Stephen Hawking’s own personal brief history of time is up. But he left as he lived, feisty, modern and… depressing. And without finding the Grand Unified theory he was famous for being about to discover.
Hawking was once equivocal about the meaning of life or lack thereof. In his popular 1988 book A Brief History of Time he didn’t just say a complete theory of the universe would let us “know the mind of God” -- which takes some doing if no such thing exists.
He asked the crucial question: “Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”
Alas, in his final book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, he puts out the fire. There’s no God, afterlife, heaven or point. No, wait. There is a point. It’s really exciting to contemplate the great mystery of … um… nothing very much.
Brief Answers addresses the 10 basic questions readers had been asking since A Brief History of Time appeared, including such chestnuts as “Is time travel possible?” and “Should we colonize space?” But it’s a pretty weak nuclear force he offers us….But why would you want to? Nowhere else is remotely hospitable, we’ll never reach the stars, and we’re as far from God on Titan as on Earth.
Even life on Mars, if we find it, is liable to be a drab affair especially if whatever organic molecules may be self-organizing there, or may once have, never got to the point of photosynthesis where things get a bit interesting. Where they really get interesting, of course, is with self-awareness.
Life without mind, not mere calculating power but reflection, is barely more interesting than rock. Especially to itself. It only gets interesting when we wonder why we’re born, why we die, and why we spend so much time in between wearing digital watches. And 42 isn’t much of an answer.
Unfortunately it’s all Hawking has in his cold, soulless, material universe. In response to “How do we shape the future?” he says, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.” See, they’re these giant balls of nuclear-fusion gas, inaccessible and pointless. They don’t even sparkle. Next?
OK. God. In a speech shortly before his death he said “We are each free to believe what we want, and it’s my view that the simplest explanation is that there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realisation: there is probably no heaven and afterlife either. I think belief in the afterlife is just wishful thinking. There is no reliable evidence for it, and it flies in the face of everything we know in science. I think that when we die we return to dust. But there is a sense we live on, in our influence, and in the genes we pass to our children.”
Talk about clutching at straws. The genes we pass on to our children aren’t immortality. They’re just more dust. Like our fast-fading influence. Who now remembers your great-grandmother’s pixie laugh? All dust and ashes. Wheeee! In what conceivable sense is that “living on”? It literally makes no sense.
Indeed, the odd thing is just how unscientific his sentiments are. Especially “We are each free to believe what we want”. Oh really? Can I believe the Earth is flat? Well no. Logic and evidence prove it’s round. OK. Can I believe there’s no God? Sure. If you want….Our moral choices matter and at some level we all know it. And no Grand Unified Theory of life, the universe and everything is worth a load of dingoes’ kidneys if it can’t say why.
At the book launch for Brief Answers, Hawking’s daughter Lucy said despite his atheism her father would be happy to be buried at Westminster Abbey because “He never liked to be alone… and I like to think that he would find his final resting place between Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin and he would never be alone again.”
But dust can’t keep dust company or be kept company.
(Robson, "The Despair of Stephen Hawking's Inconsistencies,” IntellectualTakeout Online, 11/2/18).