8 Things We Learned From Stephen Hawking’s Book

Wacky Physics

Wacky Physics

From the idea that our universe is one among many, to the revelation that mathematician Pythagoras didn’t actually invent the Pythagorean theorem, here are eight shocking things we learned from reading physicist Stephen Hawking’s new book, “The Grand Design,” written with fellow physicist Leonard Mlodinow of Caltech.

The book, covering major questions about the nature and origin of the universe, was released Sept. 7, 2010, by its publisher, Bantam.

The power of light

The power of light

This fun fact: A 1-watt night-light emits a billion billion photons each second.

Photons are the little packets that light comes in. Confusingly, they, like all particles, behave as both a particle and a wave.

The past is possibility

The past is possibility

According to Hawking and Mlodinow, one consequence of the theory of quantum mechanics is that events in the past that were not directly observed did not happen in a definite way. Instead they happened in all possible ways. This is related to the probabilistic nature of matter and energy revealed by quantum mechanics: Unless forced to choose a particular state by direct interference from an outside observation, things will hover in a state of uncertainty.

For example, if all we know is that a particle traveled from point A to point B, then it is not true that the particle took a definite path and we just don’t know what it is. Rather, that particle simultaneously took every possible path connecting the two points.

Yeah, we’re still trying to wrap our brains around this.

The authors sum up: “No matter how thorough our observation of the present, the (unobserved) past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities.”

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