A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes

You are driving along a road and you strike a cat that rather stupidly darted into your path. The cat is dead and depending on your natural disposition, your life continues mostly unaffected. After reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, you might interpret the situation quite differently. What was once a mundane event can be analyzed two new ways:  on a large scale and on a small scale. In his book, Dr. Hawking lays out our place in this universe on a level that almost anyone can understand and appreciate. In true scientific fashion he covers fundamental concepts of science, voyaging through past, present, and future understanding of the universe we live in. The most refreshing aspects of the book is the simplicity, the use of everyday examples, and the omission of detailed mathematical formulas. In fact, the only formula in the entire book is the famous E = MC2 which is explained in detail. Stated simply, the book gives the reader new perspectives to analyze our everyday existence. Putting the cat’s personal feelings, or lack thereof, aside, Dr. Hawking shows you what it all means.

The true sense of how minuscule we are, whether that be an individual or entire race, is nearly incomprehensible. Dr. Hawking explains the theory of the Big Bang which proposes that all matter was once compacted into a small area. At some point it exploded and the universe as we know it was created and time was started. While this may sound like cheap science fiction, Dr. Hawking provides reasonable logic and evidence that this event actually occurred. The numbers involved in this event is staggering. The amount of matter, time, energy transfer, and speed of expansion contain far too many zeros than can be truly grasped. With this in mind one gets a sense of the sheer immensity of the universe and how minute a tiny person in a tiny race on a tiny planet really fits into the galactic picture. On this point, Dr. Hawking shows us the humility of our place. In a big picture, the killing of a cat will not stop the Universe’s news presses.
Before we develop a massive inferiority complex, Dr. Hawking shows us that a different perspective may also be taken. What the Big Bang is to large scale, quantum physics is to small scale. Quantum physics is simply the interactions of tiny particles. To imagine this, one can pretend to have a microscope without limits. As you look closer and closer you see more detail. Going beyond the atomic level and looking deeper, you would eventually get to what is referred to as the elusive elemental particles. Since there is no such thing as a limitless microscope, we go as far in as we can and then theorize on why things behave as they do. You do not have to see the moon to understand why the tides rise and fall. Neither does one have to see an elemental particle to understand its effects on the surrounding area. At this level, science “fills in the gaps” with theory. Just as the big picture boggled the mind with its giganticism, the elemental particles amaze us with the complexity and unfathomable small scale. Looking at our dead cat in this light involves effecting a complex biological system that contained uncountable numbers of elemental particles. These particles worked together in such a way that produced a living, breathing entity we call a cat. As a result, we altered a evolutionary miracle that took billions of years of precise particle combinations to exist. On such a small scale, we are giant miracles of the universe.
At the expense of one theoretical cat, I have shown that it depends on how you look at the things. When compared to such immense concepts such as the Big Bang, the start of time, the gravitational forces near black holes, and the future of the entire universe, the demise of  the neighborhood feline might seem incredibly trivial. But Dr. Hawking also shows us that if you think small, for the lack of a better term, you will see that such an event, from an elemental particle’s view, is on a big scale. So the one thing I learned from A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes is that in any event, depending on what perspective you take, one must understand that our perspective is just that: ours. Dr. Hawking points out that there are many others.