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The 10 questions Professor Stephen Hawking tackles in his final book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions


By Paul Brackley


Professor Stephen Hawking in March 2015. Picture: Andre Pattenden
Professor Stephen Hawking in March 2015. Picture: Andre Pattenden

Win two tickets to Cambridge launch of the book on October 17

Prof Stephen Hawkings final book is called Brief Answers to the Big Questions (released October 16, 2018)
Prof Stephen Hawkings final book is called Brief Answers to the Big Questions (released October 16, 2018)

Is there a God? Is there other intelligent life in the universe? And will we survive on Earth?

These are some of the big questions tackled by Prof Stephen Hawking in his final book, set to be released next Tuesday (October 16).

Renowned for his ability to translate complex scientific concepts into language accessible to a mainstream audience, the world-famous University of Cambridge theoretical physicist turned his attention to more fundamental questions for the book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, which is being released some seven months after his death at the age of 76.

His daughter, Lucy Hawking, told the Cambridge Independent: “Communication was so important to our father in his lifetime and we see this book as an integral part of his legacy, bringing his scientific writing and his social commentary together into one beautiful edition, laced with a dose of his trademark dry humour.”

A ticketed launch event will take place for Brief Answers to the Big Questions on Wednesday at The Cavonius Centre in the Stephen Hawking Building, owned by Gonville & Caius College, where Prof Hawking was a fellow.

He tackles the following questions in the book, which is published by John Murray:

■ 1. Is there a God?

■ 2. How did it all begin?

■ 3. Is there other intelligent life in the universe?

■ 4. Can we predict the future?

■ 5. What is inside a black hole?

■ 6. Is time travel possible?

■ 7. Will we survive on Earth?

■ 8. Should we colonise space?

■ 9. Will artificial intelligence outsmart us?

■ 10. How do we shape the future?

Among those involved in the launch event is Sumit Paul-Choudhury, strategy director and editor emeritus at New Scientist.

Does he believe there is other intelligent life out there?

Stephen Hawking at his 75th Birthday public symposium. Pictures: Sir Cam
Stephen Hawking at his 75th Birthday public symposium. Pictures: Sir Cam

“Yes, but not as we know it,” he told the Cambridge Independent. “We’re starting to realise that intelligence takes many different forms even here on Earth – it might be difficult to recognise intelligent aliens even if and when we ever encounter them.”

And what does he think lies inside a black hole?

“We probably already know: a singularity. Unfortunately, we don’t really know what a singularity is…” he said.

Also attending the launch is author and broadcaster Dallas Campbell.

“Stephen’s personal story – triumph over tragedy – really caught the public’s imagination,” he told the Cambridge Independent. “The area of science that he was studying – black holes and cosmology – is something people are really interested in and the big questions that surround space.

“People are really going to love this book because it’s going to reconnect them with things they would have wondered about.

“There’s also a poignancy that this is his final work, the last part of his extraordinary legacy and I think everyone is excited about it.”

It will have to do well to match the success of Prof Hawking’s famous 1988 book A Brief History of Time, however, which sold 10 million copies worldwide.

“Stephen really caught the public mood when A Brief History of Time came out – even though it was one of those books that famously people had, but very few people read,” said Dallas.

Dr Pippa Rogerson, master of Gonville & Caius, with the memorial that has been placed at the entrance to Prof Stephen Hawkings room at the college where he was a fellow. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Pippa Rogerson, master of Gonville & Caius, with the memorial that has been placed at the entrance to Prof Stephen Hawkings room at the college where he was a fellow. Picture: Keith Heppell

“It was complicated but the actual subject he was talking about just holds such endless fascination for people, particularly young people – kids love to talk about space.

“Also, he wrote with such clarity and became the voice of popular science. He was instantly recognisable and had star billing. He was such a forward-facing person as well, he was always willing to talk to people and to explain complex ideas.”

He said the new book will appeal to our “inner child”.

“We all have a natural curiosity about the world and the big questions: Where do I come from? Where are we going? What is the future of the Earth? What is space? When did it start? What’s the nature of time? Is there a creator behind the universe?

“All these are questions we love to grapple and as kids we revel in them, but gradually as we get older you have that beaten out of you. The lucky ones cling on to that sense of wonder. Stephen Hawking had that so much – a childlike sense of wonder. He had that throughout his career. He made science human. He held the key to the universe that was people’s natural curiosity and he threw the doors wide open for people,” said Dallas.

Prof Hawking was renowned for his work on black holes and his efforts to unite the competing theories of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity into one ‘theory of everything’.

He died on March 14, 2018, following a 50-year battle with motor neurone disease.

His ashes were interred at Westminster Abbey in June.

A memorial stone, featuring an equation and one of his most famous quotes - “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet” - has been installed near the doorway to his room at Gonville & Caius College.

Tickets for the Cambridge book launch on Wednesday October 17 cost £8 and are available at https://pages.hachette.co.uk/stephen-hawking, at Heffers Bookshop or by calling 01223 463200.

Win two tickets to the launch event

The Cambridge Independent has a pair of tickets to give away to the book launch in Cambridge on Wednesday.

For your chance to win, answer this question: At which Cambridge college was Prof Hawking a fellow? Send your answer by email to letters@iliffemedia.co.uk to arrive by 5pm on Friday October 12. Please include your name, address and a contact number. Our usual T&Cs apply.

Read more

Cambridge says goodbye to Professor Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking’s final work suggests the universe is simpler than we thought

Stephen Hawking’s scientific legacy: Black holes, event horizons and an exit from eternal inflation



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