Hawking, the undisputed genius of our lifetimes, was never stumped for ideas or answers to some of the essential questions of human nature.
His final work, titled Brief Answers to the Big Questions tackles some of the questions that Hawking was forever being asked. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to finish the book before his death in March, aged 76.
Hawking was wheelchair-bound due to motor neuron disease, but dedicated his life’s work to unraveling the mysteries of the universe. His final book has been completed by the theoretical physicist’s family and academic colleagues, with material drawn from his vast personal archive.
His daughter, Lucy Hawking said at the Science Museum of London, “He was regularly asked a set of questions” and consequently, the book was an attempt to “bring together the most definitive, clearest, most authentic answers that he gave. We all just wish he was here to see it.”
Hawking certainly doesn’t hold back in his answers, offering a number of insights that will get you thinking, questioning and speculating about the universe, creation and the future.
When it comes to questions about God and the afterlife, Hawking is clear in his answer. He says the simplest explanation is that God does not exist and there is no reliable evidence for an afterlife, except perhaps people can live on through their influence and genes.
“Do I have faith?” he writes. “We are free to believe in what we want, and it’s my view that there is no God. No one created the universe, and no one directs our fate.”
Hawking goes on to say that this realisation made him decide belief in an afterlife was just “wishful thinking” and that “when we die, we return to dust.”
Yeah, a little bleak Hawking. But he did find a silver lining, suggesting that humans live on through their influence, and in their children.
Whilst Hawking’s belief may suggest there is no God, he does postulate what he would ask if there was one.
Writing in the book, he states, “If there were such a God, I would love to ask, however did he think of anything as complicated as M-theory in eleven dimensions.”
M-theory is a theory in physics that unifies all consistent versions of superstring theory. It’s probably not the question most other people would ask the Big Guy Up Top, but Hawking is one of a kind.
According to Hawking, humans have no option but to leave Earth to avoid the risk of being “annihilated”. He also adds that by the time people realise what is happening with climate change, it may be too late. Well, that’s certainly a downer. Hawking writes that in the next 50 years, we will come to understand how life began and possibly discover whether life exists elsewhere in the universe.
“He was deeply worried that at a time when the challenges are global, we were becoming increasingly local in our thinking,” daughter Lucy Hawking said.
“It’s a call to unity, to humanity, to bring ourselves back together and really face up to the challenges in front of us.”
Hawking says the human race must improve its mental and physical qualities, but that a genetically modified race of super-humans with great memory and disease resistance, will endanger the others.
Hawking says computers will overtake humans in intelligence during the next 100 years, but that “we will need to ensure that the computers have goals aligned with ours.”
Eddie Redmayne, who played Hawking in the 2014 film, The Theory of Everything, wrote the book’s foreword. He relates that before Hawking saw the movie, he told the actor that he would be honest with his review, whether it was “Good. Or otherwise.”
The good news for Redmayne is that Hawking did like the film, although he could have done with fewer feelings and more physics (naturally, of course). Redmayne was also credited by Hawking as playing a “particularly handsome version of me.”
Hawking tackles a number of issues in the book. he suggests that in principle we might be able to predict the future (but can’t put it into practice quite yet). He doesn’t rule out the possibility of time travel (exciting times ahead), and also believes that there is other intelligent life out there in the universe.
Brief Answers to the Big Questions is available from local retailers now.