Once upon a time, a man purchased a book. It was
The book: A Brief History Of Time
The Author: Stephen Hawking
Through luck, and association with a particular social group, the man who purchased the book, later got to actually meet the great man, Stephen Hawking himself. He informed him that he had bought and read the book. Largely through Hawking’s handler, the man who guided his wheelchair and who had learned to interpret his minuscule movements, he was asked what he thought of the book.
He replied that he had not understood a word of it. Well…. He got words like a, to, at, the, and, but the rest were over his head like an umbrella. Hawking was surprisingly pleased by this, because it proved that the man had actually read it, even if he didn’t get it.
I tried to get a copy of this book from the library thirty years ago, when it was first published, but it was too popular, and I finally gave up. Recently I thought I’d have another go at it. Hawking’s writing style is pleasantly clear and easy. He claimed that he wanted to provide this information for the ordinary person. Your ‘Ordinary Person’ may vary. MAGA-hat-wearing Trump supporters won’t be forming book clubs to discuss it, nor will it be a hot topic at truck stops.
Even though I’m retired, I’ve kept up my dues to the United Nerds International Union. I was a good halfway through this small (214 page) book before I had to start checking terms and concepts. After the body of the book, Hawking included 2-3 page bios on the likes of Einstein, Galileo, and Newton, to show how their works and discoveries have provided the foundation for modern understanding of the universe.
For a book on time, Hawking spent the first several chapters discussing/explaining matter. Matter and Time are interwoven. You can’t have time without matter. When I was born, scientists had only recently discovered that molecules were made up of atoms. The Second World War brought us the A-Bomb – the atom bomb. A few years later, the thermonuclear hydrogen H-Bomb was produced. These showed that the atoms could be torn apart, and jammed together, made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons.
More powerful and delicate devices, like the CERN Collider, have shown that even these tiny building blocks are made of even tinier bits. Like strange little trouble-making Gremlins, they have names like quarks, muons, pions, mesons, leptons, tachyons, baryons, gravitons, and bosons. While they are too small to reflect light, fun-loving physicists label them as red, blue and green, and insist that they have ‘spin,’ based on how they react with each other, and reality.
Hawking eventually got around to explaining time – how it (so far) only flows in one direction, from past to future. He showed how it is subjective, and is influenced by mass, and speed of travel. I’ve run into most of these terms and concepts before, but it was nice to see them laid out so completely and clearly.
Ordinarily, with a book so nicely written and presented, I’d be recommending it, but not this one. For most of you, your only concern with time is that you arrive at work before the boss gets grumpy about your ETA. If Hawking’s successors are successful at using black holes to reverse the flow of time, you’ll never have to worry about that again.
There was a young lady from Bright
Who could travel faster than light
She set off one day
In a relative way,
And returned the previous night
This book is different – a niche market. Unless the checkout clerk down at Geeks R Us knows you by name, I suggest giving it a pass. Don’t pass up the chance to read my next post. It will be available in no time at all.