Stephen Hawking

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Stephen Hawking
CH CBE
black and white photo of Hawking in a chair, in an office.
Hawking at NASA, 1980s
Born Stephen William Hawking
(1942-01-08) 8 January 1942 (age 72)
Oxford, England
Residence United Kingdom
Fields
Institutions
Alma mater
Thesis Properties of Expanding Universes (1965)
Doctoral advisor Dennis Sciama2
Other academic advisors Robert Bermancitation needed
Doctoral students
Known for
Notable awards
Spouse
  • Jane Wilde
    (m. 1965–1995, divorced)
  • Elaine Mason
    (m. 1995–2006, divorced)
Children
  • Robert (b. 1967)
  • Lucy (b. 1970)
  • Timothy (b. 1979)
Website
www.hawking.org.uk

Stephen William Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA (Listeni/ˈstvən ˈhɔːkɪŋ/; born 8 January 1942) is an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge.1415 Among his significant scientific works have been 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 forth a cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. He is a vocal supporter of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.16171819202122232425

Hawking is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, 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. Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge between 1979 and 2009.

Hawking has achieved success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general; his A Brief History of Time stayed on the British Sunday Times best-sellers list for a record-breaking 237 weeks. Hawking has a motor neuron disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition that has progressed over the years. He is almost entirely paralysed and communicates through a speech generating device. He married twice and has three children.

Early life and education

Stephen Hawking was born on 8 January 19421 to Frank and Isobel Hawking.2627 Despite their families' financial constraints, both parents attended the University of Oxford, where Frank studied medicine and Isobel, Philosophy, Politics and Economics.27 The two met shortly after the beginning of the Second World War at a medical research institute where she was working as a secretary and he as a medical researcher.2728 They lived in Highgate, but as London was under attack in those years, his mother went to Oxford to give birth in greater safety.29 Stephen has two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary, and an adopted brother, Edward.30 He began his schooling at the Byron House School; he later blamed its "progressive methods" for his failure to learn to read while at the school.31

In 1950, when his father became head of the division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research, Hawking and his family moved to St Albans, Hertfordshire.3132 The eight-year-old Hawking attended St Albans High School for Girls for a few months; at that time, younger boys could attend one of the houses.3334 In St Albans, the family were considered highly intelligent and somewhat eccentric;3135 meals were often spent with each person silently reading a book.31 They lived a frugal existence in a large, cluttered, and poorly maintained house, and travelled in a converted London taxicab.3637 During one of Hawking's father's frequent absences working in Africa,38 the rest of the family spent four months in Majorca visiting his mother's friend Beryl and her husband, the poet Robert Graves.33

On their return to England, Hawking attended Radlett School for a year34 and from September 1952, St Albans School.39 The family placed a high value on education.31 Hawking's father wanted his son to attend the well-regarded Westminster School, but the 13-year-old Hawking was ill on the day of the scholarship examination. His family could not afford the school fees without the financial aid of a scholarship, so Hawking remained at St Albans.4041 A positive consequence was that Hawking remained with a close group of friends with whom he enjoyed board games, the manufacture of fireworks, model aeroplanes and boats,42 and long discussions about Christianity and extrasensory perception.43 From 1958, and with the help of the mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta, they built a computer from clock parts, an old telephone switchboard and other recycled components.4445 Although at school he was known as "Einstein," Hawking was not initially successful academically.46 With time, he began to show considerable aptitude for scientific subjects, and inspired by Tahta, decided to study mathematics at university.474849 Hawking's father advised him to study medicine, concerned that there were few jobs for mathematics graduates.50 He wanted Hawking to attend University College, Oxford, his own alma mater. As it was not possible to read mathematics there at the time, Hawking decided to study physics and chemistry. Despite his headmaster's advice to wait until the next year, Hawking was awarded a scholarship after taking the examinations in March 1959.5152

