Friday, January 8, 2021

Remembering Dr. Stephen Hawking: One of the greatest physicists of our times

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Remembering Dr. Stephen Hawking: One of the greatest physicists of our times

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Global Views 360

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January 8, 2021

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Graffiti art remembering Dr. Stephen Hawking | Source: duncan c via Flickr

The last 50 years have produced some of the most fascinating ideas from physics which have ever been known to us mere mortals. Whether it is the idea of string theory where the world is made of tiny strings smaller than whatever lengths we can possibly encounter or whether it is the astonishing revelations that we possibly do not understand 96% of what constitutes the Universe, all of these brilliant ideas have caught the attention of both professional physicists and the normal population alike. This has also shot loads of world class physicists to limelight, with the likes of Roger Penrose, Edward Witten, Juan Maldacena, Abhay Ashtekar and Erik Verlinde amongst a huge number of physicists who have achieved great public acclaim for their work on Gravitational theories while the likes of Alan Guth, Andrei Linde, Paul Steinhardt, Jim Peebles amongst others have become famous names for their groundbreaking work in Cosmology. But perhaps the best-known figure of theoretical physics in the last half century has been someone who, despite all kinds of odds stacked against him, has contributed deeply to both Gravitational Physics and Cosmology, and his name is Stephen Hawking!

The depth and the length of Hawking’s scientific discoveries can not possibly be described to their full glory in one single article and that speaks volumes of the kind of incredible physics he pursued throughout his life. But intriguingly enough, physics was not what a young Stephen was supposedly going to do in his life. Stephen was born into a family which placed a high value towards a good education, as his father, Frank, was a medical researcher while his mother, Isobel, (having read Philosophy at Oxford, where she met Hawking’s father) was a secretary at a medical institute. While Hawking was named “Einstein” in his school days, his father actually wanted him to also study medicine like him. However, the young Stephen was actually fond of mathematics and since Oxford - where he pursued his undergraduation - didn’t offer a Mathematics degree at the time, he decided to major in Physics instead. Slowly, he gained an incredible amount of interest towards Physics although he was a conventionally “lazy” student throughout his undergraduation. He would not study seriously as he found most of work really easy and interestingly enough, it was the boat club in his university which slowly propelled him towards putting efforts as a student.

When Hawking started his PhD in Cambridge, he was quite disappointed to have not been made a student of legendary astronomer Fred Hoyle, instead he was made a student of Dennis Sciama. This proved fortuitous however, as Sciama was incredibly knowledgeable about almost everything in Cosmology and eventually became a central figure in British Cosmology. It was through him that Hawking got to meet his life-long collaborator and recently awarded Nobel Prize Winner, Sir Roger Penrose.  The meeting with Penrose, who was then working on some bewildering properties of the Black Hole, proved to be a pivotal moment of Hawking’s career. Penrose had shown in a general way the existence of space-time singularities, which is a point inside the black hole where the known laws of Physics, like General Relativity, collapse. Hawking used Penrose’s theorem to show that if one completely rewinds the entire history of the universe, then one would reach exactly to the kind of point which Penrose had described for a black hole; a Space-Time or in this case the Big-Bang Singularity.

Dr. Stephen Hawking at official opening of the Weston Library, Oxford, England | Source: John Cairns via Wikimedia

This idea shows that the universe began from an infinitesimally small point of seemingly infinite density, and hence, Einstein’s seminal theory of General Relativity also fails to explain the properties of the Universe at the time of its creation. This work of Hawking came to be of an astounding magnitude, and this has propelled work on loads of theories both of the early universe and even towards considerations of modifying General Relativity itself! This excellent work got Stephen his doctorate degree at Cambridge, a fact made even more stupendously inspirational considering that he was diagnosed with the Motor Neuron Disease by this time which made him completely paralyzed. He was in a state of depression after being diagnosed with this disease with doctors claiming that he had not much time left to live. It was then through the support of his family and his girlfriend (who soon became his wife) that got him through a very dark realization and motivated him to again pursue physics to the best of his abilities.

After his great work on the Big Bang, Hawking shifted his attention quite literally towards Black Holes. He produced a number of incredible theorems regarding them with Sir Penrose, which are now known as “Penrose—Hawking singularity theorems”. He was also collaborating vigorously with James Bardeen and Brandon Carter at this time, and together they produced some excellent work which showed how Black Holes could lose energy. Around the same time Jacob Bekenstein (who was then a PhD Student at Princeton University) showed that there had to be the existence of some quantum mechanical effects which would lead to the Black Hole having a so-called “entropy” (which is the classical measure of the disorder of a physical system). On the basis of his work with Carter and Bardeen with considerations to Bekenstein’s ideas, Hawking then showed that Black Holes lose energy by radiating it away through a particular mechanism. Considering Einstein’s seminal idea of Mass-Energy equivalence through E=MC2, this incredible work of Hawking meant that Black Holes actually lose Mass by radiating it away in a process now fittingly known as “Hawking Radiation''. Hawking Radiation has become a central idea in studies of Black Holes, Quantum Gravity and the very early universe, and was the key idea which propelled the concept of “Primordial Black Holes”, which refers to the Black Holes which were created in the very early universe. Recently there has been a lot of work which points towards the realization that these primordial black holes may constitute a huge part, if not all, of the dark matter in the universe (which is a mysterious form of matter which forms approximately 23% of the universe). If it is indeed the case, then Hawking’s work will inadvertently be the propeller towards the understanding of dark matter.

Throughout the time in which Hawking did all the above-mentioned work, his research was up there with the finest (if not the finest itself!) on gravitational physics and cosmology in the world. In his later years, Hawking became fascinated with even more exotic ideas which ranged from understanding quantum gravity (the theory of gravity at the smallest scales) and the Multiverse (the idea of an infinite number of universes) to the prospect of Extraterrestrial life and Time Travel. He produced some really insightful work on Quantum Gravity, and his work on Hawking Radiation has fueled loads of work in quantum gravitational theories like String theory and Loop Quantum Gravity. He even hosted a party for time travelers and discussed in length about Aliens & the effects of AI on humans in his later life.

But let’s end this very brief note of his life with this anecdote. Somak Raychoudhary, the current director of IUCAA in India, reminisces how he once met Sir Penrose’s office during his PhD days in Oxford about the allowance to attend one of his classes. Penrose was discussing some work with another PhD student at that time and was startled when he heard Somak’s surname. He said “ Are you related to the Raychoudhary?”. Somak was startled by hearing this and asked who it was that Penrose referred to. Penrose then exclaimed that he was referring to Amal Kumar Raychaudhuri, the Indian astrophysicist who discovered a seminal equation known by his name as the “Raychaudhri Equation”. When Somak told that he had indeed taken classes from Professor Amal, Penrose was very happy and immediately granted him permission to attend his classes. At this, the quiet PhD Student sitting with Penrose said to Somak “ We (him and Penrose) are incredibly inspired by his work and wish to meet him once in person “. That PhD Student was none other than Stephen Hawking and goes to show, the incredibly high regard Raychaudhri’s work is held in, while the general Indian don’t know much about him.

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January 18, 2021 2:21 PM

The Toxicity in Video Games and Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077, the most awaited video game was released on consoles and PC on 10th of December, 2020. The game went under 10 years of build-up and had kept gamers waiting for over 8 years. Cyberpunk 2077 is inspired by a cult-favourite tabletop roleplaying game. The video game was designed by well-known Polish studio, CD Projekt Red. Cyberpunk was the studio’s first big console game since The Witcher 3: Wild hunt which was an extraordinarily triumphant game that won numerous awards after its launch in 2015.

The popular video game, when released, faced backlash from the gaming community and non-gamers for several reasons. To many observers and gamers, Cyberpunk 2077 even proved to be an absolute failure. Several gamers called out the game developers for the promotion of sexiest ideologies and transphobia. However, the reviews weren’t well received by the fans. Cyberpunk 2077 fans responded with unacceptable abuses, harrasing and hateful messages and even rape and death threats.

Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 released ample previews, trailers, motion pictures and marketing material. Aside from this, the appearence of popular Canadian actor, Keanu Reeves as a character in the game carved the expectations of gamers and promised a sexy and kinky world of futuristic and revolutionary action. CD Projekt Red, one of Europe’s most successful video game company announced Cyberpunk 2077 project in 2012 and released the first trailer in 2013

The game is set in an alternate timeline in the city of California. The streets in the game are owned by tyrannical corporations. Everyone in the game modifies their body with illegal technology. Much of the state in the video game setting is said to be suffering from the impacts of a major nuclear attack which happened years ago. Every player gets to be a cyber-enhanced human who has to fight against physical and psychological threats to their survival. The game character of Keanu Reeves comes in as your sidekick.

