Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Master of Paradigms

I have a confession to make: I love Stephen Hawking. I mean, I just love the guy! Do I think he is so great because he is an internationally acclaimed cosmologist? No. That would make him really, really cool, but that is not why I love him. Because he is a Christian like me? No. In fact, he calls the Bible a “fairy story”. I am enamored with Stephen Hawking, who is paralyzed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), because he is like Rambo in a wheelchair. He is just plain tough. Gutsy. A man’s man. But, the icing on the cake is the fact that he is Master of Paradigms. I will explain why he is a “tough guy”, and why he is MP (Master of Paradigms), but FIRST a little bit of background on Stevie, in case you have not yet heard of him. Most of America is focused on tripe like EHollywood and who is going to win the Super Bowl (while Rome is burning), so maybe you ain’t hip to Steve. For the rest, a refresher doesn’t hurt.
Dr. Hawking is a theoretical physicist by training, spent years as a distinguished professor of mathematics, and is now a cosmologist. A theoretical physicist uses mathematics and the principles of physics to understand and predict natural phenomena. A cosmologist studies the cosmos, i.e. outer space. But, Stephen Hawking is to Black Holes as Paula Deen is to butter. He likes the cosmos in general, but black holes are his thang. Paula likes cooking in general but butter is her “thang”. In fact, she is drawn to butter, like a fly to honey. Oh, correct that. She is drawn to honey too. Anyway…
Interestingly, theoretical physicists, worldwide, were asked to rate their peers. They were asked to list the 20 most talented TPs (theoretical physicists….I made that up myself) on the planet. Stephen Hawking was not on the list. Not surprising. He is very bright indeed, but some of his appeal is the fact that he is paralyzed and he is pretty darn good at PR (after all, he has been on Family Guy. He also has hosted some feature television documentaries). Among lay people (that’s me), you know, the average guy or gal who watches the science channel while sucking down some potato chips, he is numeral uno. They know Stephen Hawking. That is because he is macho and Master of Paradigms. Before I explain those points, just a couple of professional bullet points:

- His credo: “My goal is simple: A complete understanding of the universe, why it is what it is and why it exists at all”.
He, like most high-octane TPs, is searching for a universal theory. In lay terms it is, in essence, a theory about how all of creation works together. In other words, gravity, chemistry, electromagnetism, mass, velocity, etc., etc….scientists want to find a central design, a set of principles upon which links it all together and makes sense. This quest has gone on for decades, but has become even more focused with the advent of quantum physics, which reveals subatomic particles have no apparent rhyme or reason for what they do. How can you teach a schoolboy or girl principles of science, when no such principles are known to exist?
This is illustrated by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Fundamentally, it states that the more precisely a certain quality of a particle, the less precisely one can measure other qualities. For example, if we succeed at more precisely determining the positioning of a particle, the less we are able to measure the momentum. Why? Scientists are pretty much in a quandary about such things. But it eats at them, in part, because mankind, in its pride, MUST understand why all this happens. Many researchers, subconsciously, are searching for “god”. Even Stephen refers to god, but to him, god is an overriding unified force that binds the universe together in a systematic, comprehensible manner. We know that force is the Holy Ghost, but that is revealed by Spirit, not intellect, so people with high IQs, who rely exclusively on their brains, are quite handicapped. Anyway, this is his lifelong quest.
- Without delving into all the mumbo jumbo that led up to these results, here are some things he “determined” (all theory of course, as in science, NOTHING is ever proven. All is theory):
He deduced from Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity that universes started with a
Big Bang, and end with Black Holes.
This unified Einstein with quantum mechanics, in essence, bringing science a step closer to a Unified
Because Black Holes (allegedly) result from Big Bangs, they emit radiation and
eventually evaporate (don’t ask, I don’t completely understand this concept).
In contradiction to many TPs, he theorizes the universe has no boundaries in imaginary
time (A truly fascinating subject. I wrote a previous blog on imaginary time).

We live in a time, in America, where pro football players won’t play because they are bruised. I work with guys who think they are tough, because they go to the gym and create shapely muscles. But, a guy can do all this and be a gutless, whiny, “girly girl”. There is always some guy who whines to everybody, “I just can’t do that today (Cough Cough), my throat is sore. Or grown men wrap their arms around themselves and cry, “I am SO cold”.
Here we have a man who is totally, completely paralyzed, and has been for most of his life. When he is barely able to make a sound, it is nearly inaudible. Yet, with a synthesizer, he can be heard. He dictates complex scientific papers to an assistant by using eye motions that correspond to letters of the alphabet, much as Morse code, as it is too exhausting for him to speak for extended periods. He is the man, the legend, Stephen Hawking! That takes guts. He does not complain. Here are some of his observations about his life (condensed):

“Before my condition had been diagnosed, I had been very bored with life. There had not seemed to be anything worth doing. But shortly after I came out of the hospital, I dreamt I was being executed. Another dream, that I had many times, was that I would sacrifice my life to save others. If I was going to die, I might as well do some good before I go. I didn’t die … I have had a motor neuron disease all my life, but it has not prevented me from having a very attractive family, and being successful in my work … I am lucky that my disease has progressed more slowly than is often the case. But, it shows that one need not lose hope.”

He is the very picture of tenacity:

“It is no good getting furious if you get stuck. What I do is keep thinking about the problem but work on something else. Sometimes it is years before I see the way forward. In the case of information loss and black holes, it was 29 years.”

And I should dare say,”It’s not fair”, or “it’s too hard, I can’t do it”? Nah, I won't say that stuff.


This blog is all about paradigms. Theoretical physics is all about challenging old paradigms and establishing new ones. That is what makes it so fascinating, so compelling. Even within a profession that inherently challenges paradigms, he is often a rebel, challenging the paradigm challengers, as it were (I was never sure what “as it were” means, but it seems appropriate and I always wanted to say it).
For instance, he has promulgated the theory of “wormholes”, which could theoretically be portholes for time travel. Many prominent physicists say that is just a bunch of poppycock.
He looks at our world in from a perspective none of us may ever have considered, in his case, a mathematical perspective of the highest order. He challenges us to think, to question, and not to assume. In the long run, I want him to realize the ultimate object of his quest is God, with the Big G.
In the meantime, he inspires us to do something we all should - use the gray matter God gave us and think. Don't just accept the information, opinions, and paradigms dictated by lost souls in this world. Don't just regurgitate slop you learned in school. Question. Think. And never give in and stop blubbering. Stephen Hawking can distinguish himself, and so can you.

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