Free Minds & Free Markets

Iconic Physicist Stephen Hawking Has Died

The world was a better place because he was in it.

StephenHawkingAlessandrozoccDreamtimeAlessandrozocc/DreamstimeThat fact that physicist Stephen Hawking is an icon of our era was made plain during the production of La Damnation de Faust that my wife and I saw at the Paris Opera in 2015. A dancer trundled silently about the stage playing the role of the wheelchair-bound physicist as Faust made his pact with the devil and ended up in Hell (which was apparently Mars). The opera preposterously concluded with the apotheosis of Hawking standing unsupported as a Mars rover cruises across the stage. The singing was superb, but the staging was, well, unfortunate.

Among Hawking's distinctive contributions to physics and cosmology is his work on black holes. Black holes are celestial objects with a gravitational field so strong that light cannot escape them; they are believed to be created by the collapse of very massive stars. Sagitarrius A, a black hole with more than 4.1 million times the mass of the Sun, is at the center of the Milky Way. Among other things, Hawking figured out that black holes do emit particles and therefore would "evaporate" over time. Hawking declared that he'd like the formula for this Hawking radiation engraved on his tombstone:


Hawking was diagnosed with a motor-neuron disease at age 21. It eventually confined him to a powered wheel chair. When he lost the power of speech in 1985, he famously turned to a text-to-speech system that produced his, well, iconic "robot" voice. His 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, brought his thinking on cosmology to the wider public, eventually selling more than 10 million copies. In the words of his friend Martin Rees, "the concept of an imprisoned mind roaming the cosmos" grabbed people's imagination.

Clearly brilliant, and ferociously brave in overcoming the physical limitations inflicted by his illness, Hawking did sometimes endorse some fashionable apocalyptic views. While acknowledging that "the potential benefits of creating intelligence are huge," Hawking was worried artificial intelligence could turn out to be "the worst thing ever to happen to humanity." In addition, he thought that humanity should avoid contact with extraterrestrial civilizations because they could be "rapacious marauders roaming the cosmos in search of resources to plunder, and planets to conquer and colonize." Cooler heads are less concerned about alien invasions.

In any case, the world was a better place because Stephen Hawking was in it. He will be missed.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    He also thought global warming would turn earth into venus.

  • Hugh Akston||

    In addition, he thought that humanity should avoid contact with extraterrestrial civilizations because they could be "rapacious marauders roaming the cosmos in search of resources to plunder, and planets to conquer and colonize."

    Did he learn nothing from his appearance on TNG?

  • Mickey Rat||

    Apparently, the idea of the Borg acared him.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Cooler heads are less concerned about alien invasions.

    That's great, but let's seeing if they're singing the same tune when the Vhhfthvddhhdec show up and turn all humans into little vapor clouds.

  • Flinch||


  • Rhywun||

    Cooler heads are less concerned about alien invasions.

    I'm gonna have to claim agnosticism on this. We don't a damn thing about them without any evidence.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    If we learned anything on this planet, it's that when two species come into contact, the result is an inevitable amicable exchange of ideas and resources.

  • StackOfCoins||

    The speed of light is the ultimate bottleneck. It just takes too long to stage an invasion across interstellar distances.

    I'm of the opinion that there WAS probably intelligent life in this galaxy before us, but I seriously doubt it's still around. The aliens are all dead, and if we're lucky we'll find their iPods.

  • Agammamon||

    Invasion no. Colonization yes.

    Imagine a store of a self-replicating machine civilization scattered across the cosmos with no care about what happens to any individual seed.

    Then one enters the solar system and starts converting everything into computronium, boostrapping a new machine civilization in the ruins of the solar system.

  • Tall Tom||

    Light Speed is the KEY to interstellar travel. One travels no distance taking no time. Relative to you...You are there in an instant.

    The Einstein-Lorenz Transforms are as follows...

