Overview

Einstein said that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. But was he right? Can the quantum theory of fields and Einstein's general theory of relativity, the two most accurate and successful theories in all of physics, be united in a single quantum theory of gravity? Can quantum and cosmos ever be combined? On this issue, two of the world's most famous physicists--Stephen Hawking (A Brief History of Time) and Roger Penrose (The Emperor's New Mind and Shadows of the ...

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The Nature of Space and Time

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Overview

Einstein said that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. But was he right? Can the quantum theory of fields and Einstein's general theory of relativity, the two most accurate and successful theories in all of physics, be united in a single quantum theory of gravity? Can quantum and cosmos ever be combined? On this issue, two of the world's most famous physicists--Stephen Hawking (A Brief History of Time) and Roger Penrose (The Emperor's New Mind and Shadows of the Mind)--disagree. Here they explain their positions in a work based on six lectures with a final debate, all originally presented at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge.

How could quantum gravity, a theory that could explain the earlier moments of the big bang and the physics of the enigmatic objects known as black holes, be constructed? Why does our patch of the universe look just as Einstein predicted, with no hint of quantum effects in sight? What strange quantum processes can cause black holes to evaporate, and what happens to all the information that they swallow? Why does time go forward, not backward?

In this book, the two opponents touch on all these questions. Penrose, like Einstein, refuses to believe that quantum mechanics is a final theory. Hawking thinks otherwise, and argues that general relativity simply cannot account for how the universe began. Only a quantum theory of gravity, coupled with the no-boundary hypothesis, can ever hope to explain adequately what little we can observe about our universe. Penrose, playing the realist to Hawking's positivist, thinks that the universe is unbounded and will expand forever. The universe can be understood, he argues, in terms of the geometry of light cones, the compression and distortion of spacetime, and by the use of twistor theory. With the final debate, the reader will come to realize how much Hawking and Penrose diverge in their opinions of the ultimate quest to combine quantum mechanics and relativity, and how differently they have tried to comprehend the incomprehensible.

