Quest for a Theory of Everything

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Summary of Quest for a Theory of Everything

This is the wonderful story of one of the twentieth century’s most renowned physicsist, Professor Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge University genius who has established himself as the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein via his optimism and courage. His book A Brief History of Time has sold over 5.5 million copies worldwide, introducing a new generation to complicated and extremely interesting scientific theories. When Kitty Ferguson approached Stephen Hawking about publishing a book about him and asked him to make sure she understood his theories, he consented and also gave her material about his childhood and life. “Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything” is a book which is written by Kitty Gail Ferguson. She also spoke with other renowned physicists on the next frontier of physics. As a result, the book is not a traditional biography. Rather, it is the narrative of one man’s attempt to discover the Theory of Everything—a theory that would be nothing short of an explanation of the universe and everything that occurs in it. This book is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the man and his work. It is illustrated with personal photographs as well as numerous charts and drawings.

The book is divided into two storylines: one about Hawking’s personal life, problems, and time period, and another about his scientific pursuits. And Kitty Ferguson has done an incredible job of fusing the two with practically unnoticed transitions.

Hawking’s Personal Life

Kitty Gail Ferguson wrote the book “Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything.” Stephen William Hawking was a Professor of Mathematics at Lucasian University. He was born in Oxford on January 8, 1942, and died on 14 March 2018. At the time of his death, he was director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. Frank and Isobel Hawking were his parents. He was not a “prodigy,” but rather a hard worker. He attended the local Saint Alban’s School for primary school. He wanted to be a scientist since he was eight years old. His father, on the other hand, desired that he pursue a medical career.

Stephen William Hawking then attended University College in Oxford to study natural science. He did not enjoy college life at first. But, after the second year, he began to appreciate it. He was really nice to everyone. Everyone admired his “lively, buoyant, and adaptable” personality. He was well-known for his wit and long hair. He enjoyed listening to classical music and reading science fiction. He, too, participated in athletics. He took theoretical physics as a particular subject in his third year.

Stephen William Hawking began to fall down for no apparent cause as he began to enjoy his college life. His body began to develop physical defects. He did not place much emphasis on it. He chose to pursue a PhD at Cambridge. However, the authorities informed him that if he received a first-class degree from Oxford, he would be able to attend Cambridge.

Oxford, on the other hand, gave Stephen William Hawking a “borderline” result. Because of his wit, the interviewer chose him for a PhD at Cambridge. But his first year was a disaster. He did not grasp the concept of “general relativity.” He began to experience bodily weakness, such as trouble fastening his shoes.

Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1963. He became depressed after hearing this from the doctor. When he came out of it, he realised the worth of life. Doctors estimated that he would only live for two years. But then a miracle happened. He survived, and the progression of his disease slowed.


Stephen Hawking met Jane Wilde on New Year’s Day, and she subsequently became his wife. His wit, brilliance, eccentricity, and arrogance drew her in. She seemed unconcerned about his illness. Because she had great faith in God, she believed that good would come to those who overcame obstacles in their lives. Stephen was so inspired by her optimism and cheerfulness that he applied for a research fellowship at Caius.

The pair married in 1965, and Stephen received his research fellowship. Despite the fact that Stephen had accomplished so much in his personal and professional lives, his condition gradually began to carve him. He had to rely on a cane to go around. He began to stammer somewhat. But he was unconcerned about any of this. He went to so many meetings where prominent scientists came to ask him so many questions. Because of his enthusiastic participation in these sessions, he was dubbed “a genius” and “another Einstein.”


Stephen Hawking began writing a book in 1980, which he published in 1988 with the help of his apprentice, Brian Whitt, under the title A Brief History of Time. The book analysed great theories proposed by prominent scientists such as Newton and Einstein. In 2005, he rewrote the book and released an “abridged” version that incorporated the most recent scientific developments.

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Stephen Hawking travelled to Switzerland in 1984. He caught pneumonia in Switzerland. The physicians saved his life by performing a tracheotomy, which permanently destroyed his windpipe. The windpipe aided in the production of sounds. Because he was unable to converse, a computer expert named Walt Woltosz created a programme called “Equalizer” that enabled him to communicate with the rest of the world.


