Brain Pickings

Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything

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Out-geniusing Einstein, or what the Pope and quantum mechanics have in common.

In 1988, iconic theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking — the living paradox of a superhuman brain trapped in a body that doesn’t work, held in the merciless grip of Lou Gehrig’s disease — published the landmark A Brief History of Time as he set out to “know the mind of God” by developing a simple, elegant set of laws that would explain how our universe works and where it came from. And unlike other grand existential questions about the nature of reality, what it means to be human, whether God exists and what time is, his was the grandest quest of all: To build a complete theory everything. To do that, he had to do the seemingly impossible: Unify the two great theories of physics — the theory of the very big, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and the theory of the very small, quantum mechanics.

Twenty years later, Discovery captured Hawking’s grand quest to find the fundamental reasons for our existence and his life’s work in Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything. The ambitious documentary follows Hawking who, at the age of 66, still puts in a tireless full week’s worth of teaching and research, and contextualizes his landmark work over the past two decades through rare and revealing interviews with renowned scientists who collaborated with Hawking, as well as with Hawking himself.

At a conference on cosmology in The Vatican, the pope told the delegates that it was OK to study the universe after it began, but they should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God. I was glad he didn’t realize I had presented a paper at the conference suggesting how the universe began — I didn’t fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition like Galileo.” ~ Stephen Hawking

Though the DVD is most excellent, the film is also available on YouTube in 10 parts, gathered for your cognitive pleasure in this playlist:

My life’s work has been to unify the theories of the very large and the very small. Only then can we answer the more challenging questions: Why are we here? Where did we come from?” ~ Stephen Hawking

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