By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Former Cambridge Professor Stephen Hawking told students at Caltech this week that, contrary to the feelings of many God enthusiasts, the universe did not require a deity to create, nor does it require one to continue existing.
Though his speech was supposed to be free of recording devices, some sly student sneaked in with a digital audio recorder and smuggled Hawking’s speech out for public consumption (embedded below). During his talk, he cited M-Theory — a wide-ranging and as-yet-incomplete explanation of the universe that attempts to unite the factions within String Theory — as the only workable theory going forward that can explain the true nature of the cosmos.
M-Theory suggests that the multi-dimensional “strings” of the universe are bound together by a strange material sometimes called membranes, but also known by other names. It suggests that mater, space, time and every possible history exists simultaneously across dimensional planes that were created out of nothing at the moment of the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago. Only in very few of these dimensions can a species like humanity come into being.
“The problem of what happens at the beginning of time is a bit like the question of what happened at the edge of the world when people thought the world was flat,” he said. “If the world’s a flat plate with the sea pouring over the edge — I have tested this experimentally. I have been around the world, and I have not fallen off.”
He added that such a question can pose problems for people who look to imagined deities for the answers they seek. “What was God doing before the divine creation?” Hawking asked. “Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”
In the later portion of his speech, Hawking shifted into advocating for greater public emphasis on space. “Most recent advances in cosmology have been achieved from space, where there are uninterrupted views of our vast and beautiful universe,” he said. “But we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet. I for one encourage public interest in space, and I’ve been getting my reading in early.”
“It has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics,” he continued. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years, and I’m happy if I have made a small contribution. The fact that we human beings, who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph.”
“So remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet,” Hawking concluded. “Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”