Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science

High Table at Cambridge with Stephen Hawking 219

Posted by Hemos
from the talking-with-mc-hawking dept.
bughunter writes "Accomplished astrophysicist and SF author Gregory Benford shares a personal account of his recent conversation with Stephen Hawking at Reason Online. As usual, Benford's style is engaging and informal, and this doesn't read like a typical interview. Although the article is short on jargon, Benford and Hawking share insights on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, as such minds are want to do. We even get a glimpse of Cambridge tunnel hacking. Of course, there's also a plug for Hawking's new book, The Universe in a Nutshell."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

High Table at Cambridge with Stephen Hawking

Comments Filter:
  • by darthBear (516970) <hactar&hactar,org> on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:03PM (#3320740)
    but is it published by O'Reilly?
  • "You can't get there from here."
  • by ocie (6659)
    I was disappointed to find out that it wasn't an O'Reilly book.
  • by alewando (854) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:07PM (#3320757)
    Einstein is well known for opposing theories of black holes and quantum physics (his famous quote about deities not throwing dice comes immediately to mind), and Hawking has spent the greater part of the second half of the twentieth century and now the twenty first century exploring black holes.

    But of course Hawking might be making the same mistake Einstein made in opposing black hole theory, this time regarding gravistar theory [sciforums.com]. The jury is still out on gravistars, but the potential for undoing all the "discoveries" Hawking has spent his life pursuing is real.

    It's a cautionary note, and one Hawking would be loathe to ignore. Certainly, we remember Einstein for his theories of relativity, but how many remember anything he accomplished in the second half of his career? The short answer is he accomplished very little, spending his days sailing his little boat around instead of charting new scientific milestones.

    Hawking has the very real potential to be relegated to the dustbin of history as a great scientific mind led astray on fruitless theoretical paths. It'd be a shame, but there it is. Let's hope that unlike Einstein, Hawking is better prepared to adapt to whatever the future holds.
    • I'm confused...what, exactly, is wrong with sailing a little boat around? Sounds like a rather enjoyable hobby to me. And I'm sure that Mr. Einstein had a great time with it. I could be wrong, but it seems that at some point, you would just stop caring about being a part of history. Escaping to a little boat would be nice indeed.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      very good point. hawking should stop whatever he is researching now, and start looking into what you think is important.

      give me a break. if it is so obvious to you what the answers are, why dont you figure them out and publish them?

      yes, einstein did disagree with scientific theories that turned out to be legitimate, but that does not diminish his contribution at all. to claim it does is just ignorant. personally, i am glad to see that he made a mistake or too - makes me feel like i have at least a little chance.
    • by HorsePunchKid (306850) <sns@severinghaus.org> on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:31PM (#3320845) Homepage
      I'm not going to completely disagree with you, but I do think it's rather unfair to suggest Einstein was unproductive after publishing his theories of relativity. In particular, he played an important part in the early interpretations of quantum mechanics (as opposed to the formulations). One of the truly astounding thought experiments he (along with Podolsky and Rosen) came up with is still being sorted out. Essentially he first recognized the problems with assuming local realism; that it is in some sense possible for quantum entities to communicate faster than the speed of light. The thought experiment was later refined by J. S. Bell, to whom the idea of exploiting this quantum entanglement is now popularly attributed. This is just one of many conceptual contributions Einstein made to the early development of quantum physics. (Google can find you much more information about Bell's experiment and Einstein's hand in it, along with a better description of exactly why the EPR experiment is so mind-bending.) On a different note, I believe he also became very politically active, with the rise of the Nazi regime in that era, but I'm not really qualified to comment on that.
    • Hardy pointed out that no mathematician of record has done anything really brilliant after age 50. I think it's safe to say the same thing about physicists.

      I'll be money you won't hear anything incredible from Hawking anymore.

      mlylecarlin
    • Stephen Hawking will always be known as the guy in a wheelchair who wrote a betselling book teaching physics to the upper-middle class. Thats his legacy.

