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Paraphrasing of Bertrand Russell's Conversation in Stephen Hawking’s Book A Brief History of Time

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Paraphrasing of “A Brief History of Time”

In Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time, the first three chapters are primarily used to garner interest from the reader in the awesome scientific investigation of the cosmos and modern physics. This is done through the use of historical relevance and an explanation of where current theories of the universe originated or was adapted from. The first chapter discusses the famous turtle conversation had by Bertrand Russell and a member of his lecture audience. The second chapter discusses the origination of the geocentric and heliocentric theories of the solar system during the early stages of the application of the scientific method. The third chapter discusses the importance of understanding relativity, special relativity, and quantum mechanics when investigating the extreme secrets of the laws of physics.

The first chapter of A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking introduces the reader to the realism and mystical wonder behind a garnered interest in studying and exploring the cosmos. This book is meant to hook the reader with what makes science- and therefore Hawking’s book- so important and captivating. This is done by first introducing an anecdote that Hawking credits to Bertrand Russell about the fundamental understanding of the universe. Hawking describes an interaction that is said to have occurred between Russell and an old lady in his audience; The lecture Russell was giving involved astronomy and how the earth orbits around the sun and is a small stellar unit that makes up even a galaxy in the cosmos. The old lady says to Bertrand Russell that what he is saying to them is “rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant turtle.” When Russel asks what the turtle is standing on, the old lady quips “You’re very clever […] But it’s turtles all the way down!” This gives the wild conceptual thought loop of how bizarre and unrealistic the old lady’s response about the world being on the back of a turtle seems in the modern age. Sure there may be conclusive evidence that the world is not flat and lying on the back of a tower of turtles, but this does not mean it was never appropriate to consider all possibilities- no matter how bizarre they may seem at first. Hawking then goes on to discuss how when one gazes up at the night sky, the wonderment and infinite expanse of the cosmos should make any person reconsider the certainty of everything they know. The fact that Alpha Centauri is the closest star to Earth and would take roughly 10,000 light years to reach displays to the audience how far away and massive the stars and observable universe are. The end of this chapter is used primarily to introduce the concept of light-years being a time-dependent measurement that is used to measure vast distances in space. (Hawking, pg. 6-7)

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In the second chapter of A Brief History of Time, Hawking opens by setting historical reference points for the audience, such as the Christopher Columbus voyage and how at this time there were still people who believed the Earth was flat. However, the roots of astronomy as a scientific discipline has roots tracing back to the Ancient Greeks in 340 B.C. through Aristotle’s book On the Heavens. There was another argument emerging relating to the earth being round. This was evidenced by ships and their sails as they appear on the horizon. Since an image rises up, instead of appearing as a whole image becoming bigger, this gives credence to the claim that the earth is a sphere due to the ball of the ship’s mast being the first thing to appear. These early astronomers also performed rigorously, yet fundamentally crucial and accurate, mappings of the stars in the night sky. The Greeks noticed that the stars all seemed to move together as if the sky as a whole was shifting. But there were 5 or so “Wanderers” in the sky that would later be identified as the other planets in the solar system. Aristotle believed that the Earth was stationary, and the sun, planets, stars, and the moon orbited around the earth- known as the geocentric theory, which would be mostly unchallenged for several centuries still. Ptolemy’s model had earth in the center with 8 heavenly bodies/spheres orbiting it. It wouldn’t be until 1514 that Nicolaus Copernicus would help argue for a heliocentric theory; a theory with the sun being the universal point of centralized orbit. Johannes Kepler could then use this information and model to study the elliptical motions of the planets and thus would lead to Galileo using all of these foundations to advocate so heavily for the heliocentric theory that he would be excommunicated from the Church. Newton then would establish the universal understanding of elementary forces and support all of the previous claims of Kepler, Galileo, and Copernicus with concrete mathematical models, equations, and predictions being ascertained. (Hawking, pg 8-11).

In the third chapter, “The Nature of a Scientific Theory”, Hawking explains what comprises a good scientific theory, plus a look into theories scientists of today have come up with, in addition to a future goal for them. According to Hawking, a good theory should portray a large class of perceptions based on a model consisting of a few simple components and include a precise foreshadowing of future findings. It is stated that today, scientists have bound the universe to be depicted in two incomplete theories, those being the theory of relativity and the theory of quantum mechanics. The theory of relativity explains the force of gravity from a large-scale perspective while quantum mechanics focuses on a much smaller scale, thus they contradict one another. Nevertheless, it is the ultimate goal for scientists to come up with a complete and definite single theory to describe the entire universe, for it is longed for us humans to have justification for why we’re here and where it is we come from. (12-15)

As it has been shown through rigorous discussion of the first three chapters of A Brief History of Time, it can be seen the ethos, pathos, and logos used by Hawking to convey complex matters of the universe to a wide audience. The first chapter discusses the importance of understanding different perceptions and points of view in astrophysical studies. The second chapter discusses the rise and evolution of the heliocentric and geocentric theories of the universe. The third chapter discusses the pertinent role quantum mechanics and relativity play in unlocking the deeper mechanisms of the observable universe.

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Paraphrasing of Bertrand Russell’s Conversation in Stephen Hawking’s Book A Brief History of Time. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 5, 2023, from
“Paraphrasing of Bertrand Russell’s Conversation in Stephen Hawking’s Book A Brief History of Time.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
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