In a new afterword, the authors outline how recent developments have caused their positions to further diverge on a number of key issues, including the spatial geometry of the universe, inflationary versus cyclic theories of the cosmos, and the black-hole information-loss paradox. Though much progress has been made, Hawking and Penrose stress that physicists still have much farther to go in their quest for a quantum theory of gravity.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This volume contains a series of lectures delivered in 1994 by Hawking (A Brief History of Time) and Penrose (The Emperor's New Mind), renowned professors at Cambridge and Oxford, respectively. The overall topic is how mathematical physics might best represent the realities of the universe. The lectures assume a rather sophisticated knowledge of physics and mathematics. The authors present alternative views on approaching a formulation that fully accommodates both quantum and gravitational (general relativity) theories in physics. One question, for example, is whether parameters in a quantum description of matter can have definite ("real") values before they are measured. The issues extend to cosmological implications and have intriguing philosophical as well as technical aspects. Although well done, the treatment in this book is not for the general reader. Illustrations. (Feb.)
New Scientist
Over the past thirty years, Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose have done more than anyone to further our understanding of the nature of gravitation and cosmology. . . . The Nature of Space and Time is the result of their attempt to stage a structured dialogue about these problems, to isolate points of disagreement, and stimulate further investigation of these problems. . . . The debate between Hawking and Penrose is a live one between brilliant scientists. . . . This elegant little volume provides a clear account of two approaches to some of the greatest unsolved problems of gravitation and cosmology.
— John Barrow
Science
This is an interesting book to read now, but it promises to become an even more interesting book for future generations of physicists.
— Robert M. Wald
Boston Book Review
I found great satisfaction and not inconsiderable benefit from my efforts. . . . The clarity and brilliance of Hawking's logic would break through in simple straightforward terms. . . . This provided a real thrill.
— Lucy Horwitz
Physics World
As well as providing an accurate scientific record of the lectures, the text has lost none of the drama of the original occasion, which stemmed from the almost antithetical views of the two protagonists on almost everything except the classical theory of general relativity.
— Gary Gibbons
The Times Higher Education Supplement
A debate between Hawking and Penrose ... raises the reader's expectations of a lively interaction, and this is fully borne out in the transcribed discussion.... Hawking's effervescent sense of humour frequently enlivens the text.
— Joseph Silk
Toronto Globe & Mail
If there were such a thing as the World Professional Heavyweight Theory Debating Society, this would be the title bout.
— Christopher Dornan
Times Higher Education
A debate between Hawking and Penrose . . . raises the reader's expectations of a lively interaction, and this is fully bourne in the transcribed discussion. . . . Hawking's effervescent sense of humour frequently enlivens the text.
— Joseph Silk
New Scientist - John Barrow
Over the past thirty years, Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose have done more than anyone to further our understanding of the nature of gravitation and cosmology. . . . The Nature of Space and Time is the result of their attempt to stage a structured dialogue about these problems, to isolate points of disagreement, and stimulate further investigation of these problems. . . . The debate between Hawking and Penrose is a live one between brilliant scientists. . . . This elegant little volume provides a clear account of two approaches to some of the greatest unsolved problems of gravitation and cosmology.
The Times Higher Education Supplement - Joseph Silk
A debate between Hawking and Penrose ... raises the reader's expectations of a lively interaction, and this is fully borne out in the transcribed discussion.... Hawking's effervescent sense of humour frequently enlivens the text.
Toronto Globe & Mail - Christopher Dornan
If there were such a thing as the World Professional Heavyweight Theory Debating Society, this would be the title bout.
Science - Robert M. Wald
This is an interesting book to read now, but it promises to become an even more interesting book for future generations of physicists.
Boston Book Review - Lucy Horwitz
I found great satisfaction and not inconsiderable benefit from my efforts. . . . The clarity and brilliance of Hawking's logic would break through in simple straightforward terms. . . . This provided a real thrill.
Physics World - Gary Gibbons
As well as providing an accurate scientific record of the lectures, the text has lost none of the drama of the original occasion, which stemmed from the almost antithetical views of the two protagonists on almost everything except the classical theory of general relativity.
From the Publisher
"This elegant little volume provides a clear account of two approaches to some of the greatest unsolved problems of gravitation and cosmology."—John Barrow, New Scientist

"A debate between Hawking and Penrose . . . raises the reader's expectations of a lively interaction, and this is fully bourne in the transcribed discussion. . . . Hawking's effervescent sense of humour frequently enlivens the text."—Joseph Silk, Times Higher Education

Praise for Princeton's previous editions: If there were such a thing as the World Professional Heavyweight Theory Debating Society, this would be the title bout."—Christopher Dornan, Toronto Globe & Mail

Praise for Princeton's previous editions: This is a very courteous and intellectually stimulating exchange between two first-rate minds."Library Journal

Praise for Princeton's previous editions: This is an interesting book to read now, but it promises to become an even more interesting book for future generations of physicists."—Robert M. Wald, Science

Praise for Princeton's previous editions: As well as providing an accurate scientific record of the lectures, the text has lost none of the drama of the original occasion, which stemmed from the almost antithetical views of the two protagonists on almost everything except the classical theory of general relativity."—Gary Gibbons, Physics World

Praise for Princeton's previous editions: I found great satisfaction and not inconsiderable benefit from my efforts. . . . The clarity and brilliance of Hawking's logic would break through in simple straightforward terms. . . . This provided a real thrill."—Lucy Horwitz, Boston Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400834747
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/8/2010
  • Series: Princeton Science Library
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: With a New afterword by the authors
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 307,860
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. Roger Penrose is the Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.

Biography

In the universe as a whole, the nature of black holes may be one of the most puzzling mysteries. No less puzzling, in the slightly smaller universe of book publishing, is the astounding popular success of Stephen Hawking's 1988 book on the matter, or anti-matter, as it were: A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes.

Clocking in at just over 200 pages, it was, indeed, brief, but it was hardly the easy read its marketers promised. Nor did it stray much beyond the tone of a scholarly lecture, though at times it did take quick autobiographical peeks into Hawking's personal life. Still, it is just the author's persona that may have been the selling point prompting more than 10 million people worldwide to pick up a copy -- and to have it translated into more than 40 languages in the 10 years since its release.