In 2018, the developers insisted and had assured the gamers that Cyberpunk 2077 would not include in game purchases. CD Projekt Red did not want to lock any content behind a paywall. The studio was also insistent that the game would come out only when it was completely “ready”. They announced that the release would take place in April 2020 but it was delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other quality problems that the game was facing. When it was finally released in December 2020, gamers expected their experience of the game to be “worth the wait”. However, the video game wasn’t well revived by all. In spite of several months of work that went into making and developing the game, the game was launched with several technical issues. Players on both PC and consoles were having terrible experiences. As a result of multiple glitches and technical problems, the characters’ faces were obscured and the game would reset randomly. Some of the environments or areas of the game map was unappealing. The game even caused consoles to crash repeatedly and sometimes sacrificed players’ progress. One glitch led to characters’ breasts and penises being exposed. The characters’ genitals would poke out of their clothes. CD Projeckt Red offered refunds to players who were disappointed with the product. In fact, they updated a self-review discouraging gamers from playing the game on console until the game was fixed and improved.

Cyberpunk 2077 was roundly criticized by reviewers, game designers, industry insiders and other gamers across the gaming community. The wait and hype for the game had already created a fanbase which turned toxic by harassing reviewers who criticised the game.

There is another reason why the game wasn’t well received. Cyberpunk 2077 transphobia was apparent in the game contradicting the fact that the developers had claimed that the game was ahead of its time. The game has an incredibly detailed character creation menu. The players can control several aspects of their character’s appearance including the shapes and size of the genitals. The game even allows players to decline the option of including genitals to their characters. However, this isn’t the problem and is in fact appreciable. The idea of not determining gender by the character’s genitals in fact made many trans players happy. But this soon turned into disbelief and disappointment. The gamers realised that the game actually assigned the gender to the characters not based on their genitals but rather by the voice. Characters with higher-pitched voices were identified as females and characters with deep-voiced characters were assigned male pronouns. This purports the toxic idea that people’s gender can be determined by certain traits. A non-sexist video game would determine the gender of a player’s character based on an independent choice made by players themselves. This is uninfluenced by other physical traits or qualities.

Several reviewers called out Cyberpunk 2077 for promoting sexist ideologies. Unfortunately, toxic fans harassed the reviewers. “You just KNOW when you're going to get harassed. If the game with all the hype has anything wrong with it, and you're honest about that, or even just want to provide any context outside of ‘it's fun’, you're going to get harassed. It's a given.” These were precisely what Susan Arendt, a podcast host quoted. She even second guessed herself whether sharing her true opinions was worth the hateful, threatening and harassing messages that she received.

Controversial Tweet by Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter Handle

In the early days of arcade, gaming was a family activity. The popular male dominance and stereotype that only boys or men are good at video games were perpetuated in the past three decades. We observe this change due to sexualisation of video games. Today, most video games aren’t family friendly as they include explicit and sexual content. This, in fact, is a marketing tactic used by developers to target the male population. In 2018, a Cyberpunk 2077 fan who was awaiting the game at that point of time tweeted that the user wanted to see more from the “guys” at CDPR. In response to this tweet, CD Projekt Red tweeted, “Did you just assume their gender?!”. On the look of it, the tweet seems innocent but it is a joke at the expense of the trans community. After receiving backlash to the tweet, CDPR took it down and issued an apology staying sorry to “all those offended”. The apology seems like another targeted mockery and CDPR did no right by not taking responsibility for its actions.

Not only is Cyberpunk2077 transphobic and sexist, it is non user friendly as well. The game has several epilepsy triggers without any warnings about it. There are several instances and situations in the game where the effects and the graphics are brighter, louder and flashing. This is a general trigger for seizures. Liana Rupert, a player of Cyberpunk 2077 suffered a major seizure and at several moments felt that she was close to another one. After bringing this to the notice of CD Projekt Red, the company agreed to add trigger warnings wherever necessary.  

The gaming industry has definitely taken a few steps forward in terms of inclusivity of all genders but has also taken a few steps backward. While all genders are welcome, they still face harassment and judgement for simply existing in the community and need a lot more improvement.

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