Biography: Stephen William Hawking

Stephen William Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA (8 January 1942 – 14 March 2018) was an English theoretical physicist , cosmologist , and author who was director of research at the
Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge at the time of his death.

Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 in Oxford to Frank (1905–1986) and Isobel Eileen Hawking (née Walker; 1915–2013).

He was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge between 1979 and 2009.

His scientific works included a collaboration with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation, often called Hawking radiation . Hawking was the first to set out a theory of cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics . He was a vigorous supporter of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Hawking achieved commercial success with several works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general. His book A Brief History of Time appeared on the British Sunday Times best-seller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks. Hawking was a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences , and a recipient of the
Presidential Medal of Freedom , the highest civilian award in the United States. In 2002, Hawking was ranked number 25 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons .

In 1963, Hawking was diagnosed with an early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease (MND; also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis “ALS” or Lou Gehrig ‘s disease) that gradually paralysed him over the decades. Even after the loss of his speech, he was still able to communicate through a speech-generating device, initially through use of a hand-held switch, and eventually by using a single cheek muscle. He died on 14 March 2018 at the age of 76, after living with the disease for more than 50 years.

Personal life

Marriages

When Hawking was a graduate student at Cambridge, his relationship with Jane Wilde , a friend of his sister whom he had met shortly before his late 1963 diagnosis with motor neurone disease, continued to develop. The couple became engaged in October 1964 Hawking later said that the engagement gave him “something to live for” and the two were married on 14 July 1965.

During their first years of marriage, Jane lived in London during the week as she completed her degree, and they travelled to the United States several times for conferences and physics-related visits. The couple had difficulty finding housing that was within Hawking’s walking distance to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP). Jane began a PhD programme, and a son, Robert, was born in May 1967. A daughter, Lucy , was born in November 1969. A third child, Timothy, was born in April 1979.

Hawking rarely discussed his illness and physical challenges, even – in a precedent set during their courtship – with Jane. His disabilities meant that the responsibilities of home and family rested firmly on his wife’s increasingly overwhelmed shoulders, leaving him more time to think about physics.

Stephen Hawking Disabilities

Hawking had a rare early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease (MND; also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis , ” ALS “, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), a terminal illness that affects and causes the
deaths of neurones that control the brain and the spinal cord, that gradually paralysed him over the decades.
The MND diagnosis came when Hawking was 21, in 1963. At the time, doctors gave him a life expectancy of two years.

In the late 1960s, Hawking’s physical abilities declined: he began to use crutches, could no longer give lectures regularly and he slowly lost the ability to write. Hawking was fiercely independent and unwilling to accept help or make concessions for his disabilities.

Hawking’s speech deteriorated, and by the late 1970s he could be understood by only his family and closest friends. To communicate with others, someone who knew him well would interpret his speech into intelligible speech.

A wheelchair and different methods of creating speech were given to Stephen Hawking.

By 2009, he could no longer drive his wheelchair independently, but the same people who created his new typing mechanics were working on a method to drive his chair using movements made by his chin. This proved difficult, since Hawking could not move his neck, and trials showed that while he could indeed drive the chair, the movement was sporadic and jumpy. Near the end of his life, Hawking experienced increased breathing difficulties, often resulting in his requiring the usage of a ventilator , and being regularly hospitalised.

Religion and atheism

Hawking was an atheist and believed that “the universe is governed by the laws of science”.

He stated: “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.” In an interview published in The Guardian, Hawking regarded “the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail”, and the concept of an afterlife as a “fairy story for people afraid of the dark”.

In 2011, narrating the first episode of the American television series Curiosity on the Discovery Channel , Hawking declared:

We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realisation. There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that, I am extremely grateful.

Hawking’s association with atheism and freethinking was in evidence from his university years onwards, when he had been a member of Oxford University’s humanist group. He was later scheduled to appear as the keynote speaker at a 2017 Humanists UK conference. In an interview with El Mundo , he said:

Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.

In addition, Hawking stated:

If you like, you can call the laws of science ‘God,’ but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you would meet and put questions to.

Stephen Hawking Popular books

  • A Brief History of Time (1988)
  • Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993)
  • The Universe in a Nutshell (2001)
  • On the Shoulders of Giants (2002)
  • God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs That Changed History (2005)
  • The Dreams That Stuff Is Made of: The Most Astounding Papers of Quantum
  • Physics and How They Shook the Scientific World (2011)
  • My Brief History (2013)
  • Brief Answers to the Big Questions (2018).

Other books

Co-authored

  • The Nature of Space and Time (with Roger Penrose ) (1996)
  • The Large, the Small and the Human Mind (with Roger Penrose, Abner Shimony and Nancy Cartwright) (1997)
  • The Future of Spacetime (with Kip Thorne ,
  • Igor Novikov , Timothy Ferris and introduction by Alan Lightman , Richard H. Price ) (2002)
  • A Briefer History of Time(withLeonard Mlodinow) (2005).
  • The Grand Design (with Leonard Mlodinow) (2010)

Forewords

Black Holes & Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy ( Kip Thorne , and introduction by Frederick Seitz ) (1994)

Children’s fiction

Co-written with his daughter Lucy .

George’s Secret Key to the Universe (2007)

George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt (2009)

George and the Big Bang (2011)

George and the Unbreakable Code (2014)

George and the Blue Moon (2016)

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