Space, Time, God & Dr. Hawking

November 1988By Frank R. Haig, S.J.

The Rev. Frank R. Haig, S.J. is Professor of Physics at Lo­yola College in Maryland. He received his doctorate in the­oretical nuclear physics from Catholic University in Wash­ington, D.C., and is past president of Wheeling College in West Virginia and Le Moyne College in New York state.

Richard Feynman was one of the great theo­retical physicists of our age. In his hilarious but deeply disturbing autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, released in 1986, he merci­lessly beats about the head and shoulders an un­named Jesuit priest who, at a meeting Feynman attended, solemnly bemoaned the fragmentation of human knowledge.

Such language Feynman found ridiculous. He then goes on to describe in excruciating detail the techniques for seducing women one can pick up in a bar. Finally, in a passage that may have revealed why Feynman did not stay at Cornell, though he began his teaching career there, he states that the same approach worked on coeds at that university. (Feynman himself explained his move to the Cali­fornia Institute of Technology as due to the circum­stance that it simply snowed too much in Ithaca.)

Feynman’s moral obtuseness may not be an example of the fragmentation of knowledge. It may just show a lack of integration of the total person. Another great physicist, however, has rais­ed the question with sharper rigor and explicitness.

The fragmentation of knowledge disturbs Stephen W. Hawking in his magisterial popular work A Brief History of Time. Hawking is at Cam­bridge University as Lucasian Professor of Mathe­matics, the same chair Sir Isaac Newton held. As a graduate student he was given the crushing news that he had ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, bet­ter known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He is now con­fined to a wheelchair and speaks through a com­puter.

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