The late Stephen Hawking was the unlikeliest of scientific stars, leading a life and career filled with contradictions. Hawking specialized in the arcane subject of theoretical physics, yet his books captivated the public, selling millions of copies.
A neurodegenerative disease claimed Hawking’s motor skills and voice, yet he persevered, using a voice synthesizer to deliver speeches and TED talks. The British physicist oozed wide-eyed enthusiasm about the universe and its scientific mysteries, yet he fretted about an Armageddon-like comeuppance for humans on planet Earth.
Hawking died this week at age 76, and an obituary in The Guardian eulogized the celebrated intellectual as “the brightest star in the firmament of science, whose insights shaped modern cosmology and inspired global audiences in the millions.”
Hawking was adept at simplifying complex concepts for the masses, and he conveyed a sense of awe about his subject. His 1988 bestseller, A Brief History of Time, and its 2008 sequel, A Briefer History of Time, are proof of this.
“We live in a strange and wonderful universe. Its age, size, violence and beauty require extraordinary imagination to appreciate.”
Hawking made his reputation in part by developing new theories about black holes. “Black holes are not really black after all: They glow like a hot body, and the smaller they are, the more they glow,” Hawking wrote in A Brief History of Time.
For all the wonder he conveyed, Hawking was no Pollyanna. He publicly worried that, as the globe’s population increases and humans exhaust the planet’s limited resources, an inevitable ecological catastrophe looms.
“We are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history. Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill.”
Hawking fretted about the very nature of humans and wondered if we’re capable of the collaborative thinking necessary to save the planet, or mankind.
“Our genetic code still carries selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past,” he said in his 2008 TED talk.
The only hope for the long-term survival of the human race, in Hawking’s view, is colonizing space.
Do you want to know more about Hawking’s fascinating life and mind-bending research? Visit getAbstract.