    • ah, but can we not let an old man have some peace? so what if einstein spent his days sailing his little boat instead of single-mindedly persuing every nook and cranny of theoretical physics. scientists can be seen like artists: they create their works and persue their talents for their own reasons; they don't owe us, the public, anything. just ask piro...

      no disrespect meant, but these people are allowed to have their own lives and they're quite capable of making their own decisions.
    • I do not agree with that. Ok I am just an engineer here... BUT Hawking has some interesting ideas. Just from the article "With the 'no boundary' condition, there will be no beginning or end to imaginary time, just as there is no beginning or end to a path on the surface of the Earth."

      Ok so lets say that he is right and that imginary time has no beginning or end. And lets say somehow we manage to figure out that time and our universe has NO beginning or end. What would we say? People would seriously go bezerk...

      You see I think what the modern world now has to realize is that certain assumptions that we make do not exist. The boundaries created were solely virtual for our own protection. But breaking these boundaries means that our fundenmental existance is questioned. Not something that most people want to explore. Hawking does explore it because his existance should by "normal" terms not exist. But yet he does and he is coming up "with crack-pot" theories.

      I think after a couple of hundred years from now when we have broken our initial premises about life Hawking will be remembered for the genius that he was. Just like Da'Vinci and his flying machine!!! ;)
  • by RFC959 (121594) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:09PM (#3320769) Journal
    Marilyn Monroe. I mentioned her, and Stephen responded instantly, tapping one-handed on his keyboard...
    Um...

    Never mind.
  • Hum. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:09PM (#3320771)
    How much of this actually took place in the conversation, and how much is just the author attempting to summarize current interesting stuff in the world of physics using a conversation with Stephen Hawking as a framing device?

    I mean, it really feels like the latter. I find it hard to believe that Hawking, talking to another physisist, would bother, for example, going into detail explaining what planck time is.

    Not that there's anything wrong with that, and it was an interesting read. But it was kind of irritating and clumsy the way that the story seemed like nothing more than a framing device to the author (Did anyone else read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius?), and everything they discussed seemed smoothed out and dumbed down and simplified to its bare essentials so that people like, well.. so that people like me could understand it. Kind of like the way that the author describes hawking's new book.
    I guess i shouldn't complain, since it was better than i could have done, but i wish he'd just repeated stuff and then explained on the side, subtitle style, instead of inserting the layman's explanations into the conversation (assuming, of course, that this was actually what he did..)

    Can anyone recommend something i could read if i'm a casual observer curious about what's going on in physics, but who would like a little more depth than this? Like, just so that things aren't so skimmed over that they just seem like crackpot, randomly selected theories with no basis in anything (which of course it seems this way if you don't mention why, mathematically, they came to these conclusions...). I mean, if i want shallow summaries of the physics community, i always have Discover :)
    • Re:Hum. (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Can anyone recommend something i could read if i'm a casual observer curious about what's going on in physics, but who would like a little more depth than this?

      Try The Elegant Universe by Greene and Three Roads to Quantum Gravity by Smolin (in addition to, of course, Hawking's own books).
    • by Viadd (173388)
      Hawking's speech synthesizer has lots of pre-formed sentences. It required two keystrokes for 'Please excuse the American accent.'

      It is probably easier for him to hit a few keystrokes to speak the canned paragraph, rather than laboriously type a similar paragraph from scratch, omitting the explanation of the Planck time.
  • Not "want"... (Score:3, Informative)

    by cybrpnk (94636) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:10PM (#3320775)
    ...but "wont". As such minds are WONT to do.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    want: nt Pronunciation Key (wnt, wônt)
    v. wanted, wanting, wants
    v. tr.

    1.
    a.To desire greatly; wish for: They want to leave. She wants a glass of water. See
    Synonyms at desire.
    b.To desire (someone to do something): I want you to clean your room.
    2.
    a.To request the presence or assistance of: You are wanted by your office.
    b.To seek with intent to capture: The fugitive is wanted by the police.
    3.To have an inclination toward; like: Say what you want, but be tactful.
    4.Informal. To be obliged (to do something): You want to be careful on the ice.
    5.To be without; lack. See Synonyms at lack.
    6.To be in need of; require: "'Your hair wants cutting,' said the Hatter" (Lewis Carroll).

    wont: Accustomed or used: "The poor man is wont to complain that this is a cold world" (Henry
    David Thoreau).
    2.Likely: chaotic as holidays are wont to be.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    At the risk of appearing like a slashdot poster, I will have to correct the original poster's useage of "want." He, of course, should have used "wont."

