Retrospect on Prof. Hawking’s Research Project

Physics World has compiled what they see as key articles of “the legendary cosmologist and mathematical physicist”
Hawking laid out his research vision in his 1981 inaugural lecture, Is the End in Sight for Theoretical Physics?   There, Hawking thought that

the goal of theoretical physics might be achieved in the not too distant future, say, by the end of the century. By this I mean that we might have a complete, consistent and unified theory of the physical interactions which would describe all possible observations.

After nearly twice that time, we’re entitled to judge his foresight.
He wrote “a quantum theory of gravity is essential… The best hope seems to lie in an extension of general relativity called super-gravity. In this the graviton, the spin-2 particle that carries the gravitational inter-action, is related to a number of other fields of lower spin by so-called super symmetry transformations”. That’s gone nowhere, doubtless because gravity after Faraday-Maxwell-Einstein is not a particle but a space-filling field.

Hawking of course used the ‘black hole’ concept to argue that loss of one of a pair of particle/antiparticles in a black hole creates uncertainty (‘information loss paradox’) so “we would have to adopt a picture in which there was an ensemble of all possible universes with some probability distribution”. Black hole paradoxes led him to the multiverse dead-end – and they remain unresolved after nearly 40 years!

In physics as in all of science, contradictions and paradoxes are generally assumed to be artifacts of error and incompleteness, points out Wikipedia   When “existing assumptions about reality have been shown to break down, this has usually been dealt with by changing our understanding of reality to a new one which remains self-consistent in the presence of the new evidence”.  Hawking’s careless assumption that one of the particle pair is absorbed by a ‘black hole’ contradicts the GR concept that matter takes infinite time to enter it (from the view of an observer in the outside universe).  That time paradox compounds the information loss paradox.  Hawking’s unscientific disregard of paradox has proved fundamental.

Hawking ended with extrapolating the rapid development of computing to predict that computers will transcend their subsidiary role in research: “it would seem quite possible that they will take over altogether in theoretical physics. So maybe the end is in sight for theoretical physicists”. A prediction is based on the notion that mathematics rules – the universe is based on mathematical laws – hubris that harks back to Isaac Newton’s God-based belief rather than Einstein’s physical reality. As previously argued, Hawking may be ‘legendary’ but hardly a physicist.

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One Response to Retrospect on Prof. Hawking’s Research Project

  1. Max Wallis says:

    Physics World’s feature on Hawking’s Scientific Legacy by Seth Lloyd looks extremely thin https://physicsworld.com/a/stephen-hawkings-scientific-legacy
    The one claim to ‘discovering’ something physical – Hawking radiation – is given as associated “only with space–times that possess horizons”. Yet such space-time descriptions are dubious, traced back to paradox-laden maths. Physicists who hold with horizonless space-time (who included Einstein) do not accept it. As the sole connection – and one that lacks any observational basis – between quantum mechanics and lack-scale gravity, it’s very uncertain physics.

    Over the information paradox, Hawking changed his mind but never resolved it: ‘how or whether information escapes from black holes must remain open’, writes Seth Lloyd.

    Hawking’s work on the quantum theory of universes without boundary gave “suggestive results on quantum cosmology, and cosmological inflation”. He predicted a bouncing universe with time reversal, but then decided the no-boundary approach was mistaken.

    Following his book A Brief History of Time in 1988 “Hawking gave less time to theoretical work, but continued to come up with novel and provocative ideas for his entire career”. True, but was it scientific to speculate about time travel and the human race’s future being extra-terrestrial?

    Is this the best that Physics World can say for Hawking’s key scientific achievements?
    Three decades without any advance in his own propositions. He clung to Black Holes, gambling that he understood gravity better than Einstein – an Einstein who had rejected them for paradoxes.

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