Summary of Hawking's "Brief Answers to the Big Questions"

Stephen Hawking's new book "Brief Answers to the Big Questions" was recently released posthumously. In this book, Hawking answers 10 big questions of science, technology and humanity. This blog post provides a summary of Hawking's answers to the 10 big questions. Being the expert communicator that Hawking is, he himself provides the summary of his answers at the end of each chapter. So, the text of answers below is that of Hawking itself, taken directly from the book. No copyright violation is intended.

1. Is There a God? 

“How does God’s existence fit into your understanding of the beginning and the end of the universe? And if God was to exist and you had the chance to meet him, what would you ask him?”

“The question is, “Is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can’t understand or was it determined by a law of science?” I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science “God,” but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you would meet and put questions to. Although, if there were such a God, I would like to ask however did he think of anything as complicated as M-theory in eleven dimensions.

2: How Did It All Begin? 

“What came before the Big Bang?” 

“According to the no-boundary proposal, asking what came before the Big Bang is meaningless—like asking what is south of the South Pole—because there is no notion of time available to refer to. The concept of time only exists within our universe.”

3: Is There Other Intelligent Life in the Universe? 

Is there intelligent life on Earth? But seriously, if there is intelligent life elsewhere, it must be a very long way away otherwise it would have visited Earth by now. And I think we would’ve known if we had been visited; it would be like the film Independence Day.

4: Can We Predict the Future? 

“The short answer is no, and yes. In principle, the laws allow us to predict the future. But in practice, the calculations are often too difficult."

[Note that predicting the future here means the prediction of the trajectory of particles given their attributes like position and time, at a given moment. This is not the same as the predicting the future as used in astrology.]

5: What Is Inside a Black Hole? 

“Is falling into a black hole bad news for a space traveller?" 

Definitely bad news. If it were a stellar-mass black hole, you would be made into spaghetti before reaching the horizon. On the other hand, if it were a supermassive black hole, you would cross the horizon with ease, but be crushed out of existence at the singularity.” [Stellar mass black holes form from the collapse of massive stars at the end of their lives. Supermassive black holes are found at the centers of galaxies]

6: Is Time Travel Possible? 

“rapid space travel and travel back in time can’t be ruled out according to our present understanding. They would cause great logical problems, so let’s hope there’s a Chronology Protection Law to prevent people going back and killing their parents. But science-fiction fans need not lose heart. There’s hope in M-theory.”

7: Will We Survive on Earth? 

“What is the biggest threat to the future of this planet? An asteroid collision would be—a threat against which we have no defence. But the last big such asteroid collision was about sixty-six million years ago and killed the dinosaurs. A more immediate danger is runaway climate change. A rise in ocean temperature would melt the ice caps and cause the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide. Both effects could make our climate like that of Venus with a temperature of 250 degrees centigrade (482 degrees Fahrenheit). ”

8: Should We Colonise Space? 

“The human race has existed as a separate species for about two million years. Civilisation began about 10,000 years ago, and the rate of development has been steadily increasing. If humanity is to continue for another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before. I hope for the best. I have to. We have no other option.”

I look forward to space travel. I would be one of the first to buy a ticket. I expect that within the next hundred years we will be able to travel anywhere in the solar system, except maybe the outer planets. But travel to the stars will take a bit longer. I reckon in 500 years, we will have visited some of the nearby stars. It won’t be like Star Trek. We won’t be able to travel at warp speed. So a round trip will take at least ten years and probably much longer.”

9: Will Artificial Intelligence Outsmart Us? 

When we invented fire, we messed up repeatedly, then invented the fire extinguisher. With more powerful technologies such as nuclear weapons, synthetic biology and strong artificial intelligence, we should instead plan ahead and aim to get things right the first time, because it may be the only chance we will get. Our future is a race between the growing power of our technology and the wisdom with which we use it. Let’s make sure that wisdom wins.”

10: How Do We Shape the Future?” 

we never really know where the next great scientific discovery will “come from, nor who will make it. Opening up the thrill and wonder of scientific discovery, creating innovative and accessible ways to reach out to the widest young audience possible, greatly increases the chances of finding and inspiring the new Einstein. Wherever she might be.

So remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. 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. It matters that you don’t just give up. Unleash your imagination. Shape the future.

What world-changing idea, small or big, would you like to see implemented by humanity? 

This is easy. I would like to see the development of fusion power to give an unlimited supply of clean energy, and a switch to electric cars. Nuclear fusion would become a practical power source and would provide us with an inexhaustible supply of energy, without pollution or global warming.