    Tony
  • by cybrpnk (94636) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:22PM (#3320816)
    If you've never heard Hawking's musical efforts (I kid you not), now is the time. Check out www.mchawking.com [mchawking.com] and prepare to bust a gut laughing. This is not to be missed.
  • by legLess (127550) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:26PM (#3320828) Journal
    Ok, this isn't a karma whore, since I'm already at the cap. It is one of my favorite Onion articles ever, though. I wonder if Steven likes it? I bet he would :)

    http://www.theonion.com/onion3123/hawkingexo.html [theonion.com]

    Steven Hawking Builds Robotic Exoskeleton
    CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND--Nobel Prize-winning physicist Stephen Hawking stunned the international scientific community Monday with his latest breakthrough, a remarkably advanced cybernetic exoskeleton designed to replace his wheelchair.

    Hawking, paralyzed since early adulthood with the degenerative nerve disease ALS, unveiled the new creation at a press conference at Cambridge University.
    "I am faster, stronger... better than before," Hawking told reporters via his suit's built-in voice synthesizer.
    • And his new robo-arms are capable of ripping open enemy tanks like they were nutshells,,

      Nutshells of universal proportions, perhaps?

    • He sure did take it with good humor. After reading the story he sent the following email to the offices of The Onion:

      "You have blown my cover as a wheelchair-bound mad professor. But little do you guess I'm really a Time Lord from Andromeda."
      [wired.com]
      http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.03/onion_pr .h tml

      :-)
  • "You and your... third dimension."
    "Oh, what about it?"
    "Oh, nothing. It's cute. We have five."
    "...thousand."
    "Yes, five thousand!"
    "Don't question it!"

  • Hawking, day to day (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jormundgard (260749) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:30PM (#3320841)
    Every so often I see Prof. Hawking in the CMS building while running between classes or eating lunch, always with a nurse or "graduate assistant" (more of a student nurse) nearby. Some days I tell myself that he doesn't look so bad, but other days I just can't bring myself to look at him. It's hard to read interviews with him where he seems so vibrant, with his grinning photograph usually nearby, and then jump to seeing him in person - immutable and motionless, and almost falling apart. It's almost like he's a completely different person.
    • I have a great respect for what he had achieved, against the odds.

      But the least I could do in deference during my 3 undergrad years, was NOT to be tempted to a photo opportunity each time I see him 'strolling' (more like zipping) along the Fens with his nurse... :)
  • A very interesting read. I have read A Brief history of Time on a flight from Perth to Sydney once and I found it very interesting, although my mind drifted alot as it did get a bit hard for me to understand specially when he went into some detail of his theories. I wonder how the Universe in a Nutshell compares to A Brief History of Time.
    None-the-less, I think Hawkins is an amazing person. (does anyone know if he's knighted?) To be afflicted like him, survive this long and be such an influential person is an inspiration. I wonder what he thinks of euthanasia.
    • Shit, man! I know Perth is not close (I'm in Sydney) but it took me _way_ longer than that to digest Nutshell!

      History of Time is good. A lot less pictorial but just as lucid. He did a great job of keeping the books seperate in that they are not dependant on each other. Some of the chapters in 'Time are quite short - others no so.

      Did the chapter in 'Nutshell about time travel leave anyone else scratching their heads? An island of insanity in a ocean of sence...

  • Hawking's page (Score:2, Informative)

    hawking.org.uk [hawking.org.uk] to learn more on the interviewee
  • " In the cool night Stephen recalled some of his favorite science fiction stories."

    It's a shame he doesn't mention specific science fiction titles that Stephen Hawking liked. I would love to join his book of the month club! Ever since Oprah's club closed, i've been lost at Border's... Anyone know any cool SciFi book discussion web sites?

