What Discoveries Were Made by Stephen Hawking?
A Brief Overview of the Life and Times of Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England, the son of Frank Hawking, who was a research scientist in the field of biology, and Isobel Hawking. They moved from London to Oxford to avoid the blitz during the Second World War, when Stephen was still a toddler.
Stephen Hawking's first love was mathematics. Though he was an indifferent and bored student, a math teacher, Dikran Tahta, inspired him with a true love of higher mathematics. All of his teachers said that he was an indifferent student because he was not involved or challenged by the ordinary coursework. Those same teachers also recognized Stephen's immense talent for thinking outside the box. Mathematics gave him a tool to express complicated abstract thoughts, which were so natural to him. He was miles ahead of us all, in his thoughts.
His father wanted Stephen Hawking to attend University College at Oxford; it had no mathematics chair or fellow; Stephen then majored in physics, instead. He received a Bachelor's Degree from Oxford in 1962, at the age of twenty. He then went to Cambridge for graduate studies in physics. At this time, shortly after his arrival in Cambridge, he was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). It's a terrible disease--most people don't survive it past 10 years after diagnosis. Stephen Hawking recently passed his 70th birthday, having battled this terribly debilitating illness for 50 years!
It was his marriage to Jane Wilde, a language student, that gave Stephen Hawking the impetus to continue his studies in the graduate program. He said himself--he wanted to get married, which meant he needed to find a job, which meant, in his field, he needed a PhD. Well, bless us all and Jane Wilde! Without that motivating influence the world might have lost some terrific discoveries in the field of cosmology (which we used to call "astrophysics"). The original diagnosis rattled Stephen's world--he said he didn't see the point in continuing his studies if he were to die so soon. However, the disease stabilized through medication and Stephen got married and got his PhD.
They remained married for 25 years, and had three children (Robert, Lucy and Timothy). Jane helped care for Stephen and assisted him to overcome his illness. Divorced in 1990, Stephen remarried in 1995, to his personal care assistant Elaine Mason. They divorced after eleven years of marriage, in 2006, and there was quite a scandal, in that Elaine was accused of abusing Stephen.
Stephen describes himself as "lucky", which amazes me. If I had to deal with his illness, I could not do it with so much grace and heart. He has completely lost his powers of speech and most all of his other motor powers. He uses a voice-generating device, which was built at Cambridge using American inventions for software, by vibrating his cheek.
What Discoveries were made by Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking's main contributions to the field of physics and cosmology lie in the studies of:
- The origins of the universe
- The Big Bang theory
- The universe began with a gravitational singularity
- Singularities (gravitational and space/time continuum singularities) are more common in the universe than we think
- Black Hole radiation
- The universe has no space/time boundaries
- There is no god
- The balance of probability is strongly in favor of the existence of alien life forms elsewhere in the universe. Some may be intelligent; though the balance of probability is lesser.
Let's explore that the universe has no space/time boundaries first. Stephen Hawking hypothesized, and more or less proved, with mathematical and physics models that are far beyond my capabilities to explain, or, indeed understand, the idea that the universe has NO space or time boundaries.
He explains it like this:
The big Bang theory says that the universe of matter and energy began at a single point, which reached a critical mass, then exploded outward. The universe continues to expand. In a closed universe theory, at some point, the universe is going to "hit the wall", when enough energy has been expended from the original big bang, then begin to shrink again. In an open universe theory, the universe will just continue to expand indefinitely as the force of gravity becomes weaker and weaker as objects in space spread further apart.
Stephen Hawking says that it wasn't quite the Big Bang--the beginning of the universe was more like the North Pole. You can't travel north of the North Pole. There isn't a boundary there, though. It's simply where all the north lines meet. His idea is that you can't have either space or time BEFORE the "big bang"; therefore, the universe has no space/time boundary. Space/time boundaries are a completely human and artificial construct that doesn't really exist.
Now, if your head feels like it's about to explode already, get this:
With Thomas Hertog at CERN in Switzerland in 2006, Stephen Hawking proposed that the universe has no unique initial state, and that working outward to predict the current configuration of the universe from one particular state, such as in the Big Bang theory, contains a fallacy. Rather, Hawking's "Top-Down" cosmology says that in some ways, the present selects the past from a simultaneous superimposition of all the possible pasts.
Let's examine Hawking radiation from black holes, next. A black hole in space is a collapsed star the has zero volume and practically infinite mass. It is so dense, that it was believed that NOTHING can escape a black hole once it passes the "event horizon", once it gets near enough to the black hole where the black hole's gravity is irresistible. Stephen Hawking postulated the existence of radiation, emitting through the black hole and coming out the other side. This is now accepted science. Once again, I cannot explain either the mathematical or physical formulae for this hypothesis: they are beyond, far beyond, my expertise.
It took Stephen Hawking to imagine it. His mind is so unique: THAT is his real contribution.
Stephen Hawking on Aliens
Stephen Hawking on Aliens
Stephen Hawking is dearly beloved in the common world by sci-fi fans and outer space enthusiasts, because he is a strong proponent of the likelihood of extraterrestrial life.
He says, without qualification, that the balance of probability lies strongly in favor of the existence of extraterrestrial life. He postulates that the earth has already been visited by extraterrestrial life in the form of viruses. He says he has fun imagining what more developed life forms look like, in galaxies far away.
He seriously doubts that there are humanoid life forms in other galaxies. It would be against the odds that life-supporting planets elsewhere would duplicate the Earth to that extent. We have a failure of imagination when it comes to extraterrestial life in fiction and in movies. We just can't imagine intelligent life that isn't humanoid, it seems.
Stephen Hawking thinks that should we be visited by intelligent alien life, it might be the worse for us. "Like Columbus discovering America," he says. "That didn't turn out so well for the native Americans."
He believes also the only way to ensure the continuance of the human race is by developing spacecraft capable of closed bionic systems which will support life indefinitely, should our world become uninhabitable for some reasons, either natural or man-made.
Stephen Hawking on God
Stephen Hawking on God
Who was it that said: "God created integers, all else is history."?
That sort of capsulizes Stephen Hawking's stance on God and religion. He is not religious in the ordinary sense of the word: he doesn't believe that there was a God who created the universe. He doesn't believe in any sort of afterlife; he doesn't believe in heaven or hell.
He does, however, believe in a grand celestial order to things, could we but understand it. He believes that there is a grand design to all the systems of the universe, and to life itself.
His work on the Unification Theory of Physics led him to believe that we might never be able to come up with one universal theory: instead, we might have to use different parts of different theories to explain different phenomena, but there is an underlying unifying factor, if we could only get to it. It would explain the contradictions between the theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics. That unifying factor would be "God" to Stephen Hawking.
Stephen Hawking has published many popular books in his field. His work is so accessible to you and me, even though we aren't cosmologists, or physicist, or mathematicians. His writing is clear, concise, invested with humour, and fascinating for the concepts it proposes. Here is a list of the books Stephen Hawking has published:
- A Brief History of Time (1988)
- Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (1994)
- The Universe in a Nutshell (2001)
- On the Shoulders of Giants (2002)
- God Created Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs that Changed History (2005)
- The Grand Design (2010)
also several children's books, co-authored with his daughter, Lucy.
His writing reminds me very much of Carl Sagan's. They came to the same conclusion about the existence of God.
Sometimes I feel they may have too MUCH science: there could be something there, beyond the ken of any science human beings are capable of.
The video above tells Stephen Hawking's view on God in his own words. (I just hope it stays up and isn't disabled by YouTube.)