Stephen Hawking
[ Issue 18 ]

Stephen Hawling fascinates Emily Bronto

Bikwil honours Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

Tony Rogers has no trouble locating references to Stephen Hawking on the Internet.

Apart from the physicist's own Web site he describes a few sites maintained by admirers.

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Web Line — Tony Rogers


With the death of Carl Sagan in 1996, the mantle of “best known scientist in the world” seems to have passed to Englishman Stephen William Hawking. He was born on 8/1/1942, the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death.

His fame beyond the esoteric walls of cosmology and theoretical physics rests on two factors. One is his 1988 book A Brief History of Time, which has sold over ten million copies (a handful of whose owners, it’s said, have actually read it). The other is the fact that he is a victim of the degenerative motor neurone disease known in America as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It comes as little shock, then, to discover that hundreds of references to Hawking and his work on the Internet.

What better place to begin than his personal site, Professor Stephen Hawking’s Homepage? Maintained and updated regularly by his graduate assistant, this site predictably covers two main aspects of his life and work: his career in physics and his crippling disabilities.

Apart from a brief bio section entitled A Brief History of Mine, one feature of his physics work covered is a selection of transcribed recent lectures given by Hawking (some “popular“, some very technical), such as:

The Nature of Space and Time
Does God Play Dice?
Gravitational Entropy
Rotation, Nut Change and Anti de Sitter Space.

Another highlight is a series of reporters’ questions. Many are very ill-advised, so Hawking’s replies are fun to read. For example,

Q. How do you deal with the way you are described all the time by journalists?
A. I don’t pay much attention to how journalists describe me. I know it is media hype. They need an Einstein-like figure to appeal to. But for them to compare me to Einstein is ridiculous. They don’t understand either Einstein’s work, or mine.

Q. What do you say to the comment “Isn’t it a shame that such a brilliant mind is trapped inside a useless body?”
A. I have never heard anyone say “Isn’t it a shame that such a brilliant mind is trapped inside a useless body?” If I did, I would treat it with the contempt it deserved.

Q. Can the study of Physics take you beyond physical limitations?
A. Of course Physics can take one beyond one’s physical limitations, like any other mental activity. The human race is so puny compared to the universe that being described as disabled is not of much cosmic concern.

Q. What sort of music do you like and why?
A. I mainly listen to classical music: Wagner, Brahms, Mahler, etc., but I like pop as well. What I want is music with character.

Hawking’s admirers are legion, so I have selected just three sites as representative of the widespread Net homage paid to him.

Despite his atheism, Hawking is respected by many Christians, such as Dr. Henry “Fritz” Schaefer III, Professor of Quantum Chemistry, University of Georgia, part of whose lecture, Stephen Hawking, the Big Bang, and God is on the Web and is well worth reading.

Quite a different site — this one is for schoolchildren and their teachers — is called Stephen Hawking’s Universe. It’s part of the PBS site. While little is specifically about Hawking himself, there are many cosmological questions addressed, e.g.,

Strange Stuff Explained
Unsolved Mysteries
Things to Do in the Dark
Ask the Experts.

Perhaps my favourite Hawking fan site is Psyclops’ Stephen Hawking Pages, run by one Nick Donaldson. It was here I learned these two vital new facts:

Hawking appeared in Descent, Episode 252 of Star Trek: the Next Generation, playing poker in the Holodeck with Data, Einstein and Newton, and
He has also guest-starred in The Simpsons.

Could some kind Bikwil reader bring me up-to-date on these episodes, please? Have they been screened in Oz yet?

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