    1) x(v) = x(0)[{1 - (v^2/c^2)}]^1/2, and

    2) t(v) = t(0)[{1 - (v^2/c^2)}]^1/2,

    3) m(v) = m(0)/[{1 - (v^2/c^2)}]^1/2

    v is velocity, where x(v) is distance, t(v) is time, and m(v) is mass, ALL measured at v, and c is Light Speed

    NOTE that Eq 1 and Eq 2 are PRODUCTS Eq 3 is a QUOTIENT

    Taking the limit of both Eq 1 and Eq 2 by allowing v to approach c the results are...

    5) x(c) = 0
    6) t(c) = 0,

    which demonstrates my assertion.

    However there's a major problem...

    Multiplying each side of Eq 3 by c^2 yields...

    7) m(v)c^2 = m(0)c^2/[{1 - (v^2/c^2)}]^1/2

    Understanding that mass is relativistic mass, as nothing in this universe is truly at rest, as there are no preferred frames of reference, then we can drop the script and allow...

    8) m = m(v)

    Recalling Einstein's iconic Mass-Energy Equivalence statement

    9) E = mc^2,

    Using Eq 8 and Eq 9 we can rewrite Eq 7 as follows...

    10) E = m(0)c^2/[{1 - (v^2/c^2)}]^1/2

    Taking the limit of Eq 10 letting v approach c the results is

    12) E = INFINITY

    Thus it will take an infinite amount of Energy to move Mass at Light Speed.

    And as we have the property of Mass...well...that is THE PROBLEM.

    It is NOT Light Speed that is the bottleneck. Understand?

  • stuartl||

    That is an awful lot of algebra to show that mass goes to infinity at the speed of light. Which is why the speed of light is the major problem when distances are measured in light years.

  • Sigivald||


    So, light speed isn't the problem except that it is the problem because mass approaches infinity as you near it.


    ("One travels no distance taking no time. Relative to you...You are there in an instant."

    Well, yes. Not moving is always instant, ain't it?)

  • Sigivald||

    (Yes, brillant.

    "And that's Jenius, with a J!")

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Looks like some didn't read Three Body Problem.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Is that like a love triangle?

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    As long as you realize in both cases we are talking about mutual attraction

  • Flinch||

    Hawking lost my respect with the 'climate change' endorsement. Sceince does not need consensus, and blaming one particular president for a process of change [stasis being unnatural] that unfolds over tens of thousands of years is a logical absurdity. Did he throw his cv in the toilet by doing that? No, but he did stain his reputation.
    A side note on consensus, and the polticians who need it is in order: Political Science is not science, it's art. You blend history, psychology, economics and marketing with a potpurri of miscellaneous trivia on a custom basis because each generation has its own common denominator, so there is no single recipe for success. Given the fraudulent label offered up by our universities, I don't wonder the politicians have crafted the term "science denier" - their own curriculums were disinformation by title, and many haven't grown to be able to tell the difference in their post graduate life. It's sad that Steven lent them undeserved weight in dogged persuit of mindless error. He should have told them 'it's the sun, stupid' and left them to contemplate their navels.

  • Pro Libertate||

    He was a theoretical physicist. What does he know about weather? Frankly, it's amazing he didn't go more off the rails than he did, with the extremely difficult life he had. Maybe we can skip viewing this through the political lens this one time.

  • MWill||

    No can do. Leftists have been quite explicit in making everything in life political, so you can either concede defeat, or play the game. I don't like it anymore than you do, but it's now a requirement that all things be viewed through a political lens.

    Hawking was once a great scientist. As soon as he endorsed global warming, and started going off on how everyone should have gov't run healthcare, he became just another cultural marxist, and no one should be singing paeans to him just because he's died. He was an Enemy of liberty, and should be treated as such.

  • Zeb||

    Leftists have been quite explicit in making everything in life political, so you can either concede defeat, or play the game.

    Nope. Just playing their game concedes too much. Making everything political is the problem. You don't fix it by contributing to it.

    People are really good at one thing if they are lucky. Outside of narrow expertise, their opinions are like assholes.

  • StackOfCoins||

    His views on climate change, philosophy and aliens were all opinions, but they were opinions offered from a position of authority. Therefore they must be refuted passionately if they are untrue.

  • Tall Tom||

    Was I passionate enough below?

  • Zeb||

    Except he was not an authority on any of those subjects.

