A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

What truth-seeker’s library would be complete without A Brief History of Time, the famous physics book that became a best-seller with the general public. I approached this volume as a lay reader, having quite a poor knowledge of physics (sadly, I failed my GCSE Science back in school).

The book opens brilliantly, with an easily digestible chapter on how our cosmology has evolved over time, from the Greek philosophers to the present day. Next we learn about the interrelationship between space and time, how we discovered that both are not fixed and absolute, but flexible. We move to the discovery that the universe itself is expanding, and how this points to an event in the distant past that we call the Big Bang. After all this great stuff, unfortunately the book starts to slowly slip out of my control. By the time I’m hitting the chapter on black holes (about mid-way through the book), I’m eighty-percent lost. I continued ploughing my way to the finish line, not understanding most of what I was reading, but keeping by eye out for digestible tidbits – which did show up occasionally.

There’s nothing actually wrong with this book, other than the fact that there seems to be some confusion about who the intended readership is. I find it amusing that the author pauses to define the word “ellipse” in an early chapter, when several chapters later he is blinding us with terms like “quantum fluctuation.” It’s difficult to see how a book of this nature gained such popularity with lay readers, other than some very effective marketing. It’s really aimed at physics students.

Even so, as a lay reader, I gained an invaluable deeper appreciation of the nature of space-time, one which complements and enhances my own philosophical understanding of the universe. The Big Bang is not “something out of nothing,” as theists commonly misunderstand. It is all the energy of the universe compressed to infinity – where form and duration collapse, becoming an infinite all or one. There is something very profound about the nature of energy, as something that cannot be created or destroyed, when we consider that “God” (whatever that is) cannot be created or destroyed. The Big Bang is also the point at which the laws of physics cease to function. Materialistic atheists should take note that this is providing a very large clue about the limits of science in its capacity to ever provide us with a total worldview.

Regarding the mathematical complexity of much of the book, I also gained an appreciation of just how much of what science asserts is highly theoretical and subject to error. Great changes in theory frequently occur at a level far beyond my understanding of physics. But it is safe to say that the fundamentals are here to stay.

A hard read, but well worth it.

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