The Theory of Everything has been on Sky all week. This film is about a genius, and there appears to have been a genius in the casting office when Eddie Redmayne was chosen for the part. Casting the young, handsome and fantastically upper class (Eton, Cambridge) Redmayne as Hawking brought a beguiling vulnerability and charm to an academic figure who, despite his appearances on The Simpsons, Comic Relief, with Monty Python and regular live stage ‘shows’; essentially remains a mystery.
Stephen Hawking is a kind of mythical icon, like the Sphinx or Stonehenge. The world’s most famous scientific brain, locked up inside a wasted body and confined to the world’s most famous wheelchair – a man of science, kept alive by science.
It’s difficult to see past the vegetative state and into the character of a man who now has, apparently, just three facial movements left, enabling him to communicate via computer, and who dreads the day when this limited movement finally leaves him. But Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal gave this very disabled theoretical physicist almost matinee idol status – a status the real Hawking definitely lacks when you see him on YouTube, in the documentary footage flesh.
The Theory of Everything is a film I really shouldn’t have watched (and neither should you if you’re a raving hypochondriac.) Just two weeks before it came on the telly, I’d been dropping tea cups and mugs all over the place, completely smashing one, which is a pretty unusual occurrence. A rare 20 minute stint at playing the guitar had resulted in a suddenly weak and floppy left hand/arm, which took a good 10 minutes of rubbing to get back to its normal state. I’ve been beset by attacks of pins and needles in both feet for months now, along with an occasional ice cold sensation running down my back.
So it did me no good at all to see a young, 23 year old Hawking knocking his tea cup over, in his pyjamas in his Cambridge room; soaking his impossibly difficult homework in the process before laying his right hand rather weakly and floppily on the desk beside it. Nothing too untoward there you might think, except the Director and scriptwriter know what’s coming and decided to lay lots of health anxiety-inducing, subtle clues along the way – sending me to the NHS website.
Stephen Hawking has Motor Neurone Disease or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in which the cells that control voluntary muscle activity (motor neurones) stop working properly affecting speech, walking, swallowing, breathing – everything really. Life expectancy is 2-3 years. Victims report various symptoms such as sensations of an icy coldness in the limbs; numbness; weakness; speech problems…..so, clutching the arm that is prone to numbness and weakness and monitoring the stammer, I made a hasty exit from the scary NHS website – before noting that MND is ‘very rare’, affecting 2 out of every 100,000 people.
Professor Hawking, of course, did not die within the 2 years he was given to live. This has led some medical experts to question whether he has MND at all, but rather some disease very closely related but not quite as deadly. Whatever Mr Hawking has, he’s clearly in a bad way but, at the same time, is a bona fide medical miracle – perhaps kept alive by a God he (and I) don’t believe in, just so he can discover The Theory of Everything (TOE)
Because Stephen Hawking, many Physics moons ago, set himself the task of working out a theory that would unify the two great existing theories about the nature of time, space and everything – that is, the Special and General Theories of Relativity versus the Theory of Quantum Mechanics.
General Relativity explains gravity, black holes, expansion of the universe and suchlike. These things are all BIG, concerning massive objects that exert the powerful force of strong gravity – planets, stars, space, etc. Then there’s Quantum Theory which concerns itself with everything MINUSCULE, detecting invisible, fundamental particles and how they interact with each other in building the universe.
Many scientists believe the two theories to be incompatible, adhering to one theory or the other, believing that both can’t be right and that there will never be a unifying theory giving us the key to the nature of the universe. However, the Theory of Everything (TOE), aka Grand Unified Theory (GUT) (weird these acronyms are also body parts, there’s a spooky meaning in there somewhere) seeks to unify Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity because, despite them being ‘incompatible’, they both do a pretty bang on (not least with the Big Bang theory) job of explaining life the universe and everything.
Stephen Hawking has, kind of, admitted defeat with regard to his promise to come up with the theory to end all theories, so this past week I set myself the task (in between the washing up and the painting and decorating) of coming up with a Theory of Everything.
I decided I needed a good acronym for starters. There are already some brilliant sciencey type acronyms out there:
- NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- LASER – Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation
- SONAR – Sound Navigation and Ranging
- RADAR – Radio and Detection and Ranging
- AC/DC – not the rock band but Alternating Current/Direct Current
Right, I specifically needed to find the similarities and Combine Relativity And Particle Physics, which unfortunately meant that I was on the brink of discovering The CRAPP Theory – and I certainly didn’t want to go down in history with my name attached to that, even if it would almost certainly turn out to be an accurate description.
I then wasted many more minutes coming up with further acronyms:
- GOT – The Grand Overall Theory
- MOT – Massive Overarching Theory
- RSVP – Relativity Science Versus Particle Physics
- RIP – Relativity is Pants – (one for the pro-Quantum lot obviously)
- Q-TIPS* – Quantum Theory Is Pants (and also) Sucks – (one for the Relativity Lot)
- BST – Best Scientific Theory, or BS for short (which, again, my theory is likely to be)
I was disappointed to find however that these brilliant acronyms already exist, so turned my valuable time to further trying to succeed where Professor Hawking had failed and, what’s more, I actually did it.
The Theory of Everything came to me in a dream last night, at approximately 2.55 am, and I remember waking up with the thought that I must get a pen and paper and write down the mathematical calculations, elegant equations and suchlike which now made the meaning of life, the universe and everything crystal clear. However, at approximately 2.56 am, I fell asleep again and forgot all about it – leaving mankind to muddle through in its usual state of befuddlement.
I’m offering an unspecified prize of my choosing** to any loyal readers who can come up with their Theory of Everything. Feel free to post said theories in the comments section.
And Good Luck with that.
*more a product name really
** I’m not (obviously)