Tuesday, May 31, 2011 9:17 PM
In his lectures The Theory of Everything: the origin and fate of the universe (Millenium Press 2002), Stephen W. Hawking manages to explain only part of the puzzle. He confines himself to the role of Earth, the galaxy to which it belongs and the rest of the universe around, including black holes and the way it all hangs together. In doing so he offers us three possibilities – that there is a single formula that explains it all, that there is no such formula, or that there are many such formulae. In doing so, he digs deeply into physics and chemistry yet without describing what exactly is ‘going on’: the ‘soup’ of existence as it were, in which we find ourselves. He talks of matter in the universe, as being made out of positive energy, which is all attracting itself by gravity. Then, as if this was not confusing enough, he goes on: “In the case of the whole universe, one can show that ... negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy of the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero” [p.111]. Earlier he talks of matter and radiation in the universe as being two distinct entities [p.98], and also of matter particles in the expanding universe [p.110].
Presumably we are to believe that matter is energy. Accordingly, one wishes he had dropped the other shoe. Back on Earth we inevitably find ourselves wondering where we fit in and it would have been helpful if our guru had included in his expositions some talk of daily life. For if everything is energy as he proposes, our existence, meaning that of our bodies and the world around including that of everything else, is nothing but a roiling soup of energy, instead of the planned campaign that we have been told to imagine. Hawking hints at this discovery but without saying so, as if our daily life was forbidden territory.
Perhaps we should not be surprised at his coyness. For centuries religion has forbidden us, the general public let alone scientists, from even attempting to come to grips with such mundane matters as the working of our bodies. We were told to favor our souls as more Important because subject to rewards and punishments in some after life. And, indeed, elsewhere in his book even Hawking occasionally pays court to religion as a guide. But what wonders does such misplaced loyalty hide from us! It is our bodies - how they grow and what eventually happens to them- that not only provides clues to the truth, but insists upon it. Now that we know that all is energy and only energy we can dispense with supernatural plans and purposes and concentrate upon what is exactly going on.
Consider our digestive system: food by way of plants and animals is broken up into its various atoms and absorbed to become part of the body. Later it is excreted, and is absorbed or eaten by other animals and plants. Then too, at death our bodies are broken up, eaten and again absorbed or blown away into the air to become parts of animals, plants and other humans. And so it has gone on for millennia; millions upon millions of humans, plants and other animals have all taken part in this grand exchange of atoms and particles of energy.
We do not see this, or seeing it fail to acknowledge this vast soup of existence not only because we have been told we have supernatural souls that are more important, but also because not all this exchange happens all at once; sometimes it happens very slowly as when we are growing up, sometimes fast as in an explosion. Or it may be that we feel ourselves superior to the rest of organic matter and have failed to see the significance of atomic particles and their role in our daily lives.
But let us expand a little: Stephen Hawking has identified the role of energy in the universe; it is now at last apparent that what is going on is an immortality more in keeping with the facts than is Judgment Day, and more encouraging to boot: To coin a term true Soupists will recognize themselves as ‘belonging’ to the universe, formed of shared energy without which, as Hawking is at pains to remind us, nothing could exist.
Photo by Tim Goetting