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The 2004 Film "hawking": Some Personal Reflections

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This Latin expression, carpe diem, applies to many a facet of life-some of which I write about in the following prose-poem, a prose-poem which arose after watching the film: Hawking. I leave it to readers with an interest in this subject of the evolution of the Big-Bang theory to comment on how the theory came to be and whether they find any other theory that gives the Big-Bang an argument. Apologies for the slightly blog-oriented nature of my post.-Ron Price, Australia




This prose-poem is a revised edition of an earlier work, and it was inspired by watching Hawking, a BBC television film1 about Stephen Hawking's early years as a PhD student at Cambridge University. Hawking is now an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge. This film-drama follows Hawking's academic search at the age of 21 in the field of physics for an understanding of the Universe; the film is aslo about his struggle against motor neuron disease. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Hawking and it premiered a decade ago in the UK, April 2004.


By the middle of the 20th century I was just six years old and in grade 1 in a primary school in Ontario's golden horseshoe. I had just begun my somewhat tangential connection with astronomy through the influences of my maternal grandfather and my mother's brother. The world of the cosmologists, by 1950, had developed two different theories to explain the creation of the Universe. Some supported the steady-state theory which stated that the Universe had always existed and would continue to survive without noticeable change. Others believed in the Big Bang theory which stated that the Universe was created in a massive explosion-like event billions of years ago. That event was later to be determined as 13.72 billion, or 13,720 million years ago.  In October 1965 the Big-Bang theory had become the generally accepted explanation of the origin of the Universe. Some of the story of how this explanation came to be is found below, a story I have only recently come to have only a general outline of thanks to the internet.


Part 1:


"Observational evidence to confirm the idea that the Universe had a very dense beginning, came in October 1965, a few months after my first singularity result, with the discovery of a faint background of microwaves throughout space,"2 said Hawking in 2007.  "These microwaves" he continued, "are the same as those in your microwave oven, but very much less powerful. They would heat your pizza only to minus 271 point 3 degrees centigrade, not much good for defrosting the pizza, let alone cooking it. You can actually observe these microwaves yourself. Set your television to an empty channel. A few percent of the snow you see on the screen, will be caused by this background of microwaves. The only reasonable interpretation of the background, is that it is radiation left over from an early very hot and dense state. As the Universe expanded, the radiation would have cooled until it is just the faint remnant we observe today."


Stephen Hawking(1942-) is also noted for his 1965 PhD thesis which argued that if a star can collapse inwards to form a singularity, coined a “black hole” in 1967 by American physicist John Wheeler, then so to can a singularity explode back outward; thus giving an explanation for the Big Bang.


Part 1.1.:


Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson set to work early in 1963 putting their radio astronomy receiving system together.  I had no idea at the time since I was 18 and studying nine matriculation subjects in the most demanding part of my formal education.  Matriculation in Ontario was known as "grade 13" and it was then, and it became even more, a controversial part of the secondary school curriculum in Ontario. My interest in sport and girls back then far exceeded my enthusiasm for either physics or astronomy. In late 1962 I had had to drop my study of physics because I realized that, I would fail physics if I continued. I would then have to repeat the year if I wanted to continue into university and study science or medicine. I just could not understand the content of the physics curriculum. So it was that I dropped physics, picked-up history, went on to an arts degree, and spent my working life, for the most part, in the academic domain of the arts and the humanities.


In the early months of 1963, as I was finishing my matriculation studies, and as the Baha’is of the world were preparing to hold their first international election, these two American scientists, Penzias and Wilson, were most concerned about the quality of the components they were adding to the system they were developing.  It was a system they had been given to do their work and the existing components of that system had superb properties for the work they were engaged in. These two men began a series of radio astronomical observations so as to make the best use of the careful calibration and extreme sensitivity of their system.  Of the various projects they were working on, the most technically challenging was a measurement of the radiation intensity from the Milky Way galaxy at high latitudes.3 


Part 2:


Bell Labs built a giant antenna in Holmdel, New Jersey, in 1960. It was part of a very early satellite transmission system called Echo. By collecting and amplifying weak radio signals bounced off large metallic balloons high in the atmosphere, it could send signals across long distances. Within a few years, the Telstar satellite was launched. It had built-in transponders and made the Echo system obsolete. The launch of Telstar in 1962 gave both researchers what they wanted: the Holmdel antenna was freed up for pure research. This pure research led Penzias and Wilson to testing the sensitive horn antenna in Holmdel which was designed for detecting low levels of microwave radiation.


Penzias and Wilson discovered a low level of microwave background "noise", like the low level of electrical noise which might produce "snow" on a television screen. After unsuccessful attempts to eliminate it, they pointed their antenna to another part of the sky to check whether the "noise" was coming from space, and got the same kind of signal. Being persuaded that the noise was in their instrument, they took other, more sophisticated steps to eliminate the noise, such as cooling their detector to low temperatures.


Part 3:


Finding no explanations for the origin of the noise, they finally concluded that it was indeed coming from space, but that it was the same from all directions. It was a distribution of microwave radiation which matched a blackbody curve for a radiator at about 2.7 Kelvins. After all their efforts to eliminate the "noise" signal, they found that a group at Princeton had predicted that there would be a residual microwave background radiation left over from the Big Bang and were planning an experiment to try to detect it. Penzias and Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978 for their discovery. 


Wilson gave a detailed description of the development of their system in his 1978 Nobel lecture.4 Their discovery established the Big Bang theory as the unquestionable and leading contender by far for the explanation of the origins of the universe.   For this discovery they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978. -Ron Price with thanks to:1 Hawking, SBSONE TV, 9:30-11:10 p.m., 18/1/'15 2The J. Robert Oppenheimer Lecture in Physics, delivered 13 March 2007, by Stephen Hawking, the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University. Hawking spoke at Zellerbach Hall on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley; 3Arno Penzias, “Autobiography,” Nobelprize.org; and 4Robert Wilson, Nobel Lecture, 8 December, 1978.


The balance of opinion

was now shifting to the

Big Bang hypothesis,

just as I was deciding

to work among Inuit in

Canada, and just as the

apex was finally placed

on this System that I've

been associated with for

60 years; the charismatic

Force was finally & fully

given the seal of a good-

housekeeping....and that

institutionalization in the

unique victory of a form

of consolidation beyond

our understanding in the

years at the start of that

tenth, the tremendously

long last stage of history

which was finally off &

running, in the first Plan

launched to which we were

asked, yet again, to: carpe

diem--seize the day; seize

the day and go forward!!!.1


1 This was an important part of the philosophy of the apostle Paul as expressed in  Philippians 3:7-16.  Carpe diem, seize the day, has been an important part of Baha’i philosophy as I have understood it in my life.  The Universal House of Justice wrote in its first Ridvan Message in April 1964: “we must seize the opportunities of the hour and go forward…..” Wellspring of Guidance, p.27.


Ron Price

26/3/'06 to 19/1/'15.


end of document




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