  • NoVaNick||

    As a scientist (cell biology) by training, I can say that the culture of science has been dominated by leftists for the past 50 years or so. Of course, a lot of this is because academic research depends on generous government funding, but its also aesthetic; scientists all want to be able to sit at the cool kids table, and if the cool kids want you to echo them on climate change, you will. I have no idea if Hawking sincerely believed everything the AGW cult said, but he certainly was smart enough to know that if he ever publicly questioned them, he would soon be a persona non grata.

  • Tall Tom||

    Ever read about Atmospheric Physics? Physics has everything to do with weather.

    While the Anthropomorphic Global Warming "theory" is GARBAGE, spewed by POLITICIANS, in order to GARNER TAX REVENUES, it is easily invalidated by Atmospheric Physics.

    My wager is that you cannot even name the most abundant Greenhouse Gas in the Earth's atmosphere since you demonstrated total IGNORANCE in regards to the study of Meteorology.

    So let me help you out...IT IS WATER VAPOR...CLOUDS.

    Did you ever notice that on Cloudy Winter nights the air temperature is WARMER than on Crystal Clear Winter nights?

    That Greenhouse Gas traps HEAT...Thermal Radiant a blanket.

    However did you ever notice that on a Crystal Clear Summer Day it is MUCH hotter than when the sky is OVERCAST WITH CLOUDS?

    The clouds REFLECT AWAY incoming Solar Thermal Radiant Energy...HEAT

    GREENHOUSE GASES like clouds are NOT TRANSPARENT IN ONE DIRECTION and then magically transform into OPAQUE IN THE OPPOSING DIRECTION as AGW pukes want you to believe.

    The Greenhouse Gases added to out atmosphere will TRAP JUST AS MUCH HEAT AS the INCOMING HEAT FROM THE SUN IS REFLECTED AWAY.

    It is ZERO SUM.


    Yeah...AGW is a crock of shit.


  • Zeb||

    Your point would be better if it was all in capital letters. That's how people know you are serious.

    Yes, physics has everything to do with everything. That doesn't mean that if you understand physics, you understand everything. Complex systems like the climate are not well understood. And I think that's the real argument against climate alarmism. We don't really know much and it's foolish to risk everything to solve a problem that we don't really understand and which might not be much of a problem.

  • Sigivald||

    You mean merely knowing theoretical and cosmological physics doesn't mean you have a perfect climate model?

    That unpossible! Physics!

    (And I do love how he confuses cloud albedo with greenhouse gases.

    Reflection, absorbtion, what could the difference even be?

    You don't have to be a AGW-alarmist to know they ain't the same...)

  • ToSeek||

    YOU'RE showing YOUR ignorance. (But enough of gratuitous capitalization.) Most of the energy from the Sun arrives in optical wavelengths, to which the greenhouse gases of greatest concern like carbon dioxide are transparent. The light is absorbed by the Earth and then reradiated at lower wavelengths, in the infrared. Carbon dioxide, methane, etc., are largely opaque to infrared radiation. But if you'd really studied the topic, you'd know this.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    A dancer trundled silently about the stage playing the role of the wheelchair-bound physicist as Faust made his pact with the devil and ended up in Hell (which was apparently Mars).

    Not Cleveland?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    At least it wasn't Detroit.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The opera preposterously concluded with the apotheosis of Hawking standing unsupported as a Mars rover cruises across the stage.

    Is this the 'art' that wouldn't be available if we just depended on the free market?

  • Echospinner||

    One of the greatest lights in theoretical physics has passed.

    I remember reading his book when I was learning. He could explain physical principles far better than any class I went through.


  • Ron||

    I respect Hawking's science endevours but I lost a little respect for him when he claimed the earth could become like Venus, something that can not physically happen, every scientist knows this and had he still been on his game he would know that and that makes me wonder if sometimes near the end people were making claims on his behalf.

    Global warming is a possibility but not at the scale of Venus. Outlandish claims diminish all claims

  • SQRLSY One||

    Well, they say that in about 1.1 billion years, the sun... Which has been slowly getting hotter for a long-long time... Will be on the verge of going "red giant", and WILL cook us all to death!!! Earth will not be Venus; it will be a SUPER-Venus!