University

Hawking was educated at the University of Oxford in October 1959 at the age of 17.53 For the first 18 months, he was bored and lonely: he was younger than many other students, and found the academic work "ridiculously easy."5455 His physics tutor Robert Berman later said, "It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done, and he could do it without looking to see how other people did it."56 A change occurred during his second and third year when, according to Berman, Hawking made more effort "to be one of the boys". He developed into a popular, lively and witty college member, interested in classical music and science fiction.53 Part of the transformation resulted from his decision to join the college Boat Club, where he coxed a rowing team.5758 The rowing trainer at the time noted that Hawking cultivated a daredevil image, steering his crew on risky courses that led to damaged boats.5957 Hawking has estimated that he studied about 1,000 hours during his three years at Oxford. These unimpressive study habits made sitting his Finals a challenge, and he decided to answer only theoretical physics questions rather than those requiring factual knowledge. A first-class honours degree was a condition of acceptance for his planned graduate study in cosmology at the University of Cambridge.6061 Anxious, he slept poorly the night before the examinations and the final result was on the borderline between first- and second-class honours, making a viva necessary.6162 Hawking was concerned that he was viewed as a lazy and difficult student, so when asked at the oral examination to describe his future plans, he said, "If you award me a First, I will go to Cambridge. If I receive a Second, I shall stay in Oxford, so I expect you will give me a First."6163 He was held in higher regard than he believed: as Berman commented, the examiners "were intelligent enough to realise they were talking to someone far cleverer than most of themselves."61 After receiving a first-class BA (Hons.) degree, and following a trip to Iran with a friend, he began his graduate work at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in October 1962.6465

Hawking's first year as a doctoral student12 was difficult. He was initially disappointed to find that he had been assigned Dennis William Sciama as a supervisor rather than Fred Hoyle,6667 and he found his training in mathematics inadequate for work in general relativity and cosmology.68 He also struggled with his health. Hawking had experienced increasing clumsiness during his final year at Oxford, including a fall on some stairs and difficulties when rowing.6970 Nevertheless, the problems worsened, and his speech became slightly slurred; his family noticed the changes when he returned home for Christmas and medical investigations were begun.7172 The diagnosis of motor neurone disease came when Hawking was 21. At the time, doctors gave him a life expectancy of two years.7374 After his diagnosis, Hawking fell into a depression; though his doctors advised that he continue with his studies, he felt there was little point.75 At the same time, however, his relationship with Jane Wilde, friend of his sister, and whom he had met shortly before his diagnosis, continued to develop. The couple were engaged in October 1964.7677 Hawking later said that the engagement "gave him something to live for."78 Despite the disease's progression—Hawking had difficulty walking without support, and his speech was almost unintelligible—he now returned to his work with enthusiasm.79 Hawking started developing a reputation for brilliance and brashness when he publicly challenged the work of Fred Hoyle and his student Jayant Narlikar at a lecture in June 1964.8081

When Hawking began his graduate studies, there was much debate in the physics community about the prevailing theories of the creation of the universe: the Big Bang and the Steady State theories.82 Inspired by Roger Penrose's theorem of a spacetime singularity in the centre of black holes, Hawking applied the same thinking to the entire universe, and during 1965 wrote up his thesis on this topic.83 There were other positive developments: Hawking received a research fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, and he and Jane were married on 14 July 1965.84 He obtained his D.Phil. degree in March 1966,85 and his essay entitled "Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time" shared top honours with one by Penrose to win that year's Adams Prize.8685

Later life and career

1966–1975

The first years of marriage were hectic: 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 Ph.D. program, and a son, Robert, was born in May 1967.8788 In his work, and in collaboration with Penrose, Hawking extended the singularity theorem concepts first explored in his doctoral thesis. This included not only the existence of singularities but also the theory that the universe might have started as a singularity. Their joint essay was the runner-up in the 1968 Gravity Research Foundation competition.8990 In 1970 they published a proof that if the universe obeys the general theory of relativity and fits any of the models of physical cosmology developed by Alexander Friedmann, then it must have begun as a singularity.919293

