Universe or multiverse
by K P Prabhakaran Nair on 24 Mar 2018 2 Comments

The distinguished scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking, breathed his last on March 14, the day his illustrious predecessor Albert Einstein was born. It could be a mere coincidence. But there are other much lesser known facts about his life that makes it scintillating, exciting, and at the same time makes one wonder what this great genius was doing all through his productive life.


For one thing, many, even in science, do not know that he held the most prestigious Lucasian Chair at the University of Cambridge, once held by Sir Isaac Newton, for thirty long years. He was named to the Chair at the young age of 37 and held it till 67, when it was mandated that he should retire (normally in Europe distinguished Professors retire at sixty five).


Ironically, when he was named to this prestigious Chair, Hawking said he was “just a stop gap Professor”, because neither he nor his doctors knew how long he would live because of the strange ALS disease that adversely affected the motor neurons in his brain, disabling physical movement and speech. But, he had a super active mind and was enabled to talk through the “voice synthesizer” perfected by a technologist whose wife later became his nurse, and then, his second wife, when Hawking divorced his first wife Jane, of nearly thirty years, who bore him three children. He divorced his second wife as well, not long before his death. Obviously, he did not find “true love”, as he put it in his own words.


There are other things many people do not know about Hawking. In 1981, the Vatican invited scientists from different parts of the world who had made very significant contributions to science. This author had the privilege of receiving an invitation because of his revolutionary soil management concept, now globally known as “The Nutrient Buffer Power Concept”. This exposed the highly soil extractive farming, euphemistically known as the “green revolution”, and all its scientific fallacies, and showed the poor and marginal farmers of Africa, Latin America and Asia, a new path to farming.


The scientists queued up for the Pope to greet each one, but when it came to Hawking’s turn to be wheeled in before the Pope, the latter stood up walked to him and extended his right hand for Hawking to kiss. All heads turned. This author felt, here is the man who questioned the existence of God, and here is the Pope, the Christian representative of God on earth, standing up and walking up to this atheist, to greet him!


There are other startling things which must shake and wake up humanity, that have come from his unique mind. One is about the last research paper he wrote from his death bed, a fortnight before his sad demise. This final research paper could open up a treasure trove of clues which could help detect other universes that reside in the cosmos, besides our own. The research paper charted out the mathematics required for a space probe to find experimental evidence for the existence of a ‘multiverse’.


The paper sets out to prove the idea that our cosmos is only one of many universes. The paper is jointly authored with Professor Thomas Hertog, Professor of Theoretical Physics, at the Catholic University of Leuven in the Flemish part of Belgium, where this author was located in mid-1980s.


The paper, titled ‘A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation’, is now under review by a leading journal. It confronts an issue that had bothered Hawking since the 1983 “no-boundary” theory he devised with James Hartle, describing how the universe exploded into existence with the Big Bang. To quote Thomas Hertog, “This was Stephen to boldly go where Star Trek fears to tread”. Under the theory, it instantaneously expanded from a tiny point into the prototype of the universe we see today – a process known as inflation.


The problem for Hawking was that the theory also predicted that “our” Big Bang was accompanied by an infinite number of others, each producing a separate universe. This was a mathematical paradox that made it impossible to test the idea experimentally. “We wanted to transform the idea of a multiverse into a testable scientific framework,” explains Hertog. This final paper by Hawking also predicts that the ultimate fate of our universe is simply to fade into blackness as all its stars run out of energy.


While the scientific community delves into the insights offered in this final research paper by the genius, Hawking’s children are grappling with a bigger conundrum - how to manage the large numbers of well-wishers who would want to pay their last respects at his funeral, to be held in Cambridge later this month. Hawking died peacefully at his Cambridge residence on March 14 following complications due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - a progressive neurodegenerative disease. He was 76.


The author of ‘A Brief History of Time’ leaves behind two former wives, Jane and Elaine, and three children; he is mourned by thousands of colleagues, collaborators and friends.


His life will be commemorated with a memorial service at Westminster Abbey, London, an honour reserved for exceptional individuals. This means his three children, Robert, 50, Lucy, 47, and Timothy, 38, will have to compile invitation lists of more than 2,000 people. Invitees are expected to span the worlds of academia, showbiz and politics from around the world.


Despite Hawking’s atheism, the Cambridge service will be held in one of the city’s churches and the Westminster Abbey service will be a religious one with prayers and hymns. The family is yet to confirm whether the late scientist will be buried or cremated. Cambridge University is also deliberating on a permanent memorial to their famous Fellow.


An Epilogue:  Here are some notable quotes from this great mind for us to ponder on:


-        “Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which one we are in”.

-        “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion (emphasis mine) of knowledge”.

-        “It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining”.

-        “I relish the rare opportunity I’ve been given to live the life of the mind. But, I know I need my body and that it will not last forever”.


The author is former Professor, National Science Foundation, The Royal Society, Belgium & currently Senior Fellow, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, The Federal Republic of Germany     

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top