For Stephen Hawking is an instantly recognizable public figure -- even for those who haven't delved into his so far unprovable theories about black holes. Stricken by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- or Lou Gehrig's disease, as it is called in the States -- while he was working toward his doctorate at Cambridge University, this Englishman is known for the keen wit and intellect that reside within his severely disabled body. He uses a motorized wheelchair to get around and a voice synthesizer to communicate -- a development, he complains, that has given him an American accent. He has guest-starred, in cartoon form, on an episode of The Simpsons and has appeared in the flesh on Star Trek: The Next Generation, using the benefits of time travel to play poker with Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. (He has said he doesn't believe in the theory himself, noting that the most powerful evidence of its impossibility is the present-day dearth of time-traveling tourists from the future.)

The son of a research biologist, Hawking resisted familial urging that he major in biology and instead studied physics and chemistry -- as a nod to his father -- when he went to Oxford University as a 17-year-old. In academic writing, Hawking had an extensive career pre-History, starting with The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, coauthored with G.F.R. Ellis in 1973. But in the late 1980s, faced with the expenses incurred by his illness, he took up Bantam Books' offer to explain the mysteries of the universe to the lay public.

"This is one of the best books for laymen on this subject that has appeared in recent years," The Christian Science Monitor wrote in 1988. "Hawking is one of the greatest theoretical cosmologists of our time. He is greater, by consensus among his colleagues, than other expert authors who have written good popular books on the subject recently. And he is greater, by far, than the ‘experts' who have ‘explained' quantum physics and cosmology in terms that support a religious agenda." And The New York Times in April 1988 said, "Through his cerebral journeys, Mr. Hawking is bravely taking some of the first, though tentative, steps toward quantizing the early universe, and he offers us a provocative glimpse of the work in progress."

Since then, A Brief History of Time has been republished in an illustrated edition (1996) and as an updated and expanded 10th anniversary edition (1998). In Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, a collection of 13 essays and the transcript of an extended interview with the BBC, Hawking turned more autobiographical, mixing stories about his studies in college and the beginning of his awareness that he had ALS with thoughts on how black holes can spawn baby universes and on the scientific community's efforts to create a unified theory that will explain everything in the universe. And in The Universe in a Nutshell, his sequel to A Brief History of Time, Hawking takes the same approach as he did in his first bestseller, explaining to the lay reader such ideas as the superstring theory, supergravity, time travel, and quantum theory.

A common current in Hawking's writing -- aside from his grasp of the complexities of the universe -- is a sharp wit. In one of the rare personal reflections in A Brief History of Time, he said he began thinking about black holes in the early 1970s in the evenings as he was getting ready for bed: "My disability makes this rather a slow process, so I had plenty of time." In life, he has a reputation for quickly turning his wheelchair away of a conversation that displeases him, even running his wheels over the toes of the offending conversant.

Even questions about his muse are likely to draw an answer tinged with pointed humor. When Time asked Hawking why he decided to add explaining the universe to a schedule already taxed by his scholarly writing and lecture tours, he answered, "I have to pay for my nurses."

Good To Know

Hawking worked 1,000 hours in his three years at Oxford, roughly an hour a day. "I'm not proud of this lack of work," he said in Stephen Hawking's a Brief History of Time: A Reader's Companion. "I'm just describing my attitude at the time, which I shared with most of my fellow students: an attitude of complete boredom and feeling that nothing was worth making an effort for."

Despite his science degrees, Hawking has no formal training in math and has said he had to pick up what he knows as he went along.

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    1. Hometown:
      Cambridge, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 8, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oxford, England

Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
Ch. 1 Classical Theory 3
Ch. 2 Structure of Spacetime Singularities 27
Ch. 3 Quantum Black Holes 37
Ch. 4 Quantum Theory and Spacetime 61
Ch. 5 Quantum Cosmology 75
Ch. 6 The Twistor View of Spacetime 105
Ch. 7 The Debate 121
References 139
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