During the late 1960s, Hawking's physical abilities declined once more: he began to use crutches and ceased lecturing regularly.94 As he slowly lost the ability to write, he developed compensatory visual methods, including seeing equations in terms of geometry.9596 The physicist Werner Israel later compared the achievements to Mozart composing an entire symphony in his head.9798 Hawking was, however, fiercely independent and unwilling to accept help or make concessions for his disabilities. He preferred to be regarded as "a scientist first, popular science writer second, and, in all the ways that matter, a normal human being with the same desires, drives, dreams, and ambitions as the next person."99 Jane Hawking later noted that "Some people would call it determination, some obstinacy. I've called it both at one time or another."100 He required much persuasion to accept the use of a wheelchair at the end of the 1960s,101 but ultimately became notorious for the wildness of his wheelchair driving.100 Hawking was a popular and witty colleague, but his illness as well as his reputation for brashness and intelligence distanced him from some.102 In 1969, Hawking accepted a specially created 'Fellowship for Distinction in Science' to remain at Caius.103

A daughter, Lucy, was born in 1970.104 Soon after Hawking discovered what became known as the second law of black hole dynamics, that the event horizon of a black hole can never get smaller.105 With James M. Bardeen and Brandon Carter, he proposed the four laws of black hole mechanics, drawing an analogy with thermodynamics.106 To Hawking's irritation, Jacob Bekenstein, a graduate student of John Wheeler, went further—and ultimately correctly—applying thermodynamic concepts literally.107108 In the early 1970s, Hawking's work with Carter, Werner Israel and David C. Robinson strongly supported Wheeler's no-hair theorem that no matter what the original material from which a black hole is created it can be completely described by the properties of mass, electrical charge and rotation.109110 His essay titled "Black Holes" won the Gravity Research Foundation Award in January 1971.111 Hawking's first book The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time written with George Ellis was published in 1973.112

Beginning in 1973, Hawking moved into the study of quantum gravity and quantum mechanics.113112 His work in this area was spurred by a visit to Moscow and discussions with Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich and Alexei Starobinsky, whose work showed that according to the uncertainty principle rotating black holes emit particles.114 To Hawking's annoyance, his much-checked calculations produced findings that contradicted his second law, which claimed black holes could never get smaller,115 and supported Bekenstein's reasoning about their entropy.116114 His results, which Hawking presented from 1974, showed that black holes emit radiation, known today as Hawking radiation, which may continue until they exhaust their energy and evaporate.117118119 Initially, Hawking radiation was controversial. However by the late 1970s and following the publication of further research, the discovery was widely accepted as a significant breakthrough in theoretical physics.120121122 In March 1974, a few weeks after the announcement of Hawking radiation, Hawking was invested as a Fellow of the Royal Society, one of the youngest scientists to be so honoured.123124

Hawking rarely discussed his illness and physical challenges, even—in a precedent set during their courtship—with Jane.125 Hawking's 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.126 When in 1974 Hawking was appointed to the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar visiting professorship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Jane proposed that a graduate or post-doctoral student live with them and help with his care. Hawking accepted, and Bernard Carr travelled to California with them as the first of many students who fulfilled this role.127128 The family spent a generally happy and stimulating year in Pasadena.129 Hawking worked with his friend on the faculty, Kip Thorne,130 and engaged him in a scientific wager about whether the dark star Cygnus X-1 was a black hole. The wager was a surprising "insurance policy" against the proposition that black holes did not exist.131 Hawking acknowledged that he had lost the bet in 1990, which was the first of several that he was to make with Thorne and others.132 Hawking has maintained ties to Caltech, spending a month there almost every year since this first visit.133

1975–1990

Hawking outside, in his wheelchair, talking to David Gross and Edward Witten
Hawking with string theorists David Gross and Edward Witten at the 2001 Strings Conference, TIFR, India

