Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking: 1942-2018

The world's most famous scientist of the current era was born on January 8th, 1942, exactly 300 years after the death of Galileo Galilei, and – sadly – he died today after the midnight, on March 14th (Pi Day), 2018, exactly 139 years after the birth of Albert Einstein. He could clearly choose the dates well. Well, I can actually imagine that he was planning the date of his death.

The Guardian's Ian Sample must have prepared the obituary before the announcement from Hawking's kids (see also Google News). At any rate, it contains lots of things about Hawking's life and Hawking's science, indeed.

Hawking is well-known for his first mega-selling popular book on physics, A Brief History of Time, but we care about his science much more than that. He's associated with some top discoveries in theoretical physics – especially the black hole radiation (and thermodynamics); singularity theorems (with Roger Penrose); structure formation as a result of quantum fluctuations during inflation (well, he's one of the early proponents of that); and various applications of path integrals (the Hartle-Hawking wave function of the Universe, the Gibbons-Hawking treatment of black holes, and others).

He was surely a brilliant scientist. When he published his popular book, the media began to be interested and I was highly skeptical about the substance of the great compliments by the journalists – I didn't know his actual work at that moment. In this case, I gradually converged to the conclusion that the journalists were right. Well, even broken clocks are right twice a day.

He was diagnosed with the ALS disease as a student, did his important work with Penrose, anyway. Hawking humiliated predictions that he had to die within two years and lived for additional 50 years. It almost looked like with his wheelchair and the U.S. English male computer voice, he became immortal. At the end, he died at a similar age as the average mortal. And he had lots of fun – which includes sex of his own type and being an astronaut.

Movies have been shot about his life and romance – I hope that you've seen at least one, TOE – and he's been a visiting star in The Big Bang Theory. For example, he once asked Sheldon Cooper what black holes and Sheldon Cooper have in common. Both suck. Hawking has been shown a few times in The Simpsons, too.

Hawking has been an experimental physicist, too. In 2007, he organized a party with lots of champagne but only sent invitations when the party was over. In this way, he experimentally tested the existence of time machines.

He has loved to make bets and lose all of them. He lost a bet against Gordon Kane that the Higgs boson wouldn't be discovered and a bet against John Preskill that the information is lost after the black hole evaporates. When he announced his change of mind concerning the information loss, he told his students and Cambridge community that "he was coming out".

I've stood next to him once in Santa Barbara. We never wrote a paper together but my collaborative distance from him was 2 once we wrote papers with Andy Strominger.

Even recently, Hawking had a huge amount of energy to provoke and issue various strange futurist statements – e.g. that we have to ban the evil artificial intelligence, move the mankind to other celestial bodies, and other things. And unfortunately, he participated in things like anti-Israeli boycotts and stuff like that. Those were entertaining and sometimes irritating things but I believe it's his deep physics discoveries that will be with us forever.

The word Hawking appears in 431 TRF blog posts. I think it's hard to find another name that is more widespread on this website (e.g. Trump has 253, so much for the claims that there's too much politics here) – and it's impossible to find another personal weblog in the world with 400+ texts referring to him.

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