Stephen Hawking, a scientific mind with few equals, has died at the age of 76. Hawking, with his phenomenal intellect trumping his debilitating illness, embodied “mind over matter”.
Stephen Hawking, a scientific mind with few equals, has died at the age of 76. Hawking, with his phenomenal intellect trumping his debilitating illness, embodied “mind over matter”. He and Roger Penrose arrived at the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems in 1970 for which they were awarded the 1988 Wolf Foundation Prize. The singularity theorems—A Brief History of Time, Hawking’s ineffaceable imprint in the minds of the masses, is based on these—fundamentally changed mankind’s understanding of the universe. In 1974, Hawking posited black-holes eventually vanish because of what is now called Hawking-Bekenstein radiation, and all the information that entered the black hole is lost along with. This scandalised physicists as it contradicted the standard laws of quantum mechanics. He would eventually change his stance, but not because he was proven wrong. It is simply that science doesn’t so far have the tools to arrive at a conclusion either way. The Guardian reports his bereaved children recalling his once telling them, “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.” The material, and the complex cast of theories that determine how it behaves, was his lifelong focus. And yet, his mind reserved space for such musings on the psychical.
He was pronouncedly at odds with numinous concepts—he had once famously said, “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.” Serial scientific bettor (he lost more wagers than he won), actor (Big Bang Theory), stolid political activist—he marched against the American wars on Vietnam and Iraq—Hawking wore many labels with ease. Ultimately, however his quest, in his own words , was “ a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”