    Which doth remind me:

    There once was a creature from Venus,
    It came equipped with a prehensile penis,
    Said the women who loved it,
    They loved when he shoved it,
    "Around, beneath, and between us!"

  • Eidde||

    RIP, though alas I didn't really follow his work, but it's impressive that he did more work with severe disabilities than many able-bodied people do.

  • LarryWilson||

    Not gonna lie...not gonna miss him.

    Why would I? I had no emotional attachment to him.

  • STSA||

    Atheists are supposed to be people of reason, like Ayn Rand. Instead, Hawkins had irrational fears against artificial intelligence and aliens. Those who fear what they don't know are ignorant. Hawkins may have been brilliant in many areas, but he had his stupid moments as well.

  • SQRLSY One||

    About that them thar God v/s atheism v/s agnosticism thang…
    I used to wonder a lot, but I had my agnostic friends convince me that God, if He does exist, does NOT want us to worship Him, because He does not believe in Himself (He needs self-esteem counseling, I was told. Else He'd make Himself FAR more visible). If God doesn't believe in Himself, then we obviously shouldn't, either. I was left to wonder, well then, WHO in the Hell is qualified to give self-esteem counseling to God Himself?!?! Never got an answer…

    Then my devout atheist friends convinced me, that to get to Atheist Heaven, one had to NOT believe in God, and do that non-believing thing in JUST the EXACT right way… As for example, they'd say, "See, Madeline Murray O'Hair, SHE is the ONLY one who REALLY quite properly, understood EXACTLY how God does NOT believe in Himself, and only SHE in Her Divine (Anti-Divine?) Perfect Understanding, was fit to be "Ruptured" through the space-time vortex portal (rupture), straight to the Atheist Heaven that She deserved, and all the rest of us… Even the less-than-perfect atheists… Are "Left Behind" after the "Great Rupture". And since Madeline Murray's body was never found, I had to accept their argument. She was the PERFECT atheist, and only SHE, in Her Perfect Disbelief, had been Ruptured… Her and Her alone… to be continued…

  • SQRLSY One||

    …BUT THEN THEY FOUND HER DEAD BODY!!! The arguments of my atheist friends were utterly crushed! I had just BARELY started to think that maybe they were correct! Now, I just dunno WHAT in blue blazes to think any more!!! What do y'all say, especially you atheists? PWEASE advise me, ah ams ignernt…

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Why would it be "irrational" to fear a strange people landing on your shore in a ship with powerful weapons on board?

  • StackOfCoins||

    Because there is no reason to assume it will happen. A guy like Hawking knew better than Dick and Jane just how VAST the galaxy is, and the enormous distances between stars. He also knew what the speed of light is; not just the number but the fact it's the cosmic speed limit. Being alarmist about an event that's an order of magnitude less likely than everyone on this board winning the Powerball simultaneously is absurd behavior.

    But he was a sci-fi fan, so maybe he earnestly believed Faster-Than-Light (FTL) travel was a inevitability instead of a plot device.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    It's way to early in the game to presume FTL travel is impossible.

    Assuming FTL is impossible, then the real issue is self-replicating factory bots. If one can successfully make the jump to another star system and then use that as a staging point to populate all the star systems within reach, you have an ever expanding sphere of occupation. It makes maximum velocity and time as your limiting parameters. If this started 100000 years ago and they've achieved light speed, then all the star systems within our galaxy are potential invaders. If the odds are one in a billion that it can happen, it's a sure thing.

    And they say you shouldn't drink before noon... :)

  • Zeb||

    As some smarty-pants know-it-all pointed out above, you don't need FTL travel for interstellar trips. You can travel anywhere in any amount of time if you can get arbitrarily close to the speed of light. Of course you still need enormous amounts of energy to do that. And you need to take time accelerating and decelerating. But you don't need to exceed the speed of light.

  • Zeb||

    Atheists are supposed to be people of reason

    I don't think that's a good assumption. Lots of scientifically minded people are atheists, yes. But there are also a lot who just hate religion. It can be just as emotional in its foundations as any belief.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online