Hawking returned to Cambridge in 1975 to a new home, a new job—as Reader. Don Page, with whom Hawking had begun a close friendship at Caltech, arrived to work as the live-in graduate student assistant. With Page's help and that of a secretary, Jane's responsibilities were reduced so she could return to her thesis and her new interest in singing.134 The mid to late 1970s were a period of growing public interest in black holes and of the physicist who was studying them. Hawking was regularly interviewed for print and television.135136 He also received increasing academic recognition of his work.137 In 1975 he was awarded both the Eddington Medal and the Pius XI Gold Medal, and in 1976 the Dannie Heineman Prize, the Maxwell Prize and the Hughes Medal.138139 Hawking was appointed a professor with a chair in gravitational physics in 1977.140 The following year he received the Albert Einstein Medal and an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford.77137

Hawking's speech deteriorated, and by the late 1970s he could only be understood by his family and closest friends. To communicate with others, someone who knew him well would translate his speech into intelligible speech.141 Spurred by a dispute with the university over who would pay for the ramp needed for him to enter his workplace, Hawking and his wife campaigned for improved access and support for those with disabilities in Cambridge,142143 including adapted student housing at the university.144 In general, however, Hawking had ambivalent feelings about his role as a disability rights champion: while wanting to help others, he sought to detach himself from his illness and its challenges.145 His lack of engagement led to some criticism.146 The Hawking family welcomed a third child, Timothy, in April 1979.137 That autumn Hawking was appointed the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge.137147

Hawking's inaugural lecture as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics was titled: "Is the end in sight for Theoretical Physics" and proposed N=8 Supergravity as the leading theory to solve many of the outstanding problems physicists were studying.148 Hawking's promotion coincided with a health crisis which led to Hawking accepting, albeit reluctantly, some nursing services at home.149 At the same time he was also making a transition in his approach to physics, becoming more intuitive and speculative rather than insisting on mathematical proofs. "I would rather be right than rigorous" he told Kip Thorne.150 In 1981 he proposed that information in a black hole is irretrievably lost when a black hole evaporates. This information paradox violates the fundamental tenet of quantum mechanics, and was to lead to years of debate, including "the Black Hole War" with Leonard Susskind and Gerard 't Hooft.151152

In December 1977, Jane had met organist Jonathan Hellyer Jones when singing in a church choir. Hellyer Jones became close to the Hawking family, and by the mid-1980s, he and Jane had developed romantic feelings for each other.140153154 According to Jane, her husband was accepting of the situation, stating "he would not object so long as I continued to love him."140155156 Jane and Hellyer Jones determined not to break up the family and their relationship remained platonic for a long period.157

Cosmological inflation—a theory proposing that following the Big Bang the universe initially expanded incredibly rapidly before settling down to a slower expansion—was proposed by Alan Guth and also developed by Andrei Linde.158 Following a conference in Moscow in October 1981, Hawking and Gary Gibbons organized a three-week Nuffield Workshop in the summer of 1982 on the Very Early Universe at Cambridge University, which focused mainly on inflation theory.159160161 Hawking also began a new line of quantum theory research into the origin of the universe. In 1981 at a Vatican conference he presented work suggesting that there might be no boundary—or beginning or ending—to the universe.162163 He subsequently developed the research in collaboration with Jim Hartle, and in 1983 they published a model, known as the Hartle–Hawking state. It proposed that prior to the Planck epoch, the universe had no boundary in space-time; before the Big Bang, time did not exist and the concept of the beginning of the universe is meaningless.164 The initial singularity of the classical Big Bang models was replaced with a region akin to the North Pole. One cannot travel north of the North Pole, but there is no boundary there—it is simply the point where all north-running lines meet and end.165166 Initially the no-boundary proposal predicted a closed universe which had implications about the existence of God. As Hawking explained "If the universe has no boundaries but is self-contained... then God would not have had any freedom to choose how the universe began."167

Hawking did not rule out the existence of a Creator, asking in A Brief History of Time "Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence?"168 In his early work, Hawking spoke of God in a metaphorical sense. In A Brief History of Time he wrote: "If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we should know the mind of God."169 In the same book he suggested the existence of God was unnecessary to explain the origin of the universe. Later discussions with Neil Turok led to the realisation that it is also compatible with an open universe.170