    • I've never understood how anyone could be at a loss for something to read. It seems like every one book I read leads to three more that I want to. Right now i'm in the middle of:

      Joseph Campbell "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"
      Jeremy Yudkin "Music in medieval europe"
      The complete poems of Emily Dickenson
      RH Blyth, Haiku (4 volumes)
      The complete fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson
      Sklansky, "The theory of poker"

      Just finished:
      Hunter S Thompson, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"
      Warhol, "The philosophy of Andy Warhol" (a hoot!)
      Cordingly, "Under the Black Flag" A (really engaging) history of real pirates, you know the ones who loot, pillage and murder (as opposed to the ones who click and drag a mouse).

      Can't wait to start:
      Hemingway, "A farewell to arms"
      Nabokov, "Lolita"
      Burgess, "A Clockwork Orange"
      Russian Fairy Tales (Baba Yaga, Koschei the Deathless, aw yeah)
      that William Gibson one (Neuromancer, is it?)
      Stephen King's "The Stand" (and The Shining while i'm at it)
      of course, Hawking's books!
      I have to note, I adamantly (snikt?) refuse to read any more (I read the first two) Harry Potter books until I get a British language edition.

      And will probably reread soon:
      all my Salinger
      Raymond Chandler, "The Big Sleep"
      Hammett, "The Maltese Falcon"
      all my Raymond Carver
      some Douglas Adams

      Okay, i kinda got carried away, but you get my point. I wish I had more sci-fi to recommend, but it generally tends to be less engaging for me (though I remember absolutely loving "Dune" when I read it years ago, and I'm sure you're aware of Stephenson). Oh, almost forgot about Robert Anton Wilson's "Prometheus Rising." Not so much sci-fi as philosophy, but amazing nonetheless. I guess I have to echo your statement--It'd be nice to see a list of sci-fi recommendations by Hawking (or anyone else for that matter), but my wallet is glad there isn't one. The only thing I'm at a loss for when I go into Borders is information about how I'm going to pay for all the books I picked up. But I definitely gotta recommend those hard-boiled dective novels (Chandler or Hammett); they're damn fun to read and amazingly well-written too.
  • http://www.mchawking.com/ [mchawking.com]

    Pity about the pop-ups, overs, unders, and throughs, though.

  • by everyplace (527571) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @10:51PM (#3320902) Homepage
    The only time I've been around Hawking in recent memory was at Penrose's 65th birthday party (wow, was that really 5 years ago already?). He seemed pleasant, and thanked Roger for the nice party at the end of the evening.

    I will have to agree with Taco's comments though on the fragility of his exterior, but at the same time I feel that it plays into the character that Hawking has become. I can only imagine what being forced to develop one's theories on the world for 30+ years can do to someone's perception of reality. Some of the ideas that Hawking has contributed to the math world couldn't have come from anyone else, and I wonder how much of a result this is from his condition.

    Now if only twistor theory would win over super string theory. But that's another issue.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Now if only twistor theory would win over super string theory. But that's another issue.

      Good Lord! He plays Twister as well?
    • Some of the ideas that Hawking has contributed to the math world couldn't have come from anyone else, and I wonder how much of a result this is from his condition.

      Didn't the American physicist, Kip Thorne make this point in the film of the same name as Hawking's book, 'A Brief History of Time'?

    • I metamoderate almost everyday and read thru most trolls but I don't get what you do. It's not aggrevating and as long as you lace your posts with fact it's not irrelevant. I benfited from recognizing the troll after I replied then picked up on the reference to Taco (hero worship?). I benefited from recalling the theft from Thorne after a decade or so. It becomes infantile dressup where you, the child playing, are more taken in than anyone else involved. Sort of like the old children's game of "Do you have Prince Albert in the can?" I doubt that you'll respond but I'd like to know if you're any older than in your early teens. Just curious... I'm always curious anyway I'll watch for any of your posts in metamoderator land. :0
  • "I remarked that to me the book was like a French Impressionist painting of a cow, meant to give a glancing essence, not the real, smelly animal. Few would care to savor the details."

    Now that's the author's way of saying he had a cosmorgasm during the conversation.

    Serious though, nice to see Benford having a sense of humor.
  • 42 (Score:2, Funny)

    by rveno1 (470619)
    "Benford and Hawking share insights on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything."

    Um we knoe the answer to this question alredy it is 42!

    • by einer (459199)
      CAUTION: OT. Humorless mods, please avert your eyes from the horror that is the Offtopic Post.

