A Tribute to Stephen Hawking
What is time? If the Universe began with a big bang, what happened before? Was there a before? What are black holes, and why aren’t they really black?
These are some of the questions that Professor Stephen Hawking addressed during his lifetime, questions that are profoundly philosophical as well as scientific. And in probing the cosmos to find answers, he has done much to add to our understanding, not only of physical reality but of what it means to be human. Can it really be true that the universe is the way we see it only because we ARE here to see it, as the strong anthropic principle seems to suggest?
Few human beings have left such an imprint on the world of science as Stephen Hawking. One can think of some others who have done so: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein. Of those, perhaps only Einstein, in this century, is as well known as Hawking to the wider world as to the scientific community. And surely no one else can have made such a contribution to science while battling a disabling illness, of which the survival time is usually a couple of years at most.
Diagnosed with motor neurone disease in his early twenties, Hawking has for the last half century brought clarity to our understanding of the cosmos – to the scientist certainly, but to many non-scientists who, without him, would probably not have bothered.
It is thirty years since his bestselling book A Brief History of Time hit the bookshelves and brought Hawking to the ‘layman’ reader. Stephen Hawking has been in the public eye ever since, as much (sadly) for his disability as for his work. Much has happened since. The reality of black holes has lost Hawking a couple of bets, though not – apparently – without compensatory gains. He lived to see the detection of the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s theories but, alas, not long enough to take his much anticipated flight into space. His quirky sense of humour undoubtedly helped him cope with a devastating disease. His appearance on Star Trek won him the hearts of many who would probably never pick up a science book.
Now that Professor Stephen Hawking has gone, science – and the world at large – will be a much poorer place. He was one of my heroes. and my sympathy goes out to his family.
‘….. if there really is a complete unified theory [of the universe], it would also presumably determine our actions. And so the theory itself would determine the outcome of our search for it!’ [A Brief History of Time]
‘We each exist for but a short time, and in that time explore but a small part of the whole universe. But humans are a curious species. We wonder, we seek answers.’ [The Grand Design]