Many people are still perplexed as to how Stephen rose to such heights in his life. The solution is straightforward. Stephen’s willpower, immense belief in himself, relentless pursuit of his ideal, and refusal to subject himself to fate enabled him to achieve whatever he desired in life.

Hawking’s Scientific Pursuits

There are seven chapters in the book that detail the events leading up to when scientists began discovering the origin of the universe. Continuing with the world’s timeline, he describes events up to his time. Initially, Aristotle stated that the earth is at the centre and all other stars revolve around it. Later, Ptolemy elaborated on the thesis, stating that the earth is at the centre, around which all other planets revolve, and that there are other fixed stars located far away from the earth. Copernicus proposed a concept in 1514 in which the earth and other planets revolved around the sun, and Galileo elaborated on it later. Later in life, Newton published his Principia Mathematicia Naturalis Causae, the most influential single work ever published in the physical sciences, and he also established the concept of gravity. However, all scientists initially believed the universe to be static. Numerous hypotheses about the origin of the universe were proposed, but Hubble eventually proposed the so-called Big Bang theory, which was the most accurate. Hubble found in 1924 that our galaxy is not the only one, sparking the concept of an expanding universe. In 1915, Einstein published his general theory of relativity. Later, based on Friedmann’s model, it was proposed that the universe was generated in a singularity from which the big bang occurred and numerous galaxies and stars formed. At this singularity, all scientific laws are violated. Then, in 1969, American scientist John Wheeler discovered the black hole, and Indian scientist Chandrashekhar added an important dimension. Numerous scientists studied the black hole and discovered that they are not actually black. This is because gravitational energy prevents light from escaping and black holes collapse in on themselves, increasing their matter and decreasing their energy. They emit radiation and eventually become a particle with no size and infinite density. Later in 1981, Hawking’s interest in the origin of the universe was rekindled, and he proposed an inflationary model with no boundary conditions. Hawking desired to build a Unified Theory of Everything but recognised that such an endeavour would be near-impossible in this era. He offered three possibilities:


1. there is a unified theory that will be discovered someday;
2. there is no ultimate theory of the universe but an infinite universe of theories that describe it; and
3. there is no theory of the universe and everything is random. He later stated that if we succeed in developing a complete theory and determining why the universe exists, it will be the ultimate triumph of human reason.

Detailed Summary of Quest for a Theory of Everything

BEGINNINGS:

Stephen Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford, England. He grew up in a well-educated family. Both of his parents, Frank and Isobel Hawking, had attended Oxford University. His father, Frank, was a medical researcher. Despite not being wealthy, the family placed a strong priority on education. They relocated to St Albans in 1950. Hawking, who was eight at the time, went to St Albans School. He was just a regular student who took his time learning to read. His teachers found his penmanship difficult to read. As a result, he was ranked among the average students.

Stephen had a lifelong fascination with science. By the age of eight, he had decided that he wanted to be a scientist. His father encouraged him to pursue a career in medicine. Stephen, on the other hand, had little interest in biology. His father wanted him to attend the prestigious Westminster School in London. The tuition was prohibitively expensive, necessitating the need for a scholarship. Stephen, a 13-year-old, became ill on the day of the scholarship exam, and the opportunity was gone. As a result, he stayed at St Albans School.

THE OXFORD YEARS:

Stephen decided to pursue mathematics and physics when he was fourteen. Because of the scarcity of career options, his father described it as unfeasible. Mathematics grads could only become teachers. Frank desired for his kid to attend University College, Oxford. He had gone to school there. Stephen agreed. Mathematics was not available at Oxford. As a result, he majored in natural science and physics. He enrolled in Oxford as a 17-year-old in 1959. He chose theoretical physics as his expertise. He was bored and lonely for the first 18 months. He was not able to devote enough time to his studies. Later, it shifted. Stephen began to socialise with his college friends. He wore his hair long and became a popular, energetic, and funny college member. He was like classical music and science fiction. He was active in athletics. In his third year at Oxford, he applied for a PhD at Cambridge. He needed a first-class degree from Oxford for this. But he came into difficulty towards the end of the third year. The ultimate result was on the borderline between first and second class. As a result, a viva was required. During the oral examination, he was asked about his future goals. “If you award me a First, I will go to Cambridge,” Stephen stated. If I get a Second, I will stay in Oxford, thus I am hoping for a First.” His quick wit saved the day. Among his pals, he became well-known for his response.