Further work by Hawking in the area of arrows of time led to the 1985 publication of a paper theorising that if the no-boundary proposition were correct, then when the universe stopped expanding and eventually collapsed, time would run backwards.171 A paper by Don Page and Raymond Laflamme led Hawking to withdraw this concept.172 Honours continued to be awarded: in 1981 he was awarded the American Franklin Medal,173 and in 1982 made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).174175 Awards do not pay the bills, however, and motivated by the need to finance the children's education and home expenses, in 1982 Hawking determined to write a popular book about the universe that would be accessible to the general public.176177 Instead of publishing with an academic press, he signed a contract with Bantam Books, a mass market publisher, and received a large advance for his book.178179 A first draft of the book, called A Brief History of Time, was completed in 1984.180

During a visit to CERN in Geneva in the summer of 1985, Hawking contracted pneumonia which in his condition was life-threatening; he was so ill that Jane was asked if life support should be terminated. She refused but the consequence was a tracheotomy, which would require round-the-clock nursing care, and remove what remained of his speech.181182 The National Health Service would pay for a nursing home but Jane was determined that he would live at home. The cost of the care was funded by an American foundation.183184 Nurses were hired for the three shifts required to provide the round-the-clock support he required. One of those employed was Elaine Mason, who was to become Hawking's second wife.185 For his communication, Hawking initially raised his eyebrows to choose letters on a spelling card.186 But he then received a computer program called the "Equalizer" from Walt Woltosz. In a method he uses to this day, using a switch he selects phrases, words or letters from a bank of about 2500–3000 that are scanned.187188 The program was originally run on a desktop computer. However, Elaine Mason's husband David, a computer engineer, adapted a small computer and attached it to his wheelchair.189 Released from the need to use somebody to interpret his speech, Hawking commented that "I can communicate better now than before I lost my voice."190 The voice he uses has an American accent and is no longer produced.191192 Despite the availability of other voices, Hawking has retained his original voice, saying that he prefers his current voice and identifies with it.193 At this point, Hawking activated a switch using his hand and could produce up to 15 words a minute.194 Lectures were prepared in advance, and sent to the speech synthesiser in short sections as they were delivered.191

One of the first messages Hawking produced with his speech generating device was a request for his assistant to help him finish writing A Brief History of Time.194 Peter Guzzardi, his editor at Bantam, pushed him to explain his ideas clearly in non-technical language, a process that required multiple revisions from an increasingly irritated Hawking.195 The book was published in April 1988 in the US and in June in the UK, and proved to be an extraordinary success, rising quickly to the top of bestseller lists in both countries and remaining there for weeks and months.196197198 The book was translated into multiple languages,199 and ultimately sold an estimated 9 million copies.198 Media attention was intense,199 and Newsweek magazine cover and a television special both described him as "Master of the Universe". Success led to significant financial rewards, but also the challenges of celebrity status.200 Hawking travelled extensively to promote his work, and enjoyed partying and dancingcitation needed into the small hours.199 He had difficulty refusing the invitations and visitors which left limited time for work and his students.201 Some colleagues were resentful of the attention Hawking received, feeling it was due to his disability.202203 He received further academic recognition, including five further honorary degrees,204 the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1985),205 the Paul Dirac Medal (1987)204 and, jointly with Penrose, the prestigious Wolf Prize (1988).206 In 1989, he was named a Companion of Honour by Queen Elizabeth II.201

1990–2000

Hawking's marriage had been strained for many years. Jane felt overwhelmed by the intrusion into their family life of the required nurses and assistants. The impact of his celebrity was challenging for colleagues and family members, and in one interview Jane described her role as "simply to tell him that he's not God."207208 Hawking's agnostic views of religion also contrasted with her strong Christian faith, and resulted in tension.209208210 In the late 1980s Hawking had grown close to one of his nurses, Elaine Mason, to the dismay of some colleagues, caregivers and family members who were disturbed by her strength of personality and protectiveness.211 Hawking told Jane that he was leaving her for Mason,212 and departed the family home in February 1990.174 Following his divorce from Jane in the spring of 1995, Hawking married Mason in September,213174 declaring "It's wonderful—I have married the woman I love."214