      Try this -- fire up vim, then type
      esc
      :help 42

      See, I knew these guys knew everything!
      Andrew
  • Mirror of conversation with Stephen Hawking [gtlogistics.com]
  • As far as many, if not all, of my teachers have been concerned I've been on imaginary time since day one.

    What, if anything, distinguishes conclusions we might arrive at while passing thru a process from those we might arrive at after having mapped the process. Gregory Bateson in his work 'Mind and Nature' played with the zig zag interplay of process and mapping. Whenever I face the wording of the more recent theories of Physics I'm tugged back to a passage from Robert Graves book the 'White Goddess' wherein he states true insight comes only by way of a skewered glance at the world of facts. Bertrand Russell once commented that to the best of his knowledge there had never been a philosopher-poet, perhaps this is the amalgam we wait upon. The few mathematician-poet's I've read have been obviously deficient in one practise or the other.

  • by Kaio (471336) on Wednesday April 10, 2002 @11:35PM (#3321026) Homepage
    "Benford and Hawking share insights on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything..."

    I know it's not always easy to come up with all new topics for an interview, but I think we already know Hawking's views on the meaning of life [mchawking.com]. His philosphy is revealed fairly clearly:

    "I'm just chillin' yo, no place to be.
    I take another pull off my 40z.
    I'm thinking about spinning a fatass tree, a B to the L to the U-N-T."

    Or perhaps:
    "Fuck the damn creationists I say it with authority, because kicking their punk asses be my paramount priority.
    Them wackass bitches say evolution's just a theory. They best step off, them brainless fools, I'll give them cause to fear me."
  • My first Hawking book was "A Brief History of Time". After reading that one book, i knew that Hawking would be my favorite science non-fiction writer of all time, mainly because of his ability to state in simple, plain words explanations to the complexities of the physical universe we live in and the laws that make the universe tick. I'm no math wizard, but that book gave me a good understanding of the laws of physics without my having to break out a mental sweat over complex math. For those who haven't read that book, i highly recommend it.
  • by kindbud (90044)
    Wont is the word you wanted, not want. Look it up! [dictionary.com]
  • Stephen's great politeness paradoxically made me ill at ease; I was acutely aware of the many demands on his time, and, after all, I had just stopped by to talk shop.

    I've often wondered what I would do if I were given the opportunity to spend some time with a person like Hawking. I suspect that I would feel the same, and would end up just slinking quietly out of his office, embarrassed that I had wasted a moment of the time he might have spent moving human knowledge a bit further ahead.

    • by jcsehak (559709) on Thursday April 11, 2002 @01:55AM (#3321522) Homepage

      James Joyce said something like "I've never met an uninteresting person." I think one of the biggest mistakes anyone can make is to underestimate anyone, and write them off somehow. Perhaps, if Hawking views a conversation with you as a waste of time, that shows a deficincy in him? I think if you can't learn something interesting from talking to anyone, you need to improve your communication skills. That's the rub though. Most people just talk small talk, and need to figure out how to really communicate. I know I do.
      • Oh, I know that *I* would learn something, and I didn't mean to imply that he would necessarily consider it a waste of time. It's just that when I consider how productive someone like him or his peers can be while simply thinking, I have less desire to occupy his time with my chitchat. :)
      • With all due respect to Mr. Hawking, idle chit-chat is neither easy for him, nor something he has shown that he is good at... for (one would think) obvious reasons.
  • i'm not trying to be confrontational here, i would just like to know what the point of theorizing about bubbling sub-universes which are unobservable (?) and form completely isolated space-time. surely there are some observable consequences of these things for people (scientists) to talk about them? anybody conversant in quantum GR care to elaborate?

    -- p
  • by KidSock (150684)
    I will definitely have to look at The Universe in a Nutshell. I have:

    Photoshop in a Nutshell

    WebMaster in a Nutshell, Deluxe Edition

    Java in a Nutshell

    Windows 95 in a Nutshell
    I love these "Nutshell" books!

    • Wow, I guess this is how black holes work.
      Putting sow much in a nutshell will eventually lead to a massive collapse of the nutshell and
      we have a black hole.
      I thought this already happenend when you put windows 95 in a nutshell. Seems not, as we now put the whole universe in.
      Maybe trying with windows XP would be easier.
    • Where's your copy of "Evil Geniuses in a Nutshell"?

