Stephen Hawking Grab-Bag

Stephen Hawking

Currently I’m working on a review of Kitty Ferguson’s Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work, but today I took a break to ‘attend’ Professor Hawking’s 70th birthday symposium at Cambridge via the #Hawking70 Twitter hashtag (kind of like how Mulder ‘attended’ Deep Throat’s funeral via ‘8-power binoculars from 1,000 yards away’). For a while now I’ve been interested in social media’s value as a means of instantly disseminating the proceedings of scholarly conferences, and this is neither the first conference I’ve ‘attended’ in this fashion nor the last I intend to (I aim to get to the point where I can drop the quotation marks around ‘attended’ entirely!). Usually, conferences and symposiums are the kind of events where – if one is not physically present – you have to wait months or years to read the results. Twitter and live streams are changing all that of course, and getting used to their presence – let alone taking advantage of them – is one of the many ways academic conferences need to change.

Anyway, this afternoon Professor Hawking delivered a pre-recorded 30min lecture about his life titled ‘A Brief History of Mine’. I’m sure it will be made available in full sometime soon (perhaps it’s even out there on bootleg right now) but, in the meantime, I’ve harvested some of the choicer quotes as reported by the intrepid Tweeters in attendance…

  • “I was born in 1942, exactly 300 years after the death of Galileo. I estimate about 200 thousand babies were also born that day. I don’t know how many were into astronomy.”
  • “My dad wanted me to do medicine. He said maths was only useful in becoming a teacher.”
  • “My handwriting was the despair of my teachers, but my classmates nicknamed me Einstein.”
  • “When I was 12, one of my friends bet another friend a bag of sweets that I would never come to anything.”
  • “At Oxford, the physics course was arranged in a way that made it particularly easy to avoid work. I once calculated that I did about a thousand hours of work in the three years I was at Oxford, an average of an hour a day.”
  • “I wanted to work with Fred Hoyle when I got to Cambridge but that didn’t work out, fortunate because I’d have had to defend the steady-state theory of universe, which would have been harder than saving the Euro.”
  • “After my expectations had been reduced to zero, every day became a bonus. Where there is life, there is hope.”
  • “If you get stuck, it’s no use getting furious, you just have to keep thinking about the problem while working on something else.”
  • “Information is not destroyed in black holes, it’s just not returned in a useful way to the universe; like burning an encyclopedia.”
  • “That we exist amidst multiple universes is a rarity. It makes us, in a sense, ‘lords of creation’ despite humanity being puny.”
  • “I bet $100 that the Higgs Boson wouldn’t be found. It now looks like I’ll lose another bet.”
  • “The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature,  have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph.”
  • “The English have never admitted that they have any intellectuals.”
  • “I think it’s important for scientists to explain their work.”
  • “I don’t think we will survive another thousand years without escaping the confines of our fragile planet.”
  • “Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.”

Finally, my personal favourite:

  • “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.”
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