in Low Earth Orbit (GPS). But that proves nothing, because its success in LEO is attributable to bits and pieces of GR, not the whole thing.

    The evolution of the universe is supposedly guided by the Einstein equation, gravitationally speaking. That in turn is derived from first principles, such as Newton’s gravitational law (actually deduced first in an analogy with light, by a French priest… As Newton himself declared).

    A serious problem is that the Einstein equation is determined only up to the so called “Cosmological Constant”, which cannot be guessed from first principles (the CC drove Einstein a bit nuts; first he used it to make a static universe; then, as the universe was revealed non static by Hubble and his colleagues, Einstein called the CC his “greatest blunder”).

    What invalidates Hawking’s certainty about the evolution of the universe is that the CC has turned out to be non zero: if we don’t know the evolution equation, how can we know the evolution?

    The speed of expansion of the universe is apparently increasing. Nobody knows why. This cast a doubt even on the 15 billion years universe: if the universe can accelerate, why could not it brake? Just saying…

    Another thing Hawking does not insist on is that it is QFT, Quantum Field Theory, or more exactly its specialization known as the “Standard Model” which drives the theory of the early universe. To say that it is only electromagnetism and gravitation which drive the universe is to hark back to the 1920s (by the 1930s, QED had appeared, and physicists decided Einstein was a pet dinosaur!) But the SM is clearly a work in progress, which may pretty well collapse soon if the LHC in Geneva does not find the so called “Higgs”, soon.

    “Cosmic Inflation” rests on another imaginary particle, the inflaton. That imaginary thing is why Hawking says he is sure that the universe is created out of nothing. I guess that, if the “Higgs” is not found, even standard physicists are going to have doubts about many of their certainties, and their cosmic cognition will deflate.

    Another point: Hawking says that time acts like space in extreme conditions. As far as I know, QFT physicists make computations that way, and the results fit observation, but that does not prove that this mathematical artifice (“imaginary time”) rests on anything real.

    We know that life started very fast on Earth, but we do not know what was going on 15 billion years ago, or what drove it. We don’t even know if Newton’s law of gravitation is correct, in first order, at a large scale (apparently, it’s not, since the CC seems non zero!)

    Science is knowledge, and that should include knowledge about what we don’t know, also known as rational humility.

    The history of science proves that the best minds come short, and we need more than them. We need the truth, and only the many, and thinking deep, and truthfully, can bring that. Democracy is not just necessary to achieve fairness, but also intelligence.

    And democracy includes isegoria, the right to equal speech. For oligarchic, and technological reasons, we had lost it in the last 24 centuries. But it can be regained now. And not just in politics, and economics, but also in engineering (see Fukushima, or, more generally dangers from technological choices, quakes, etc.), and, more generally, science. After all, most scientists are directly financed by the public…

    Anyway, good job Paul! As I said, an essay encompassing those various notions in a bit more detail will appear on my site, ASAP.


    1. Patrice, I need so much more time than I have this moment to go through your long and fascinating reply. But a big, big thank you.

      All I will say this special day is that my wish before I die is to sit with you somewhere on this planet over a very long, slow hot tea (I am English!) and endeavour to understand so much more about the points you raise. And why do I call this a special day? Because I have received the letter from USCIS confirming my right to permanent residency in the USA!


  2. One has to admire Stephen Hawkins .. We still are only infants in understanding the complexities of the Universe, and the different layers of dimensions science as yet to discover both in outer space and in the ethereal .. I am wholly heartened by the fact that Once upon a time we thought the world flat… and would fall over the edge if we sailed far enough .. Now with Quantum physics and Sacred Geometry, many new insights are being discovered.. What is perceived as ‘truth’ today, no doubt will be replaced by a Truer ‘Truth’ discovered tomorrow..
    As always Paul a very enlightening read.. and Long may our Minds stay Beautiful… .. Happy Easter to you and yours… Dreamwalker


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