      BTW can anyone tell where I could find any of these:

      • The Unix Kernel in a Bourne-shell
      • Gunpowder in a Bombshell
      • Perl in a Clamshell
      • Boycott Shell
      Of course, they would add to my book collection which I keep in my Nutshelf.
  • Stephen Hawking spends his life trying to come up with a history of everything that makes sense to his mind. He purports that other universes exist, but that there is no way to prove their existance--and he even admits that there is no scientific way to prove these theories.

    I say now that Hawking does not practice science, but rather the religion of science. Be he priest, prophet, or simple thelogian, he is no more a scientist than I am.

    Any imaginative author or deluded "holy man" can define the universe and then find details and create a history that is logically consistent, and can adapt such a theory to any and all data that might refute it. I say that Hawking and his theories are no more scientific than religion, and the fact that his work inspires true, falsifiable science is nothing more than a happy coincidence.

    If you do not agree with what I say, then please formulate a reply and refute me. Science--real science--is not bound by a chosen notion of God's existance or nonexistance and does not deal with things that cannot be tested in reality.

    I say that Science says nothing that is not proven fact, and that to brand one ascetic dream "science" and another "religion" is a disservice to both and an obstruction to the search of Reality that real Science seeks.

    All replies are welcome, and replies with answers are asked for.
    • I say now that Hawking does not practice science, but rather the religion of science. Be he priest, prophet, or simple thelogian, he is no more a scientist than I am.

      I would quite strongly disagree with your post. Just because one is a scientist doesn't mean that one practices science all the time. For example, plenty of scientists are religious, but that doens't make religion a science, nor does it mean that the science that they do isn't scientific.

      To see Hawkings science, read his peer reviewed journal articles.
    • by Brown (36659)
      First off, Hawking's theories have sod-all to do with "God's existance or nonexistance", as the man himself says; he states that if you choose to call phsics 'god' then what the hell, but it won't change anything. ("We could call order by the name of God, but it would be an impersonal God.")

      With regard to the bit about other universes being untestible making it non-science, consider:
      There is a (hypothetical, for now) theory which describes the universe as observed better than any other, and is mathematically sensible. You would surely agree that this is 'better science' than other less accurate theories.
      If one of the side-effects of this theory is to predict the existance of other universes which we cannot prove, in what way does this make the theory a less useful desciption of our own? None, of course...
      • First off, Hawking's theories have sod-all to do with "God's existance or nonexistance", as the man himself says; he states that if you choose to call phsics 'god' then what the hell, but it won't change anything. ("We could call order by the name of God, but it would be an impersonal God.")

        If I choose to say "moderators are nothing more than random factors. We could choose to call them 'people', but they would be impersonal people." am I not saying implicity that they are *NOT* people?

        God is more than physics. By saying "well, what we used to call God is just physics", we're really saying "God doesn't exist."

        There is a (hypothetical, for now) theory which describes the universe as observed better than any other, and is mathematically sensible. You would surely agree that this is 'better science' than other less accurate theories.

        No, I wouldn't. Until a thought is tested, it's just a fancy--like I said, *anyone* can make their pet theory fit all of the facts. Unless you test your theory with outcomes that could very well destroy it, you're not doing science--especially if you allow for any bias as to your theories's validity cloud you to the possiblity of more-complex results.

        In science, parsimony is good. But in reality, what's simplest is *NOT* always what is true. To extend the simple observations of science past what is proven is not science; at first it's theory, but once you get into the creation of the universe (past events that cannot witnessed and leave no conclusive fossil record) you're talking about religion, not science.
    • Any imaginative author or deluded "holy man" can define the universe and then find details and create a history that is logically consistent, and can adapt such a theory to any and all data that might refute it.

      Imagination is not enough to create a theory which fits in with all observations of the real world, from the expansion of the universe to the movements of galaxies to the chemical reactions of life. Science has always been trying to produce such a theory, but has so far failed. Religion has never even tried.

