How do you properly respect and frame the work of one who has courageously pressed on with his life despite the diagnosis of ALS (1962 at the age of 21), discovered black-hole evaporation (1974), contributed the most to our understanding of gravity since Einstein, and achieved world-wide fame while searching for a complete theory of everything which he claims will reveal the mind of God?* I ask that question quite literally as I’ve been thinking about what to write regarding Stephen Hawking for several weeks. Quite frankly, I don’t have anything to add to John Horgan’s quote, taken from Karl Giberson and Fr. Mariano Artigas’ conclusion to Chapter 3 of Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion:
I suspect that Hawking — who may be less a truth seeker than an artist, an illusionist, a cosmic joker — knew all along that finding and empirically validating a unified theory would be extremely difficult, even impossible. His declaration that physics was on the verge of finding The Answer may well have been an ironic statement, less an assertion than a provocation. In 1994, he admitted as much when he told an interviewer that physics might never achieve a final theory after all. Hawking is a master practitioner of ironic physics and cosmology. — The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age (New York: Broadway, 1997), p. 93.
What are your thoughts regarding Hawking and his work? Do you agree with the above quote? Any thoughts from physicists regarding whether Hawking’s work approach Einstein or Newton? I turn the question over to larger community of Emerging Scholars. …
*How many of us have read, tried to read, or explained (or at least attempted to explain) Hawking’s A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (Bantam Books, 1988). Maybe my girls would have interest in The Illustrated edition (now also available with The Universe in a Nutshell).