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The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen ­Hawking This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


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I found Stephen Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell very disturbing. Before I read it, I had considered logic the rule of the world. Through logical reasoning we can learn our past, predict the future, interpret every phenomena, and find the right way to do anything. Hawking’s book made me doubt my confidence in logic. He introduced me to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem.

The uncertainty principle states that we cannot learn, ­precisely, a particle’s position and momentum at the same time. Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem states that in any mathematical system, there ­always exists at least one statement that can neither be proved nor disproved.

I was shocked to learn this! Even things as simple as the natural number couldn’t be ­perfectly defined by our logic. How could this be the general rule of the intricate world? The impact that these concepts had on me was comparable to a ­Roman Catholic losing his ­belief in God.

As a rationalist, I believe in nothing except science and ­logic, and Heisenberg and Gödel crushed my entire belief system. For a few weeks, whenever I was learning anything about math, I would always think, There is a Gödel statement in this system. And then I’d feel depressed and not want to learn any more. I had similar feelings when I was learning physics. I was lost and didn’t know what to believe. It was the end of the world for me.

After a period of depression, I realized that logic is not an absolute ­objective rule but a way that ­humans comprehend the world. It is based on the thought of an individual. It is the limitation of rationality, and I had been naive not to realize it until then. Comparing this new realization to literature, I now understand why some people prefer Agatha Christie to Arthur Conan Doyle; she ­realized the limitation of rationality and invented Miss Marple, who investigates cases based on her perception of people’s nature and emotions as well as logical reasoning.

In summary, my new ­acquaintance with Hawking, Heisenberg, and Gödel has caused me to look at the world in an entirely new way. I have gained a greater appreciation of its complexity, and I realize there is no general rule to ­explain it. To perceive the ­fullness of reality, we need not only logic but abundant knowledge and experience of history, humanity, and science. They are essential to advance our ­understanding.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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Abigail_W said...
Jun. 13, 2009 at 3:39 pm
I know exactly what you mean. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter, had affected me in a similar way to which The Universe in a Nutshell has affected you.
 
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