Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays


Stephen Hawking, the famed astrophysicist who has challenged our view of the universe, wrote a book called “Black Holes and Baby Universes”. In it, he shares more of his thoughts on the Universe, life and other issues. Actually, “Black Holes and Baby Universes” is a collection of essays, by Stephen Hawking along with some of the speeches that he delivered throughout his life. It even includes the contents of a famous interview that he did on BBC radio back in the early 1990s. This book is full of intriguing thoughts as well as great wisdom that we can all learn from.

Stephen is a great optimist when it comes to science. He truly believes that we are near to fully understanding the Universe by building a scientific understanding of it through mathematics and physics. He says at one point in the book that the Universe is governed by an ordered set of laws that we can already see partly and in the near future we will be able to see the entire picture. Hawking admits that there are doubters within his field. Not everyone believes that science is as far along as he does. Also, there are some that we will ever be able to explain all the phenomena in the universe with the power of science. Some of Hawking’s critics think that his hope is merely a mirage and that no ultimate theory the universe exists. Hawking’s reply is that it is better to believe in the existence of an ultimate theory and to strive for it then to give into the “despair of the human mind”.

Black Holes and Baby Universes begins with two essays from Hawking’s early life and career. The first is called “Childhood”. In this essay hawking recollects the first few years of his life saying that they were rather ordinary. He was a good student with a strong interest in science but there was little indication that he would grow up to be the most famous physicist in the world. Hawking was, however, born into an intellectual family. His dad was a researcher in the field of medicine and his mother was also bright and educated. In fact most of the people in his neighborhood were either academics or scientists. Around the age of 14, Hawking decided that he wanted to study physics because he wanted to unravel the secret mysteries of the universe. From his youth it was recognized by many that Stephen had great theoretical prowess. Yet, he also lacked motor coordination and the ability to put things together with his hands.

In his next essay, “Oxford and Cambridge”, Hawking discusses his college years. He studied physics as he had always planned and by the age of 21 he was already in a Ph D program at Cambridge. The age of 21 was also when Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS the neurodegenerative disease that gradually takes away the body’s ability to move. ALS is the reason that hawking is confined to a wheelchair and needs the assistance of a machine in order to communicate verbally. It was ultimately fortunate that Hawking chose to study theoretical physics because had he picked another field of study he would have had to drop out of school. Theoretical phsyics is one of the only degrees where his condition would not put him at a severe disadvantage. When Hawking writes about his condition in the book it is without emotion. From his tone it is clear that Hawking does not view himself with pity or expect pity from others. He actually has a fine sense of humor about the subject.

Hawking goes on to write about falling in love and getting married in 1965. He states that despite his motor-neuron disability he has been able to have a family with children and become very successful in his career. He expresses incredible gratitude to his wife, children, and all those who supported him over the years. Their support is part of what allowed him to keep hope alive as he watched his body grow weak over the years.

Hawking’s next essay, “Public Attitudes Towards Science” is a critique and a vision for how science should be integrated into the public school system. He feels that it is very important for students to be aware of the newest advances in many fields of science. That was his motivation for writing his forth book “A Brief History of Time”. He wanted to communicate science in a popular format that could be understood by regular people and even young students. He recognizes that top scientists don’t communicate with the public enough or strive make their work accessible to them. This is a shame because a public that is uneducated on science will not value it and will not produce the next generation great scientists. Hawking goes on to briefly recount his personal journey in writing the first book and he expresses the wish that it be shared by more people. He has met many individuals who own it and use it as a conversation piece but who have not actually read the books contents. Instead of being read, “A Brief History of Time” collects dust on their bookshelves.

The final chapter of the book is a transcript of an interview that Hawking gave on BBC decades ago. Titled “Desert Island Discs: An Interview” it was a conversation between Hawking and Sue Lawley a leading BBC Radio host. In their conversation they bring out many different parts of Hawking’s life and his views on the universe. The interview is great because Lawley asks questions that help Steven to put his thoughts in words that can be understood by all. This chapter also helps Hawking shine as a role model and inspiration to all. He describes the hopelessness that overtook him when he discovered he had ALS and how he renewed his determination to continue studying physics and go on to be a great scientist.

This book was a wonderful read. It takes you into the mind of one of the most brilliant living scientists and also inspires you to continue striving towards your goals no matter what the setbacks you face in life.