Stephen Hawking died earlier today at the age of 76, more than 50 years after he was diagnosed with ALS. During that period, he expanded the knowledge of cosmology and time through his groundbreaking work related to black holes. His work and discoveries were accomplished largely through mental effort alone, because he could not use his hands to develop equations and perform computations.
Hawking’s life was a remarkable one in many additional ways. He was born on the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo. He was the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge University, a position once held by Isaac Newton. Finally, he died on the birthday of Albert Einstein.
Despite his lofty work and handicap, Hawking retained a human touch and even had a bit of whimsy that he shared with the world through his bestselling book, “A Brief History of Time.” He also travelled extensively for someone with his limitations and gave lectures, using a special speech synthesizing device.
He thought deeply about the future of mankind, space exploration and artificial intelligence. In each case, he displayed a remarkable optimism for one in such a condition.
One of the principles fundamental to cosmology is that information can never be destroyed – in a sense, the past is never lost with the passage of time, even if it falls into a black hole. Hawking was never fully able to posit what happens to information absorbed into a black hole, and the discussion remains unresolved. A good summary of the debate is published here. In some way, I suspect that all that was Stephen Hawking remains with us as a part of the universe he explored from his wheelchair. If science had its saints, Stephen Hawking would surely be among them.
The New York Times shared a timeline of Hawking’s work and life well worth reading.