      The strength of science is that it claims no ultimate unshakable truths, and it can and must adapt itself "to any and all data that might refute it". Hawking's work is at the theoretical end of physics, but, like all science, it is firmly anchored in the real world. His theories accurately predicted the existence and behaviour of black holes before any had been found, just as the ancient Greeks used maths to accurately calculate the size of this planet thousands of years before we could observe it from the outside.

      Those same Greeks badly miscalculated the distance to the Sun, but later scientists corrected their mistakes. Had they made a religion out of their calculations, I might now be sentenced to death for daring to contradict them.

  • Hawking's Speech (Score:2, Informative)

    by joeytsai (49613)
    There's a funny bit on Hawking's site [hawking.org.uk] where he describes his speech synthesizer.

    He says, "One's voice is very important. If you have a slurred voice, people are likely to treat you as mentally deficient: Does he take sugar? This synthesiser is by far the best I have heard, because it varies the intonation, and doesn't speak like a Dalek. The only trouble is that it gives me an American accent."
  • This brings to mind a recent article on the radio here in the UK about encouraging families to discuss 'deep shit' over supper, while on holidays, and at every conceivable opportunity.

    Apparently relatively few people have any form of deep thought during the average week. For instance - with all the middle east conflict at the moment the majority response is along the lines of "I wish they'd just stop" rather than "I can understand why a Jewish state is an important thing post-holocaust, but there has to be something wrong with bombing the palestinians in the 21st Century - or ever".

    Or at easter. "OOOhhhh Chocolate" rather than "How am I supposed to accespt that the baby Jeesus was resurected"

    Question: How often, and how deeply, do /.ers ponder these issues? Are we more likely to delve deeper where it matters - not just when legislation threatens the wares trade. A poll??
    • The baby Jesus wasn't resurrected at Easter. Jesus (supposedly) died a man, aged IIRC in his late 30's.
    • D00d, I'm deep like the ocean! I mean, check this out. So I'm chillin' @ easter with the
      'rents and the super 'rents (thats grandparents to you un-initiated) and we're giving Roman catholicism a right bashing (thats what we roman catholics do!) while having some banging shrimp coctail, then the discussion turns to personality/game theory with specific applications to one's boss; how to placate and stroke and read 'em to get what you want.

      And then I bust it out:
      "Hey guys, what if C-A-T, really spelled DOG?"

      A hush fell over the table. Genius has that effect on people.
  • by jon514 (253429)
    I studied as an undergrad 10ish years ago in DAMTP (Dept of Applied Maths & Theoretical Physics) at Cambridge. Stephen was often seen trundling around in his wheelchair. He was lethal in it (& probably still is) - you had to get out of the way quick or you got run-over!!

    From going to one or two of his lectures, the one question that always got asked at the end is whether he believes in God. His answers were usually rather ambiguous, but the impression he gave was probably not. After reading this article, it looks like nothings changed. It is obviously a question he has thought about deeply, and whether his works allows us to see into the mind of God (if such a being exists).

    He is, without doubt, a brilliant man and has achieved an unbelieveable level of fame for a mathematician. However, most of that fame seems to derive from a book that a lot of people bought but few actually read, his physical condition, and that he works in a trendy area of mathematics. I think this sometimes obscures the real quality of his academic work.

  • Did anyone notice the comment at the end of the article?

    I had learned a good deal from those few days, I realized, and most of it was not at all about cosmology.

    The real story here isn't all the math and science. It's about life and living it fully people. Gregory Benford stated pretty clearly there. Thought I mention that in case anyone skimmed or didn't read the article.

    It was worth reading because it's really a story about how two people who live half way around the world can enjoy each other's company. They're both scientists, but it's no different than "they are wearing pants."

  • It very much seems like all this is based on Faith. Makes you wonder if the Unified thoery is Faith altogether. Faith in ourselves, Faith in God, Faith in the Big Bang, Faith in thoeries.

    Faith that the plane wont crash. Simply put, it seems that this universe is based on FAITH.

    No this is not a "religious" statement, but a Faith observation.

  • Benford and Hawking share insights on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, as such minds are want to do.

    Too bad all their mind are belong to us.

  • Hemos needs a grammar checker.

Work expands to fill the time available. -- Cyril Northcote Parkinson, "The Economist", 1955

Working...