The Universe in a Nut Shell

Dr Stephen W. Hawking

March 26, 2001

Seattle Opera House

Before the Show

Slides/etc from his talk.

    I missed several really funny ones because i wasn’t fast enough with the camera.

  • Pic: The Universe in a Nut Shell
  • Pic: Distribution of the Galaxy
  • Pic: The Universe must have had a beginning
    Hawking explained that if the universe had always existed, there would be no black “space” in the sky. everything would either be part of a star, or would have been heated up over time so that everything was as hot (and bright) as a star. So the fact that we see a black sky at night is actually an important fact in the laws of physics.
  • Pic: A Law is not a law…

    Hawking says that you can’t, as other physicists suggest, ignore what happend AT the big bang, you must create laws apply even at the big bang.

  • Pic: Does god play dice?
    Hawking says that, contrary to what Einstein wanted to believe, the universe is actually a huge amount of rolls of the dice of the universe, and that the laws of classical mechanics is what you see as those rolls average out over time. (And why classical theories break down at the big bang: there were only a few rolls happening at once, so classical theories cannot accurately predict what would (did?) happen)
  • Pic: The Frontier of the Universe
    Before this one was one of the funny ones. Hawking posed: “Couldn’t the end universe end in a gigantic brick wall? it is possible“. The slide was a giant brick wall in space, with signs on it which read “You have reached the end of the Universe. Go no farther”
  • Pic: Ordinary vs. Imaginary time

    Because of all the dice rolls, the Universe allows for all possible outcomes by using imaginary time. One slide here included an alternate history where the Seahawks won the superbowl. Dr. Hawking has a very good sense of humor! I’ll have to read up on this one before i understand it…

  • Pic: The anthropic principle
    In this section of the lecture, Dr Hawking explained why a 3 dimensional universe (well, 3 large, visible dimensions to us) is the only one that could support intelligent life. At 2 dimensions, you cant have complex objects, because everything would have to be flat. your digestive system would cut you in half! in a dimension with more than 4 dimensions, things like gravity don’t work, and the whole system breaks down and flies apart. (he was much more eloquent than that!)
  • No pics: Most of the rest of the presentation backed up the current theory that the Universe is shaped like a sphere that is slightly (very slightly) flattened on the top (like a nut shell, hence the name of the lecture). In this way, the universe has no bounds (like the surface of earth has no edges). (Hawking reassured us that he had been around the world several times and had never fallen off) The reason it has to be slightly flattened is so it isn’t uniform. if it flattens out, it gives the universe enough time/space to slow down its expansion so that galaxies could form.
  • Pic: The end!
    Dr. Hawking has the distinction of being the only theoretical physicist to have been on both Star Trek and the Simpsons!

All in all, it was a very good experience! It started off a little slow, and the question and answer period at the end was a little slow (it takes Dr. Hawking 5 to 10 minutes to build an answer to a question for which he is prepared. The imprompu questions this time:

  • From a couple of middle school students: “Do you think that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe?”
    Hawking (not exact quote, but the gist): Is there intelligent life here? It is possible, but they would have to be great distances away from us, or we would have detected them, or we would notice that they were here. It would be much like the movie Independence Day.
    yes, he actually said that!
  • From the head of the Discovery Institute: (something like) “Mathemeticians in the 1950’s invisioned that the mind of God had to be at least, in part, the mind of a mathematician. In light of the things which have been discovered at the end of the last century, how do you invision the mind of God?”

    Hawking (again, not exact, i should have taped these!): When I speak of god, i do it in a rather impersonal manner. I invision the mind of god as the laws of nature. I believe, by the end of this century, we will know the mind of god.
    yes, he said that too!

This post recovered from my really old blog on the internet archive @

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