Hawking pursued his work in physics: in 1993 he co-edited a book on Euclidean quantum gravity with Gary Gibbons, and published a collected edition of his own articles on black holes and the Big Bang.215 In 1994 at Cambridge's Newton Institute, Hawking and Penrose delivered a series of six lectures, which were published in 1996 as "The Nature of Space and Time".216 In 1997 he conceded a 1991 public scientific wager made with Kip Thorne and John Preskill of Caltech. Hawking had bet that Penrose's proposal of a "cosmic censorship conjecture"—that there could be no "naked singularities" unclothed within a horizon—was correct.217 After discovering his concession might have been premature, a new, more refined, wager was made. This specified that such singularities would occur without extra conditions.218 The same year, Thorne, Hawking and Preskill made another bet, this time concerning the black hole information paradox.219220 Thorne and Hawking argued that since general relativity made it impossible for black holes to radiate and lose information, the mass-energy and information carried by Hawking Radiation must be "new", and not from inside the black hole event horizon. Since this contradicted the quantum mechanics of microcausality, quantum mechanics theory would need to be rewritten. Preskill argued the opposite, that since quantum mechanics suggests that the information emitted by a black hole relates to information that fell in at an earlier time, the concept of black holes given by general relativity must be modified in some way.221

Hawking also maintained his public profile, including bringing science to a wider audience. In 1992 a film version of "A Brief History of Time"—directed by Errol Morris and produced by Steven Spielberg—was premiered. Hawking had wanted the film to be scientific rather than biographical, but was persuaded otherwise. The film, while a critical success, was however not widely released.222 A popular-level collection of essays, interviews and talk titled Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays was published in 1993223 and six-part television series Stephen Hawking's Universe and companion book appeared in 1997. As Hawking insisted, this time the focus was entirely on science.224225 He also made several appearances in popular media. At the release party for the home video version of the "A Brief History of Time", Leonard Nimoy, who had played Spock on Star Trek, learnt that Hawking was interested in appearing on the show. Nimoy made the necessary contact and Hawking appeared as himself on Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1993.226227228 The same year, his synthesiser voice was recorded for the Pink Floyd song "Keep Talking",229223 and in 1999 for an appearance on The Simpsons.230

In the 1990s, Hawking accepted more openly the mantle of role model for disabled people, including lecturing on the subject and participating in fundraising activities.231 At the turn of the century, he and eleven other luminaries signed the "Charter for the Third Millennium on Disability" which called on governments to prevent disability and protect disabled rights.232233 In 1999 Hawking was awarded the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society.234 The same year, Jane Hawking published a memoir, Music to Move the Stars, describing her marriage to Hawking and its breakdown. Its revelations caused a sensation in the media, but as was his usual practice regarding his personal life, Hawking made no public comment except to say that he did not read biographies about himself.235

2000–present

Hawking sitting in his wheelchair inside
Hawking on 5 May 2006, during the press conference at the Bibliothèque nationale de France to inaugurate the Laboratory of Astronomy and Particles in Paris and the French release of his work God Created the Integers

Following his second marriage, Hawking's family felt excluded and marginalised from his life.210236 For a period of about five years in the early 2000s, his family and staff became increasingly worried that he was being physically abused.236237 Police investigations took place, but were closed as Hawking refused to make a complaint.236238239

Hawking continued his writings for a popular audience, publishing The Universe in a Nutshell in 2001, 240 and A Briefer History of Time which he wrote in 2005 with Leonard Mlodinow to update his earlier works to make them accessible to a wider audience, and God Created the Integers, which appeared in 2006.241 Along with Thomas Hertog at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and Jim Hartle, from 2006 on Hawking developed a theory of "top-down cosmology", which says that the universe had not one unique initial state but many different ones, and therefore that it is inappropriate to formulate a theory that predicts the universe's current configuration from one particular initial state.242 Top-down cosmology posits that the present "selects" the past from a superposition of many possible histories. In doing so, the theory suggests a possible resolution of the fine-tuning question.243244

