On March 14, 2018, the world lost one of its most brilliant scientific minds in modern history — Stephen Hawking. Coincidentally, another brilliant physicist, also considered a genius, died that same day: Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879). And if that coincidence is not impressive enough, consider this: Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, the day that marked the 300th anniversary of the death of yet another scientific genius — Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).
Despite being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21, and being told he only had about two years to live, Hawking lived an extremely productive life. He did not allow his disability to cripple his intellectual life; he once wrote: “By losing the finer dexterity of my hands, I was forced to travel through the universe in my mind and try to visualize the ways in which it worked.” Thanks to these fantastic cerebral journeys, Hawkings made many significant contributions to the study of black holes, the Big Bang, general relativity, quantum physics, and cosmology, to name just a few. At the University of Cambridge, Hawking held the same revered position for 30 years that Sir Isaac Newton once held: Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. Hawking wrote seven books and co-authored five books. His most well-known work, A Brief History of Time (1992), sold more than 9 million copies and made the British Sunday Times best-seller list for more than 4.5 years. In honor of his life, Bookshelf presents some of his most famous insights:
The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.
We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.
The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired.
Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.
We are all different, but we share the same human spirit. Perhaps it’s human nature that we adapt and survive.
However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. Where there’s life, there’s hope.
For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.
It surprises me how disinterested we are today about things like physics, space, the universe and philosophy of our existence, our purpose, our final destination. Its a crazy world out there. Be curious.
I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these “how” and “why” questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.
[Hawking’s advice to his children] One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.
Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has been maintaining a sense of humor.
If we find the answer to that (why the universe exists), it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason. For then we would know the mind of God.
We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization. There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that, I am extremely grateful.
I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.
There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.
Government works best under the glare of public scrutiny. Absent such scrutiny, abuses occur.
Aggression, humanity’s greatest vice, will destroy civilization.
We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.
It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.
Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious, and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.
We now know that our galaxy is only one of some hundred thousand million that can be seen using modern telescopes, each galaxy itself containing some hundred thousand million stars.
It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.
Some people would claim that things like love, joy and beauty belong to a different category from science and can’t be described in scientific terms, but I think they can now be explained by the theory of evolution.
If a star were a grain of salt, you could fit all the stars visible to the naked eye on a teaspoon, but all the stars in the universe would fill a ball more than eight miles wide.
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For further reading: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking