Creative Nuisance

Musings From My Soul

A Brief History of Time – Some favourite Quotes

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I like the great Indian Railways(IR) for many a reason. It’s cheap, it’s a perfect low-paying-sight seeing-vehicle and it’s the common man’s transporatation channel. But this is not why I just adore it. It’s because IR gives me enough time to read a book during one of those lone 36-hour journeys, with no one to disturb, no one to tell you it’s time for breakfast or lunch or dinner, and no one to push their heads over your shoulders wanting to know what you are reading. And what better time can you find to read a book like Stephen Hawking’s “A brief History of Time.” I must admit at the beginning that it is one of the marvellous books that I have ever read, where Hawking is at his best explainig big bang to laymans( I, even being an Engineer, would consider myself a layman when it comes to decoding what happened at a time when time started), dodging irky questions from the Churches, and trying to reason all these without stating equations or making complex graphical representations.

Hawking states at the beginning of the book that someone told him that every equation he writes in the book would eat up half the sales, so he has been true to the publishers by writing a book on such a complicated topic, managing to put down just one very famous equation E=mc2, which he feels will not scare off half of his readers.

I am in no way reviewing such a famous book, but would like to quote certain lines/passages from the book that I found interesting.

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of starts called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: ‘What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.’ The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, ‘What is the tortoise standing on?’ ‘You’re very clever, young man, very clever,’ said the old lady. ‘But it’s turtles all the way down!

It has certainly been true in the past that what we call intelligence and scientific discovery have conveyed a survival advantage. It is not so clear that this is still the case: our scientific discoveries may well destroy us all, and even if they don’t, a complete unified theory may not make much difference to our chances of survival. However, provided the universe has evolved in a regular way, we might expect that the reasoning abilities that natural selection has given us would be valid also in our search for a complete unified theory, and so would not lead us to the wrong conclusions.

Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.

One could say: “The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.” The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.

As we shall see, the concept of time has no meaning before the beginning of the universe. This was first pointed out by St. Augustine. When asked: What did God do before he created the universe? Augustine didn’t reply: He was preparing Hell for people who asked such questions. Instead, he said that time was a property of the universe when it was created, and that time did not exist before the beginning of the universe.

Maybe that is our mistake: maybe there are no particle positions and velocities, but only waves. It is just that we try to fit the waves to our preconceived ideas of positions and velocities.The resulting mismatch is the cause of the apparent unpredictability.

I have not yet completed reading the book. When I do so, I will append some more to the above list.


Written by Abhishek

January 12, 2010 at 7:24 AM

2 Responses

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  1. It is a shame that I haven’t still read this book. But getting such a closer glance was awesome. And about the quotes, the last one is the best -a perfect way for the post to end and keep the reader lingering about the contradictions, mysteries and miseries of TIME.
    By the way, the title of this book kept baffling me always. Both the words ‘brief’ and ‘history’ are modifiers of time and so self-contradictory. Everything that happened, even my typing in the previous words, are history now. But even this vastness of history seems ‘a brief’ event with respect to time. Just as we do not know the beginning of history, the question when time started eludes us. We can always go back, but never know where we started from.


    January 12, 2010 at 9:58 AM

    • The title I feel has been given enough thought just like the rest of the book. As correctly mentioned, Time and brief are contradictory, and what Hawking tries to do is to found out the beginning of time or this universe, or whichever came later. He says that either universe started at a specific time, or time was started when the universe began. A nice read for someone who has got some basics in science.

      Abhishek Datta

      January 12, 2010 at 12:38 PM

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