By Stephen Hawking
November 15, 2010

If God doesn't exist, why did the concept of his existence become almost universal? —Basanta Borah, BASEL, SWITZERLAND

I don't claim that God doesn't exist. God is the name people give to the reason we are here. But I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God.

Does the universe end? If so, what is beyond it? —Paul Pearson, HULL, ENGLAND

Observations indicate that the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate. It will expand forever, getting emptier and darker. Although the universe doesn't have an end, it had a beginning in the Big Bang. One might ask what is before that, but the answer is that there is nowhere before the Big Bang, just as there is nowhere south of the South Pole.

Do you think our civilization will survive long enough to make the leap to deeper space? —Harvey Bethea, STONE MOUNTAIN, GA.

I think we have a good chance of surviving long enough to colonize the solar system. However, there is nowhere else in the solar system as suitable as the Earth, so it is not clear if we would survive if the Earth was made unfit for habitation. To ensure our long-term survival, we need to reach the stars. That will take much longer. Let's hope we can last until then.

If you could talk to Albert Einstein, what would you say? —Ju Huang, STAMFORD, CONN.
I would ask him why he didn't believe in black holes. The field equations of his theory of relativity imply that a large star or cloud of gas would collapse in on itself and form a black hole. Einstein was aware of this but somehow managed to convince himself that something like an explosion would always occur to throw off mass and prevent the formation of a black hole. What if there was no explosion?

Which scientific discovery or advance would you like to see in your lifetime? —Luca Zanzi, ALLSTON, MASS.

I would like nuclear fusion to become a practical power source. It would provide an inexhaustible supply of energy, without pollution or global warming.

What do you believe happens to our consciousness after death? —Elliot Giberson, SEATTLE

I think the brain is essentially a computer and consciousness is like a computer program. It will cease to run when the computer is turned off. Theoretically, it could be re-created on a neural network, but that would be very difficult, as it would require all one's memories.

Given your reputation as a brilliant physicist, what ordinary interests do you have that might surprise people? —Carol Gilmore, JEFFERSON CITY, MO.

I enjoy all forms of music--pop, classical and opera. I also share an interest in Formula One racing with my son Tim.

Do you feel that your physical limitations have helped or hindered your study? —Marianne Vikkula, ESPOO, FINLAND

Although I was unfortunate enough to get motor neuron disease, I have been very fortunate in almost everything else. I was lucky to be working in theoretical physics, one of the few areas in which disability was not a serious handicap, and to hit the jackpot with my popular books.

Does it feel like a huge responsibility to have people expecting you to have all the answers to life's mysteries? —Susan Leslie, BOSTON

I certainly don't have the answers to all life's problems. While physics and mathematics may tell us how the universe began, they are not much use in predicting human behavior because there are far too many equations to solve. I'm no better than anyone else at understanding what makes people tick, particularly women.

Do you think there will ever come a time when mankind understands all there is to understand about physics? —Karsten Kurze, BAD HONNEF, GERMANY

I hope not. I would be out of a job.

Read an excerpt from The Grand Design.

See pictures of Stephen Hawking.,9171,2029483,00.html

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Replies to This Discussion

Nice post, Sydni!

There is one comment I hear sometimes that I have to take issue with. Hopefully this doesn't hijack the thread too much.

I would like nuclear fusion to become a practical power source. It would provide an inexhaustible supply of energy, without pollution or global warming.

I'd like to know how it's possible to produce energy without producing heat? Sure, perhaps we could produce it more efficiently, but doesn't it always produce heat? Or is there a way to collect heat and then get rid of it, somehow?
Recycling heat while producing it is a good thing, of course. Meanwhile, the energy output is used somewhere, e.g. to cook, heat or cool houses, perhaps even to produce hydrogen for cars someday. That's where I'm thinking there's no way to stop the heat from escaping.

I gather it'll still be much more efficient than fossil fuels. But I think "unlimited" energy cannot have unforseen consequences, even if only a few Evil Doers can get their furry little hands on it.

Nice diagram. :)
(Should have capitalized Furry Little Hands.)
That's where I'm thinking there's no way to stop the heat from escaping.

That's what Stirling engines are done for. But ultimately, you're right.
Disagree. It IS a wishy-washy answer. No, wait, it's much worse than that. Think about it: if you equate 'God' with 'the laws of physics', what is 'the law of God'? You guessed it: 'the law of the laws of physics'. I.e, 'the meta-law of physics', which is equivalent to 'the law of metaphysics.'

QED. So, Hawking believes the universe is ruled by metaphysics. Ack! (I think I need another beer to ponder the implications of this revelation with a clear mind.)
More beer might reduce the burden of truth rather nicely.
So Hawking's a Deistic Pantheist, like Einstein? That's actually what I thought already.

It seems most physicists (at least, the ones who comment on God and religion) are Deistic Pantheists of some form or another.
I became a solid atheist as soon as I heard that God spat out lukewarm believers.
So your a physicist? What branch of Physics do you study?

Physics is my favorite science, even though my math skills are about as good as your average 2nd-grader...
Mmmm nooo, I'm not a physicist. I just try to sound funny sometimes, or I just sound funny sometimes when I'm not trying to.
What branches of physics are you most interested in? I'm studying physics now...I'm only a freshman though.


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