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What Discoveries Were Made by Stephen Hawking?

Updated on September 6, 2012
Stephen Hawking in 2006
Stephen Hawking in 2006 | Source

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.

Stephen Hawking and Elaine Mason on their wedding day
Stephen Hawking and Elaine Mason on their wedding day | Source
Black hole singularity and Hawking radiation
Black hole singularity and Hawking radiation | Source

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
  • Time
  • 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.)


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    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 5 months ago from Orlando Florida

      I enjoyed reading your essay about Stephen Hawking. He is a giant in the field of cosmology. I think you described his scientific conclusions very well.

    • profile image

      PRATHEEKSHA RAJ 16 months ago

      This was more informative

    • profile image

      Suraj Malasi 23 months ago

      Indeed he is a god gifted person. But Yes their is GOD & I strongly oppose his thought on the same

    • profile image

      Hari 2 years ago

      Nice work. Excellent article

    • profile image

      vijender 2 years ago

      Stephen Hawking is a god gifted awesome scientist

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 2 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment, Susan Lee. I couldn't agree with you more. The more we seek answers, either spiritually or through the physical sciences, the more we discover how very much everything is entangled. There are so many awesome mysteries in the heavens, on earth and everywhere in between.

    • SusanLee2 profile image

      SusanLee2 2 years ago

      Hawking is a brilliant man with a unique mind and I thank you for this page! I am fascinated by the ideas that theoretical physics proposes. What interests me most are the ways that spirituality, religion and science all seem to intersect in unexpected ways. We have so much more to learn and discover, and Hawking has made invaluable contributions to our understanding of our reality and ourselves.

    • profile image

      shreya litoria 3 years ago

      stephen hawking is great

    • profile image

      Amaan 3 years ago

      Stephen Hawkins has done a very observation.

    • profile image

      siddant 3 years ago

      this is truly interesting information

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 3 years ago from Upstate New York

      Okay in a little while. There's tons of stuff to write; most of it is a bit over my head! Thank you so much for the comment.

    • profile image

      Aashish Rai 3 years ago

      He is one of the best mind on this earth. There is no word to explain about him. Thak you Paradise-7.

      I want something more

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 3 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment. He is a fascinating person and one of the great minds of the 21st century.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I enjoy reading about Mr Hawking and every time I learn something new about him/his mind/his discoveries. A fascinating read!

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Missoula, Montana

      I thoroughly enjoyed reading your hub. I believe Hawking is an objective scientist. You have done an exemplary job of explaining his understanding of the universe.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 4 years ago from South Africa

      Stephen Hawking's hypotheses are truly fascinating. I, too, cannot understand or explain the mathematical or physical formulae, yet I perceive them as logical facts.

      Paradise, I must give you an A+ for explaining some of them in such a comprehensible style.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Anne and Green Lotus, for your kind comments.

    • annerivendell profile image

      annerivendell 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Wow! Engaging and informative Hub. What a unique person he is. Thank you.

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      What a wonderful Hub. Hawking's theories are not easily explained to general audiences, but you have done a brilliant job. Thanks! Rated way up.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Doc, yes. I think the answer to your question has something to do with chaos theory. Systems become more and more complex, until they break down. We're latecomers on the evolutionary scale...connect the dots?

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      This is a fascinating discourse, Paradise, about Stephen Hawking, a fascinating and brilliant scientist. It is interesting that he believes the only way to ensure the continuance of the human race is by developing spacecraft with closed bionic systems to support life indefinitely if our world should become uninhabitable. Does he know something we don't? Just wonderin'.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you so much, Phil.

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 5 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Yep, Hawking is without a doubt a genius of our time. Excellent and informative hub, thanks for writing it, voted up and interesting.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Rosie, here's the answer to the IQ question:

      Although Professor Hawking discounts the value of numerical IQ's, he admitted that his own is likely very high (it has been suggested as 160 or more). He also said that "People who boast about their IQ's are losers". (see link to 2004 interview)

      ---a possibly dramatized anecdote from Introducing Stephen Hawking (2006)---

      Near the end of his term at Oxford and no doubt beginning to feel the effects of ALS, Hawking took a terrible fall down a staircase in the university hall. As a result, he temporarily lost his memory. He could not even remember his name. After several hours of interrogation by his friends, he finally returned to normal but was worried about possible permanent brain damage. To be sure, he decided to take the Mensa test for individuals with superior intelligence. He was delighted to find that he passed with flying colours, scoring between 200 and 250!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      I wonder that, too. I don't know what his IQ was. I could try to find out for us. It must be high, very high!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      You're very welcome. It was a challenging project since so many of the concepts I can just barely understand, myself. To try to communicate the gist of them to others is a real challenge! What a fascinating person, though! The ideas are so unique, so original in thinking...concepts of time and space that are really something to wrap your mind around!

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 5 years ago from Virginia

      I'm wondering what his IQ was? Very detailed hub that gives a thorough summary of a man's life.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow... this must have taken some time to put together. Thank you for your hard work to bring Hawking to us.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment, Kitty. I couldn't agree more.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

      Awesome article, paradise. What an intelligent man and provocative thinker. Thanks for writing this! Voted up and interesting.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      You aren't a nerd, E. Loads of people love Stephen Hawking and his work. He has the knack of making the large concept accessible, even if we don't quite get the proofs of it in math and physics.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Frank. I really took my time to do this one. His thinking is just so very intense, and interesting. It could have been miles longer! But I didn't think people would have the patience to read it.

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      I am a total Hawkings fan, (Yes, I am a nerd), and have read all of his works (that I can understand) and find this hub absolutely a tribute to the man. Your bio is so good it should be online. This will draw a lot of attention from Google and users alike. Voted up and thank you!

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

      Paradise this was more informative than a wiki-pedia.. your overview was engaging voted interesting :)