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At the age of 20, he received his ‘First’ and matriculated at Cambridge.

AT CAMBRIDGE:

Stephen’s first year at Cambridge was difficult. His maths skills were insufficient for a PhD. He found Einstein’s theory of general relativity quite difficult. Jane Wilde, a bashful adolescent, met Stephen at a New Year’s Eve party in 1963. He did not appear to be neat and tidy to her. Jane thought he was incredibly educated and engaging, but also arrogant. His sense of humour drew her in. Their friendship blossomed. Stephen was known for his bravado at Cambridge. Despite being a junior researcher, he posed difficult questions to prominent experts. People referred to him as “a genius” and “another Einstein.”

TRAGEDIES:

Hawking began tripping in his third year at Oxford. He had difficulty fastening his shoes at Cambridge. His speech became muddled. It was determined that she had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). The condition results in total muscular paralysis and loss of muscle control. It has no known cure. Stephen went into a profound depression. He was only 21 years old. Doctors told him he only had two or three years to live. The future appeared bleak. Prior to his sickness, he was dissatisfied with his life. The sickness made him believe that life was valuable. Suddenly, he realised that there were a plethora of worthwhile activities available to him. But he did not know what to do. He was befuddled. Life appeared to be far too brief. He had a dream that he was going to be executed.

THE TURNING POINT:

Jane walked in now. It made all the difference in Stephen’s life. Jane was serious-minded and had a strong trust in God. She encouraged Stephen and attempted to instil bravery in him. Her optimism dispelled his apprehension. He began to learn more and work more. Stephen had a reason to live thanks to his job and Jane. In July of 1965, they married. Stephen won a research fellowship at Caius College, Cambridge, in the same year, at the age of 23. In March 1966, he was awarded his PhD. Two years have passed. Stephen did not die. In May 1967, he gave birth to his first child. He was having more fun in the present than he had ever had.

CELEBRITY, COSMOLOGY, AND DISABILITY:

Stephen lost the use of his arms and legs towards the end of the 1960s. He required a wheelchair. His third child was born in April 1979. At the age of 38, he was appointed as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge in the same year. His inaugural lecture was titled, ‘Is Theoretical Physics Nearing Its End?’

Stephen was in desperate need of funds at the time. He considered publishing a popular science book about the universe. The initial draft of the book, titled A Brief History of Time, was completed in 1984. Stephen developed pneumonia during a trip to Switzerland in 1985.

The sickness was threatening his life. In order to rescue him, doctors had to remove his windpipe. But he would lose his voice for good. Furthermore, he could only breathe through a hole placed in his throat. For communication, he acquired a computer programme called the ‘Equalizer’ from Walt Woltosz, a computer expert in California, USA. It allowed him to choose words from a computer screen. The computer was mounted on his wheelchair.

A Brief History of Time was released in 1988 with the assistance of his student Brian Whitt. It was a huge success. Stephen rose to prominence as a scientist. He was dubbed the “master of the universe” by the media.

FAREWELL:

Stephen Hawking prefers to disregard his physical impairments. He passed away on March 14, 2018, at the age of 76, at his home in Cambridge, England. He was virtually fully paralysed at that point. However, he was still conducting scientific studies. He achieved despite being afflicted with a severe sickness.

Comprehension Questions

Q. What was the new title awarded to Stephen Hawking?
Answer: Hawking was awarded the title ‘ Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University.

Q. What was the startling question put by Hawking?
Answer: He began his inaugural lecture by posing the question, ‘Is the end in sight for theoretical physics??’ It was such a shocking declaration that he assumed it was the end.

OR

He astounded his audience by telling them that there was an end in sight for Theoretical Physics. He invited them to join him in a sensational escape through time and space.

Q. What is believed to be the Holy Grail of Science?

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Answer: The Holy Grail of Science was the theory that explains the universe, and everything that happens in it.

