Of time and space and the universe

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A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (first edition, published 1988)

I read this book years ago, and didn’t understand it. Recently, I saw the wonderful film, The Theory of Everything, with Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as Stephen and his wife Jane.

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I was aware, when I saw it, that it sanitised Hawking’s relationship with his wife, and glossed over his affair with the nurse who was to become his second wife. But the acting was superb, and it was a moving and fascinating portrayal of an extraordinary man and his remarkable wife. So I was inspired to return to A Brief History of Time, to see if I understand it any better.

Reader, I don’t. But I am persevering. Bits of it make sense to me, and I am hoping that somehow, by osmosis, it is seeping into my understanding. He seems to be circling round the question of whether there was/is a creator of the universe or not, and I get the feeling he’s working his way to a no. His mind is fascinating, not just because of his brilliant theoretical intelligence, but because he is good at constructing an argument by looking at all the possible answers and then ruling them out, one by one, until he arrives at what he considers the best fitting hypothesis to the mystery of why we are here and how the world was made. I suspect that in the end I will feel as much of a vacuum as I did when I watched his series on the universe (with voiceover by Benedict Cumberbatch) on SBS. When I watched that, it was much more obvious that he was seeking to disprove the existence of a creator or the possibility of life after death. I kept wanting to say ‘but….’.

The other thing that fascinates me about him is his relationship with his first wife. I read her biography, Travelling to Infinity, which is beautifully written and gives us some of the substance of his material and emotional life, which tends to be overlooked when one travels through space and time with his almost disembodied mind, and of her struggles to create a family life revolving around him without being sucked into a black hole.

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An almost impossible task, for his intelligence is forensic and relentless. It is as if the increasing paralysis of his body, his matter, has allowed the enormous energy of his mind to expand, just like the universe he describes. E = mc2. Jane had to separate from him and create her own life, rather than being the moon to his earth.

The next book on my list of re-reads is Paul Davies’ God and the New Physics, written in the same era as A Brief History of Time. I’m hoping he will give me some substance for my conversations about matter and spirit. I”m also going to read Hawking’s memoir, My Brief History, for I”m curious to know about his life from his point of view.

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