Usually, I write about scientific concepts or breakthroughs. Today this will not be the case. Today, “Our Boys” are whereabouts unknown. And the rest of our boys, the Army, are risking their lives to bring them back. That said, while this issue will be about science, it will delve into politics as well. Israel is a nation under constant threat. These three high school children, kidnapped only because they are Jews. From Gaza, rockets are fired against our cities. And we’re under attack in other ways, through the BDS- Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions- movement. Particularly jarring is the academic boycott. That seemingly intelligent people have such a misguided view of the region is astounding. Not so long ago, the most famous living scientist, Stephen Hawking, joined the boycott. Not only is his choice upsetting, it is- in his case- particularly hypocritical.
Crippled by a horrible disease (Lou Gherig’s syndrome), Stephen Hawking to all accounts is a story of success against all odds. Almost completely paralyzed, he moves and talks via machine. His robotic voice is recognized the world over. Despite his disability, Hawking has made important contributions to such fields as M-Theory (Superstring Theory) and the so-called “wave function of the universe”. His most important work, however, was his work on Black Holes. In 1974, Stephen Hawking showed that Black Holes emit radiation. This discovery earned him an investment as a Fellow at the Royal Society. This Black Hole radiations is now called “Hawking Radiation”. This discovery proved that something actually does escape from black holes, as opposed to what had been previously believed. It excited the science world with new physics. Hawking’s work, like that of all science…and scientists, is highly derivative. In this case, Stephen Hawking’s prediction of Black Hole radiation was derived nearly entirely from the work of one man. This man was Israeli physicist Jakob Berkenstein.
Jakobb Berkenstein is an Israeli physicist who has made many contributions to physics- particularly in the field of Black Hole thermodynamics. He is currently a professor of physics at Hebre University in Jerusalem. Of note, Berkenstein predicted that Black Holes would have entropy. This was essential to Hawking’s later prediction of radiation. To understand why, one must first understand what entropy is.
Entropy is often defined, for laymen, as the state of disorder of a system. A more accurate description of entropy in scientific terms is, however, more complex. A complex system (i.e. group of different gasses in the air) can be thought of as a deck of cards. If the cards are arranged in order- aces, twos, threes, etc.) that represents the system’s state of highest order, or lowest entropy. Any other arrangement of cards in the deck is a higher entropy configuration. Therefore, entropy could be defined as the number of microscopic arrangements of particles that would be indistinguishable on a macroscopic level. In this example of a deck of cards, any random order of cards could be considered a high entropy state. According to the Second aw of Thermodynamics, entropy in a closed system will nearly always increase. It is important to note that this is a statistical law -entropy of a system CAN increase, it is just exceedingly unlikely. This tendency of entropy to increase is often cited as the reason that time flows in only one direction – the so-called arrow of time.
When Stephen Hawking first read Berkenstein’s paper, he found it hard to believe that Black Holes have entropy. eventually, however, he accepted the results and built upon them to make the most important breakthrough of his career. Hawking realized that if Black Holes have entropy, they must have a temperature (heat). He was even able to calculate what this temperature must be – the larger the Black Hole, the lower the temperature. If Black Holes have heat, he conjectured, then they mus, too, emit radiation. This turned Black Hole physics on its head. Prior to Hawking’s discovery of Hawking Radiation, it was generally believed that nothing could escape from a Black Hole. According to Stephen Hawking, not only is this false, but all Black Holes will eventually evaporate away to nothing. Today, most scientists take this to be true.
A little over a year ago, Hawking was invited to the residence of Israeli President Shimon Peres for a conference about moving towards the future. Hawking initially accepted the invitation before backing out at the last minute.. His decision was influenced by pressure from Palestinian academics and American Noam Chomsky. Despite its support by Hawking and others, the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is inherently misguided and, in the case of Hawking, extremely hypocritical. If Stephen Hawking wants to boycott Israel, he should retract his previous findings that would have been impossible without the work of Israeli physicists on which it is based. ∞