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This Amazing Book Will Scratch Your Intellectual Itch Like None Other

Brief Answers to the Big Questions’ is a sugar rush for thinking minds


This Amazing Book Will Scratch Your Intellectual Itch Like None Other

He is intelligent, and cannot walk but travels to the black holes. Who is he?


Stephen Hawking.


That was my attempt at dark humor.


Hawking’s book ‘Brief Answers to the Big Questions’ is the best science book that I have read as an adult. It is not only a great read but also a perfect gift for someone with an inquisitive mind.


Read on as I discuss what I learned from this amazing book.



Big Questions are Important


They take you where you can’t go.


Not everyone is up for discussing life’s meaning and the vastness of the universe. But those who are, appreciate the knowledge science offers us.


Hawking starts the book by stressing the importance of big questions. In doing so he shares his journey from childhood to present in search of answers.


“I have spent my life traveling across the universe, inside my mind.”

He admits that some people find science and physics too complicated.


Hawking believes that many can still appreciate scientific ideas if presented clearly with no equations.


His book does exactly that. There are no weird equations that appear like the Egyptian hieroglyphs to a non-physicist.


This book covers 10 big questions about our world. In each chapter Hawking answers the question in detail, incorporating humor in his writing.


That is the reason I love this book.


He had a few years to live…


But he defied all odds.


Before going on to the big questions, let’s cover one of the most important parts of Hawking’s life. He touches on this in the book as well.


Hawking was in his early twenties, at Cambridge when he started falling without reason. His visit to the doctor and the subsequent diagnosis revealed he had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). This disease eventually causes loss of all movement.


As a result of this diagnosis, Hawking went into depression. He didn’t know how long he had.


The key is to find your way back.

This is something every reader can reflect on. Even the greatest mind can fall into depression.


The key is to find your way back.


Hawking did so, by taking every day as a bonus. His relationship and engagement with Jane gave him the will to continue his PhD.


“While there is life, there is hope.”

He lived to be 76 years old. He died in the earlier part of 2018, the same year this book was published.


His daughter Lucy Hawking has written the afterword of the book recounting her father’s funeral and her memories of him. She says something that will jolt you out of your chair.


“At the age of seventy-five, completely paralysed and able to move only a few facial muscles, he still got up every day put on a suit and went to work.”

That is something we all can take inspiration from.


Who is God?


He is not what you think.


The first question is an important one, the basis of arguments between theists and atheists.


‘Is there a God?’


According to Hawking, no.


His detailed answer is worth the read, even if you are a theist.


I enjoyed how Hawking explained the creation of the universe, the Big Bang, and the existence of time. He does this with easy-to-understand analogies.


There are mini Q&As in the book alongside the 10 main questions.


In the chapter about God, the mini answer details Hawking’s interpretation of God.


“If you like, you can call the laws of science ‘God’, but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you would meet and put questions to.”

I find the ‘laws-of-science God’ an interesting convergence of religion and science.


Little green men


Let’s meet intelligent life from other planets!


Does it exist?


Hawking answers the question with a myriad of possibilities.


We can predict but we can never know.


Perhaps, earth is the only planet equipped to sustain intelligent life. Maybe, intelligent life has a low survival rate. Could it be that all other intelligent life has ended up destroying itself?


Is it that humans were only able to evolve because no comet or asteroid collision wiped us out like the dinosaurs?


All the possibilities that Hawking gives are intriguing.


He expresses his skepticism about the widespread UFO conspiracy theories and goes on to say:


“All I can say is that if governments were hiding something they are doing a poor job of extracting useful information from the aliens.”

I’ve felt that throughout the book Hawking answers questions but still leaves possibilities open. I find it a mark of someone with wisdom.


We can predict but we can never know.


He also discusses the past and the future of human evolution. The future is gene editing and the creation of superhumans, thanks to technology.


“…I am sure that during this century people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts like aggression.”

Based on the title, it might seem like the book will present answers in yes and no, accompanied by a couple of arguments to support the answer.


But…


Reading this book is like sitting down with Hawking.


The answers morph into discussions. And they teach us much more than a straightforward answer would’ve.


Should we colonize space?


We don’t have a future if we don’t travel to space, says Hawking.


He talks about NASA’s and Elon Musk’s projects for lunar travel and gives us hope that it might be sooner than we think.


A little bit of an underwhelming reality for future space travelers is that:


“We won’t be able to travel at warp speed.”

Hawking discusses practical issues like the weakening of bones in zero gravity. He gives us the possibility of the moon being the base for travel to the rest of the solar system.

He ends this particular chapter with the following.


“I hope for the best. I have to. We have no other option.”

A part of me thinks it is Hawking’s unwavering optimism that helped him live for long and contribute so much to science.


The computer takeover


The second last question dwells on the future of artificial intelligence.


“Will artificial intelligence outsmart us?”

This question seems more urgent than ever, especially in the aftermath of ChatGPT.

Hawking predicts that Artificial Intelligence will permeate every aspect of our lives in the future. Whether it is education, healthcare, or work.


“We must not fear change. We need to make it work to our advantage.”

He tells us not to be fearful but to plan ahead. To make sure that the supercomputers have goals that are aligned with ours.


Much like my dark humor at the start of this article, Hawking leaves us with a dark joke.


“People asked a computer, ‘Is there a God?’ And the computer said, ‘There is now,’ and fused the plug.”

We invented the fire extinguisher after we invented fire, says Hawking. But we don’t have that kind of chance with climate change or artificial intelligence.


We have to get it right the first time.


Why should you read this book?


I loved it and I hope you will too.


If you are not one for quantum physics and M-theory, but like science fiction instead, you’ll be pleased to know that Hawking routinely refers to science fiction movies throughout. For example: ‘Star Trek’ and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.


Despite the dense subjects he is tackling, Hawking gives us moments to chuckle.


“… I would’ve drawn into defending his steady-state theory, a task which would’ve been harder than negotiating Brexit.”

It can be a bit intimidating to think of bright minds. We feel we are below them.

But they are humans like us.


We saw the humanness in Hawking’s struggle with depression. Similarly, he recounts his school days and tells us, “I wasn’t a very good student when I was at school”. He says that his work was “untidy”. His handwriting was “not very good”.


Did he have anything good?


He had “good friends”. And they “talked about everything.”


Perhaps the path to greatness isn’t in being a child pedagogy but in having a strong social circle. That can help you overcome anything in life.



 

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