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R.I.P. Stephen Hawking

(6 posts)

  1. Marian

    One of the most remarkable men of our time died today. It's incredibly appropriate he died on Pi Day and the birthday of Einstein. Here's one of innumerable articles

    Posted 9 months ago #
  2. CarlGlover

    For me, Hawking's fame rests principally on his incredible longevity with ALS, truly a medical miracle of the first rank. In all my 35 years in clinical medical psychology, I never saw anything even remotely approaching it.

    But his contributions to physics are, in my view, much more problematic. As I understand it, he was principally concerned with "black holes" as an extension of Einstein's work, with the ultimate goal of arriving at a "unified field theory." What, precisely, were his major contributions in this area? Did he really advance knowledge? Will he truly be remembered as an innovator? Anyone out there have any informed opinions about this? I've read up on it to the extent of my abilities, but I'm just as confused as ever.

    I once asked a colleague of mine these very questions about Hawking. He didn't have the answers, but his son was a well-known professor of physics and he said he would ask him and get back to me. Tellingly, I never heard from him again on the subject.

    Posted 9 months ago #
  3. Marian

    I don't have a personal, informed opinion, but here's one of several articles on his contribution

    Posted 9 months ago #
  4. CarlGlover

    Thanks, Marian. I had already seen this article, whose main thrust seems to be that Hawking raised a lot of questions which neither he nor anyone else can answer. This is not to be denigrated, as science needs hypotheses to test, but the trick is to state them in such a way as to make them testable. I'm not sure Hawking always did this.

    As a result, he appears to have as many detractors as supporters in the scientific community, with some of the former even implying that his disability provided him with a shield from more deserved criticism and evaluation, conferring the status of a Greek oracle whose word should not be challenged. Also, Hawking's constitutional stubbornness probably generated more enmity and resentment than would have otherwise been the case.

    In any event, I suppose only time can judge the value of his work. As for me, it is clear that I don't have the knack for comprehending these rarefied concepts and so probably shouldn't be questioning anything about them. In fine, they're all Greek to me.

    Posted 9 months ago #
  5. CWJ

    A good overview of Hawking's contributions are here, written by his colleague and collaborator (and probably equal in brilliance), Roger Penrose:

    Hawking, along with Penrose and others, proved some very important things about black holes. As Penrose emphasizes, it's that black holes are among the "simplest" objects in the universe, described entirely by three numbers (mass, angular momeentum, and electric charge) and nothing else. This was not obvious but they were able to prove this a mathematical consequence of general relativity.

    Hawking and collaborators also did related, but somewhat more speculative (less rigorous) work on cosmology. For those of you who tried to read "Brief History of Time," his basic message was that in the same way that, ultimately, black holes as 'simple', the Big Bang is also 'simple.' The reasons for this are deeply mathematical, and so his attempts to do this were hampered by trying to explain it without mathematics, like writing a book without the vowel 'e'--possible, but somewhat convoluted.

    Hawking's work on the thermodynamics of black holes has laid the ground for some current ideas on the origin of gravity, that gravity is not a fundamental force at all, but an emergent force, like the force of a spring or a rubber band which is an average of the force of many tinier forces. It's still speculative, but one I find very appealing.

    I hope that helps.

    Posted 9 months ago #
  6. Marian

    Here's another article, much simpler. I found I almost understood it!

    Posted 8 months ago #

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