Themes

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 760

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The themes of "Brief Answers to the Big Questions" are ten important questions about our place in the universe in which physics and scientific reasoning are employed by Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking to help us find provisional answers. Mathematical physics has direct bearing on the first six questions, while the last four are the subject of his informed speculation.

The first theme is the existence of God. Hawking's view is that if you define God as a being in whose image we are made and with whom we can have a personal relationship the answer is probably no. If you define God as the laws of the universe [Logos] then yes, God exists.

The next theme is how it all began. Hawking's believes the universe was spontaneously created ex nihilo according to the laws of science and scientific (though not Laplacian) determinism. The positive mass and energy (two versions of the same thing) are balanced by the same amount of negative energy in space resolving to zero, all created out of the big bang. Time didn't exist before the big bang.

Can we predict the future? The scientific determinism of Laplace now has to be qualified by chaos theory and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. We can accurately predict certain outcomes only within a range of probability, but we cannot predict other outcomes accurately because of the unmanageable number of variables and their behavior under chaotic conditions where a small perturbation can tip a critical system into a different state, not to mention the wave nature of particles.

What is inside a Black Hole? It contains particles and anti-particles destroying each other. Time will slow down in approaching a Black Hole, and once you pass the event horizon, there will be no escaping its gravitational pull. If you choose a big enough Black Hole, you will not be pulled apart entering it, and inside time will stand still.

Is time travel possible? Under the theory of relativity, all we'd need is a spaceship that moves faster than the speed of light, which Einstein argued would take a near infinite amount of rocket power, so probably not. Wormholes require a negative energy density that is unlikely to exist to warp space time sufficiently. If it were possible, we'd have visitors from the future coming back trying to alter events to change future outcomes. We don't see evidence of that.

How do we shape the future? We need to inspire imagination and creativity sufficient to transcend common sense. Funding and promoting science is essential. We need to keep working on finding answers to the big questions. We need to move out into space and explore other planets for colonization. We must master artificial intelligence so that it will work in harmony with us, rather than mastering us and eliminating us—which is possible—as long as we take great precautions.

Will we survive on earth? Nuclear confrontation or climate change will result in a major crisis for human survival within the next hundred years. Our best bet is to leave earth and spread out to colonize other planets. We must cooperate to do this. A lot will depend on how we manage science and technology as a species. Genetic engineering of humans is likely and will be necessary to keep up with artificial intelligence. We have a future, but it will be very different from our past.

Is there other intelligent life in the universe? One star in five has a potentially Earth-like planet in orbit around it. Life evolved on earth in 1/14 of the time available. There probably is intelligent life somewhere very far away from us, and it is good that it is so far away because it would probably be more advanced, and we would likely be worse off from the encounter.

Should we colonize space? Yes. We need to find other living environments beyond planet Earth. Our survival may depend on it. The NASA space program inspired new scientists and public interest in science. We need to reignite the space program and rekindle the public's interest in science and space. Permanent colonies on the moon and Mars should be the first priority. President Trump's Space Force is a step in the right direction in providing funding for a new space program.

Will AI outsmart us? Yes, very likely unless we take precautions to make it serve our interests. If we are sufficiently cautious in our safeguards, we should be able to evolve together with artificial intelligence in a way that doesn't allow it to escape our control and destroy us.

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