Stephen Hawking: blending science with science fiction

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Stephen Hawking: blending science with science fiction‘Cosmos

Stephen Hawking: blending science with science fiction

Beyond doing an excellent job of raising the public profile of black holes, Hawking also wrote and spoke publicly on issues beyond his research. He expressed concerns about the possible impacts of artificial intelligence, and the questionable wisdom of attracting alien visitors.

Was he presenting new concerns? Or were these ideas already deeply rooted in prior science, or envisaged in fiction? The answer lies in the complex relationship between science and science fiction.

There was a time when science fiction writers may have imagined they were exploring the frontiers of the future. When the science caught up with the fiction, and in many cases exceeded it, this relationship turned on its head. Enduring themes of science fiction, which survived the impact of this scientific apocalypse, include interests expressed by Stephen Hawking ‘ putting ourselves at the mercy of machines, communicating with non-human life and phenomena that are so grandly cosmic that they defy normal comprehension: sentient machines, alien visitors and black holes.

Science fiction authors used to make mileage out of technological speculation. From the 1930s through to the 1950s, video telephones, atomic bombs and thinking machines were wonderful things to speculate about, and no one knew for certain what was out there in the rest of the universe.

In 1957 the Russians launched the first orbital satellite ‘ Sputnik ‘ and perhaps this was the beginning of the end for scientific fantasy.

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Stephen Hawking: ‘His laboratory was the universe’

WASHINGTON ‘ Everyone knew of Stephen Hawking’s cosmic brilliance, but few could comprehend it. Not even top-notch astronomers.

“His contribution is to engage the public in a way that maybe hasn’t happened since Einstein,” said prominent astronomer Wendy Freedman, former director of the Carnegie Observatories. “He’s become an icon for a mind that is beyond ordinary mortals. People don’t exactly understand what he’s saying, but they know he’s brilliant. There’s perhaps a human element of his struggle that makes people stop and pay attention.”

With Einstein, most people are familiar with e=mc2, but they don’t know what it means. With Hawking, his work was too complicated for most people, but they understood that what he was trying to figure out was basic, even primal.

“He was asking and trying to address the very biggest questions we were trying to ask: the birth of the universe, black holes, the direction of time,” said University of Chicago cosmologist Michael Turner. “I think that caught people’s attention.”

And he did so in an impish way, showing humanity despite being in a wheelchair with ALS, the degenerative nerve disorder known in the U.S. as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He flew in a zero-gravity plane. He made public bets with other scientists about the existence of black holes and radiation that emanates from them ‘ losing both bets and buying a subscription to Penthouse for one scientist and a baseball encyclopedia for the other.

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Our Last ‘Genius’ Stephen Hawking is Gone’ Cause for Worry Or Inspiration?

Genius, like all concepts, has a history’and a particularly recent one at that. If antiquity had her seers, her seekers, and her saints, then modernity rather enshrined the myth of the solitary and brilliant mind, who, through his very genius, could illuminate the contours of creation. As Denis Diderot wrote in his voluminous Encyclopedia, ‘the genius seems to change the very nature of things; his character envelops whatever it touches; he casts into the future his piercing lights; he leaps ahead of his century, and it is powerless to follow him.’

Such a contention is separate from the reality that there have always been (and hopefully always will be) individuals who combine talent, drive, and luck into that potent cocktail we call ‘genius,’ for the reality is that such a category has always been culturally determined and socially constructed. Furthermore, there is no separating the idea of genius from its attendant presuppositions and stereotypes; that the canon of geniuses has historically been white and almost always male isn’t, of course, because there’s a deficit of brilliant men and women of color, but rather because cultural gatekeepers have only expected to find genius among people who conform to a particular model.

But that model has a relative history as well, for figures like Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, may have been celebrated as great intellects, but there was always the supernatural gloss of ‘inspiration’ behind their accomplishments. The Latin term genius after all, refers to a type of external spirit inspiring the individual, but with the Enlightenment it was conflated with the word ingenium, the innate and intrinsic talents of the exemplary individual themselves. The result was something close to the modern ideology of the genius, the secular saint who is able to conceive of visions beyond black holes, and the poetry of mathematics.

Genius was germinated as part of the humanistic Renaissance celebration of the individual, such as with Giorgio Vasari’s biographies of the great Italian artistic masters, but genius arguably fully sprouted in the eighteenth-century, when the poet Alexander Pope could write ‘Nature, and Nature’s laws lay hid in night:/God said, Let Newton be! And all was light.’

The human mind was no longer shaped by divine force, rather it was that which explicated nature, created it even. A need for geniuses arises during the Enlightenment, child of the Reformation and its process of disenchantment, because in an increasingly secular world people still desired that connection with the noumenal that oracles and prophets had once supplied, to give ‘assurance that special beings still animated the universe,’ as historian Darrin M. McMahon explained in his Divine Fury: A History of Genius. He explains that they were ‘Wonders themselves, they made the world wondrous with their revelations and creations’. Geniuses reassured that the universe was still a magical place.’

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A lot of people probably never realized Stephen Hawking was British since he didn’t have an accent.
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Stephen Hawking: ‘His laboratory was the universe’
(since Mar, 2018) WASHINGTON ‘ Everyone knew of Stephen . Hawking was the first to show they connected, which Turner and others described as breakthrough at the time. The concept that stuff, radiation, comes out of black holes may have upset science fiction authors

Our Last ‘Genius’ Stephen Hawking is Gone’ Cause for Worry Or Inspiration?
(since Mar, 2018) Even the great popularizers of science, Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay . been a beautiful fiction, but it was an illuminating and important one, signifying enchantment in an otherwise disenchanted world. This may be the best way to honor Hawking, our last

Something additional to look at:

How physicists will remember Stephen Hawking
(Apr 2018) Vol. 185, May 31, 2014, p. 16. A. Grant. Hawking proposes solution to black hole problem. Science News. Vol. 188, October 3, 2015, p. 10. Further Reading A. Grant. At last, some details on Stephen Hawking’s solution to black hole problem. Science News

The Memory of Stephen Hawking Endures in Bold Black Hole Research Efforts
(Apr 2018) . heart in the fact that Hawking will be inspiring future scientists’as Hawking inspired him’for generations to come. ‘Stephen’s passions for life and for science were inseparable,’ Strominger says. ‘They were really two sides of the same coin.

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