Q. How did his parents support him in giving good education?
Answer: His parents believed in the value of education. So they planned to send him to the famous Westminster public school. 

Q. What type of a subject did he like to follow?
Answer: He wanted a subject that gave him exact answers as well as got to the root of things.

Q. What kind of a student Stephen was at school?
Answer: Stephen was not a child prodigy at school. He was an ordinary boy with poor handwriting and slowness in reading. Afterall he was the despair of his teachers.

Q. How was Hawking accepted at Oxford?
Answer: He was not academically active in the beginning at Oxford. Later he became well accepted by his friends. He was lively, buoyant and adaptable to them. With long hair and ready wit, he showed interest in varied subjects like music, science, sports and fiction.

Q. How did Hawking show his quick wittedness at the interview by the examiners?
Answer: Hawking, hiding his tenseness, told the interviewers that if he got a first he would go to Cambridge, if he got a second he would remain at Oxford. He revealed that he expected a first.

Q. What tragedy did he face after his 21st birthday?
Answer: Shortly after his 21st birthday he contracted a rare disease, ‘amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ‘, for which there was no cure. It caused disintegration of the nerve cells in the spinal cord and the brain.

Q. What was the sudden realisation that struck him after coming out of hospital?
Answer: At the great tragedy, Hawking realised that he should do some worthwhile things in life. He decided to sacrifice his life to save others.

Q. What did doctors inform about his disease?
Answer: The doctors informed that he had only two more years to live.

Q. What was Jane’s impression of Hawking?
Answer: To Jane Wilde, Hawking was a terribly intelligent, eccentric and arrogant student. She felt him to be interesting and liked his wit.

Q. How was the character of Jane Wilde?
Answer:Jane Wilde was a shy, serious minded teenager with strong faith in God fixed by her mother. She had a belief that good can come out of any adversity.

Q. What was the influence of Jane on Hawking?
Answer: Jane’s optimism had a great influence on Hawking. They together decided to do something worthwhile in life.

Q. How was he different from other research scholars?
Answer: Hawking daringly asked unexpected and penetrating questions to distinguished scientists when others kept silent.

Q. What were the interesting questions he wanted to include in his book?
Answer: He planned to include in his book interesting questions like, Where did the universe come from? Is there a beginning of time? Could time run back ? etc.

Q. After surgery how did he manage to speak?
Answer: A computer expert in California sent him a program called the Equaliser, which allowed Hawking to select words from the screen.

OR

A computer expert in California sent Hawking a programme that he had made. Because Hawking could not speak, Walt Woltosz sent him the programme. The Equalizer was the name of the thing that did it. It would let Hawking choose words from the screen. This way, he could keep working, but very slowly.

Q. List out some of the paradoxes in his book?
Answer: His book, ‘A Brief History of Time’ contained paradoxes like: beginnings may be endings, cruel circumstances can lead to happiness; although fame and success may not, empty space is not empty, black holes are not black etc.

OR

Some of the unique ideas and paradoxes put forward by Stephen Hawking are :
a) In science and with people, things are often not what they seem.
b) Pieces that ought to fit together refuse to do so.
c) You will learn that beginnings may be endings.
d) Cruel circumstances can lead to happiness, although fame and success may not.
e) Two great scientific theories taken together seem to give us nonsense.
f) Empty space is not empty.
g) Black holes are not black.

Q. How did he view his difficulties in life?
Answer: He was the one who ignored the difficulties in life and expected the same from others.

OR

He chose to overlook his problem. He anticipated others to take the same stance. People who are ‘disabled’ are now referred to as ‘Differently Abled People.’ You do not have to be desperate or a victim of sympathy because you have a physical limitation. People with physical impairments have accomplished incredible feats. Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of America’s most famous presidents, spent the majority of his working hours in a wheelchair and moved with the assistance of others, using leg braces and a cane.

Bhagyalaksmi, a blind play-back singer, has joined us. Afsal, a blind music director, is also present. Handicaps should not be used as an excuse to be lazy. One’s handicaps can be overcome with hard work. Helen Keller, who was born blind, deaf, and deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly deafen And she did just that.

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