In 2006 Hawking and Elaine quietly divorced,245246 following which Hawking resumed closer relationships with Jane, his children and grandchildren.246208 Reflecting this happier period a revised version of Jane's book called Travelling to Infinity, My Life with Stephen appeared in 2007.236 That year Hawking and his daughter Lucy published George's Secret Key to the Universe, a children's book designed to explain theoretical physics in an accessible fashion and featuring characters similar to those in the Hawking family.247 The book was followed by sequels in 2009 and 2011.248

Hawking continued to feature regularly on the screen: documentaries entitled :The Real Stephen Hawking: (2001)249 and "Stephen Hawking: Profile" (2002), 250 a TV film Hawking about the period around the onset of Hawking's illness (2004),250 and a documentary series Stephen Hawking, Master of the Universe (2008).251 Hawking made further appearances in animated form on The Simpsons,252253 and Futurama244 in which he does his own voice acting,254 and in person on The Big Bang Theory.255 Hawking continued to travel widely, including trips to Chile, Easter Island, South Africa and Spain (to receive the Fonseca Prize in 2008) 256257 Canada258 and multiple trips to the United States.259 For practical reasons related to his disability Hawking increasingly travelled by private jet, and by 2011 that had become his only mode of international travel.260

Over the years, Hawking maintained his public profile with a series of attention-getting and often controversial statements:261 he has asserted that computer viruses were a form of life,262 that humans should use genetic engineering to avoid being outsmarted by computers,263 and that aliens likely exist and contact with them should be avoided.264265 Hawking has expressed his concerns that life on earth is at risk due to "a sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of".266 He views spaceflight and the colonisation of space as necessary for the future of humanity.266267 Motivated by the desire to increase public interest in spaceflight and to show the potential of people with disabilities, in 2007 he participated in zero-gravity flight in a "Vomit Comet", courtesy of Zero Gravity Corporation, during which he experienced weightlessness eight times.266268269270

Hawking, without his wheelchair, floating weightless in the air inside a plane
Hawking taking a zero-gravity flight in a "Vomit Comet"

A longstanding Labour Party supporter, Hawking has also increasingly made his views known on a variety of political subjects.271272 He recorded a tribute for the 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore,273 called the 2003 invasion of Iraq a "war crime",272274 boycotted a conference in Israel due to concerns about Israel's policies towards Palestinians,275276277 maintained his longstanding campaigning for nuclear disarmament,271278272 and has supported stem cell research,272279 universal health care,280 and action to prevent climate change.278 Hawking has also used his fame to advertise products, including a wheelchair,233 National Savings,281 British Telecom, Specsavers and Egg Banking,282 and Go Compare.283

In the area of physics, by 2003, consensus was growing that Hawking was wrong about the loss of information in a black hole.284 In a 2004 lecture in Dublin, the physicist conceded his 1997 bet with Preskill, but described his own, somewhat controversial solution, to the information paradox problem, involving the possibility that black holes have more than one topology.285221 In the 2005 paper he published on the subject, he argued that the information paradox was explained by examining all the alternative histories of universes, with the information loss in those with black holes being cancelled out by those without.220286 In January 2014 he called this his "biggest blunder." 287

As part of another longstanding scientific dispute, Hawking had emphatically argued, and bet, that the Higgs Boson would never be found.288 The particle, proposed to exist as part of the Higgs Field theory by Peter Higgs in 1964, became discoverable with the advent of the Fermilab near Chicago and the Large Electron Positron and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.289 Hawking and Higgs engaged in a heated and public debate over the matter in 2002 and again in 2008, with Higgs criticising Hawking's work and complaining that Hawking's "celebrity status gives him instant credibility that others do not have."289 The particle was discovered at CERN in July 2012: Hawking quickly conceded that he had lost his bet290291 and said that Higgs should win the Nobel Prize for Physics.292

In 2007 he posed this open question on the Internet: “In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?” A month later he confessed: “I don’t know the answer. That is why I asked the question, to get people to think about it, and to be aware of the dangers we now face.” The Guardian, Britain.

