Stephen Hawking, who died at his Cambridge home yesterday, evokes a universe of fantasies. This is not just because he wanted to comprehend the deep and dark secrets (‘dark matter’ is a huge research area in astrophysics) of the cosmos in totality and encompass all the laws of physics within the ambit of a single law famously called the Theory of Everything (ToE), thus trying to understand the ‘mind of God’ as he would say, going by the frequency of occurrence of the word God in his classic A Brief History of Time, but also because his persol life remains a fantasy for others. But first his persol life. He was diagnosed with a life-threatening neuro-degenerative disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that robbed him of his ability to speak and confined him to wheelchair when he was just 21 – he was into his PhD programme on general relativity and cosmology at that time, an area founded by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity in 1915 that took the world by storm as it completely demolished Newton’s theory of gravitation by replacing ‘gravitation as a force’ by ‘gravitation as a manifestation of the curvature of space-time continuum’ (a four-dimensiol framework unlike the three-dimensiol space we experience). Hawking’s doctors gave him two years to live. But he defied all medical history and lived on to leave the world only yesterday. This is the genius of a man of such grit that people found it difficult to believe as to how a person speaking with the help of a speech synthesizer and bound completely to his wheelchair could shake the vast and intriguing domain of cosmology with theory after theory, all absolutely astounding; dig out the secrets of black holes (stars whose heavy mass beyond a critical point, more than 1.5 times the mass of sun, makes them collapse into space-time entities whose gravitation is so strong that even light, with a speed of 1,86,282 miles per second in vacuum, cannot escape); but eventually go on to prove that black holes too emit radiation, famously called Hawking Radiation, med after him. This is an incredible story. But then the man himself was incredible. Perhaps that is why he was called the world’s most intelligent man alive after Einstein.
Since his theories are not properly understood by even physicists, let alone the layman, we would succinctly restrict to his popular classic A Brief History of Time, which, after its publication in 1988, remained on Sunday Times’ bestsellers list for an unprecedented 237 weeks, selling 10 million copies and getting translated to 40 different languages. This book was meant for the layman who would only marvel at the mysteries of the universe but would never understand the physics behind its baffling beauty and intricacies. Hawking’s is an ingenious attempt to tell the layman why the universe exists and why it so exists; whether the Creator, if any, had any role in creating the universe, or how much freedom the Creator had in creating the universe if he had created it at all; why we exist in this universe (is it because the universe would have us here because otherwise it would go uppreciated?); and whether it is possible to unify all the laws of physics into one common law, ToE, which would explain everything about the universe and help us know the ‘mind of God’, if there is any God at all. His book traces the origin of the universe, tries to crack its mysteries and explain very complicated mathematical laws of general relativity and quantum mechanics (a branch of modern physics in which events are never certain but only probabilistic, inspired by the famous Uncertainty Principle worked out mathematically by one of its founders, the German genius and Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg), and tries to foresee the end of the universe in some black hole! Science fiction? No. This is how the fusion of general relativity and quantum mechanics works, which defies common sense; so much so that even the most accomplished physicists sit motionless, completely confounded by the working.
The ToE-chaser is no more. But he inspires a dream – to decode the Mind of God, if any.