Saturday, September 17, 2011
The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, and Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray
this is an unlikely pairing: a new publication from the rock-star physicist unveiling his latest theory of the universe, and a hilarious long novel from a new Irish writer.
The pairing is perfectly suitable, though. Both of these books are woven through with M-theory.
If you want to know about M-theory, go do some reading up. Undoubtedly some bloggers more scientifically-educated than I am have discoursed on it at great length. (It's some pretty cool stuff. Such as: All possible universes could exist, and we just happen to be in the one where we exist. It makes our very existence at once inevitable and awe-inspiring.) And, you know, Hawking's book is eminently readable, even for the not-at-all scientifically inclined. He sticks true to the formula stated in his A Brief History of Time: for every mathematical equation included in the book, his sales would halve. So he keeps it in the vernacular, with lots of pretty pictures.
Actually, for a novel, Skippy Dies handles the potentially-sticky subject quite deftly, too. If you believe that stories should be about the more tangible and more emotional aspects of life, then you haven't read about how M-theory (and astrophysics in general) can affect the life of socially-excluded teenage boys.
The point of this rambling is that, whatever the definition of art, if it contains beauty, then it can (and should, and does) encompass the creation of the universe and the meaning of life and other such important things in mathematical terms as well as the philosophical, religious, and emotional ones we're so familiar with. Theoretical science can be as poignant as a master painting, a deer grazing grass, or the heart broken by first love. When Murray and Hawking get their hands on M-theory, they evoke it with the same passion they clearly feel for the subject and thus bring forth its inherent stellar beauty.