Hawking's disease-related deterioration has continued, and in 2005 he began to control his communication device with movements of his cheek muscles,293294295 with a rate of about one word per minute.294 With this decline there is a risk of him acquiring locked-in syndrome, so Hawking is collaborating with researchers on systems that could translate Hawking's brain patterns or facial expressions into switch activations.244295296 By 2009 he could no longer drive his wheelchair independently.297 He has increased breathing difficulties, requiring a ventilator at times, and has been hospitalized several times.244 In 2002, following a UK-wide vote, the BBC included him in their list of the 100 Greatest Britons. Hawking was awarded the Copley Medal from the Royal Society (2006),298 America's highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009),299300 and the Russian Fundamental Physics Prize (2012).301

Barack Obama talking to Stephen Hawking in the White House
U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Stephen Hawking in the Blue Room of the White House before a ceremony presenting him and 15 others with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on 12 August 2009

Several buildings have been named after him, including the Stephen W. Hawking Science Museum in San Salvador, El Salvador,302 the Stephen Hawking Building in Cambridge,303 and the Stephen Hawking Centre at Perimeter Institute in Canada.304 Appropriately, given Hawking's association with time, he unveiled the mechanical "Chronophage" (or time-eating) Corpus Clock at Corpus Christi College Cambridge in September 2008.305306

As required by university regulations, Hawking retired as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 2009. Despite suggestions that he might leave the United Kingdom as a protest against public funding cuts to basic scientific research,307 Hawking has continued to work as director of research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and has indicated no plans to retire.308

Hawking has stated that he is "not religious in the normal sense" and he believes that "the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."309 In an interview published in The Guardian, Hawking regarded the concept of Heaven as a myth, believing that there is "no heaven or afterlife" and that such a notion was a "fairy story for people afraid of the dark."169

In 2011, when 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 realization. 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.310311

At Google's Zeitgeist Conference in 2011, Hawking said that "philosophy is dead." He believes that philosophers "have not kept up with modern developments in science" and that scientists "have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge." He said that philosophical problems can be answered by science, particularly new scientific theories which "lead us to a new and very different picture of the universe and our place in it".312 In August 2012 Hawking narrated the "Enlightenment" segment of the 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony.313 In 2013, the biographical documentary film Hawking, in which Hawking himself is featured, was released.314315316 In September 2013, he expressed support for the legalization of assisted suicide for the terminally ill.317

We are all different – but we share the same human spirit. Perhaps it's human nature that we adapt – and survive.

—Stephen Hawking, Hawking318

Awards and honours

Hawking has received numerous awards and honours. In 1974 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS). His nomination reads

Hawking has made major contributions to the field of general relativity. These derive from a deep understanding of what is relevant to physics and astronomy, and especially from a mastery of wholly new mathematical techniques. Following the pioneering work of Penrose he established, partly alone and partly in collaboration with Penrose, a series of successively stronger theorems establishing the fundamental result that all realistic cosmological models must possess singularities. Using similar techniques, Hawking has proved the basic theorems on the laws governing black holes: that stationary solutions of Einstein's equations with smooth event horizons must necessarily be axisymmetric; and that in the evolution and interaction of black holes, the total surface area of the event horizons must increase. In collaboration with G. Ellis, Hawking is the author of an impressive and original treatise on "Space-time in the Large".

Other important work by Hawking relates to the interpretation of cosmological observations and to the design of gravitational wave detectors.13

During his career Hawking has supervised 39 successful PhD students.234531932032132263233243257326327328832993303313323333343351011336337338339340341342343344345346347348

Bibliography

Selected academic works

Popular publications

Children's fiction

Hawking and his daughter Lucy on stage at a presentation
Stephen Hawking being presented by his daughter Lucy Hawking at the lecture he gave for NASA's 50th anniversary

Co-written with his daughter Lucy.

Films and series

See also

References

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