Quotes by "Stephen Hawking"
In the eighteenth century, there was said to be a man who had read every book written. But nowadays, if you read one book a day, it would take you many tens of thousands of years to read through the books in a national library. By which time, many more books would have been written. This has meant that no one person can be the master of more than a small corner of human knowledge. People have to specialise, in narrower and narrower fields. This is likely to be a major limitation in the future. We certainly cannot continue, for long, with the exponential rate of growth of knowledge that we have had in the last 300 years. An even greater limitation and danger for future generations is that we still have the instincts, and in particular the aggressive impulses, that we had in caveman days. Aggression, in the form of subjugating or killing other men and taking their women and food, has had definite survival advantage up to the present time. But now it could destroy the entire human race and much of the rest of life on Earth. A nuclear war is still the most immediate danger, but there are others, such as the release of a genetically engineered virus. Or the greenhouse effect becoming unstable.
The human mind is an incredible thing. It can conceive of the magnificence of the heavens and the intricacies of the basic components of matter. Yet for each mind to achieve its full potential, it needs a spark. The spark of enquiry and wonder. Often that spark comes from a teacher. Allow me to explain. I wasn’t the easiest person to teach, I was slow to learn to read and my handwriting was untidy. But when I was fourteen my teacher at my school in St Albans, Dikran Tahta, showed me how to harness my energy and encouraged me to think creatively about mathematics. He opened my eyes to maths as the blueprint of the universe itself. If you look behind every exceptional person there is an exceptional teacher. When each of us thinks about what we can do in life, chances are we can do it because of a teacher. [...] The basis for the future of education must lie in schools and inspiring teachers. But schools can only offer an elementary framework where sometimes rote-learning, equations and examinations can alienate children from science. Most people respond to a qualitative, rather than a quantitative, understanding, without the need for complicated equations. Popular science books and articles can also put across ideas about the way we live. However, only a small percentage of the population read even the most successful books. Science documentaries and films reach a mass audience, but it is only one-way communication.
A century ago, Albert Einstein revolutionised our understanding of space, time, energy and matter. We are still finding awesome confirmations of his predictions, like the gravitational waves observed in 2016 by the LIGO experiment. When I think about ingenuity, Einstein springs to mind. Where did his ingenious ideas come from? A blend of qualities, perhaps: intuition, originality, brilliance. Einstein had the ability to look beyond the surface to reveal the underlying structure. He was undaunted by common sense, the idea that things must be the way they seemed. He had the courage to pursue ideas that seemed absurd to others. And this set him free to be ingenious, a genius of his time and every other. A key element for Einstein was imagination. Many of his discoveries came from his ability to reimagine the universe through thought experiments. At the age of sixteen, when he visualised riding on a beam of light, he realised that from this vantage light would appear as a frozen wave. That image ultimately led to the theory of special relativity. One hundred years later, physicists know far more about the universe than Einstein did. Now we have greater tools for discovery, such as particle accelerators, supercomputers, space telescopes and experiments such as the LIGO lab’s work on gravitational waves. Yet imagination remains our most powerful attribute. With it, we can roam anywhere in space and time. We can witness nature’s most exotic phenomena while driving in a car, snoozing in bed or pretending to listen to someone boring at a party.
One way or another, I regard it as almost inevitable that either a nuclear confrontation or environmental catastrophe will cripple the Earth at some point in the next 1,000 years which, as geological time goes, is the mere blink of an eye. By then I hope and believe that our ingenious race will have found a way to slip the surly bonds of Earth and will therefore survive the disaster. The same of course may not be possible for the millions of other species that inhabit the Earth, and that will be on our conscience as a race. I think we are acting with reckless indifference to our future on planet Earth. At the moment, we have nowhere else to go, but in the long run the human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. I just hope we can avoid dropping the basket before we learn how to escape from Earth. But we are, by nature, explorers. Motivated by curiosity. This is a uniquely human quality. It is this driven curiosity that sent explorers to prove the Earth is not flat and it is the same instinct that sends us to the stars at the speed of thought, urging us to go there in reality. And whenever we make a great new leap, such as the Moon landings, we elevate humanity, bring people and nations together, usher in new discoveries and new technologies. To leave Earth demands a concerted global approach—everyone should join in. We need to rekindle the excitement of the early days of space travel in the 1960s. The technology is almost within our grasp. It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth. If we stay, we risk being annihilated.
I use the word “God” in an impersonal sense, like Einstein did, for the laws of nature, so knowing the mind of God is knowing the laws of nature. My prediction is that we will know the mind of God by the end of this century. The one remaining area that religion can now lay claim to is the origin of the universe, but even here science is making progress and should soon provide a definitive answer to how the universe began. I published a book that asked if God created the universe, and that caused something of a stir. People got upset that a scientist should have anything to say on the matter of religion. I have no desire to tell anyone what to believe, but for me asking if God exists is a valid question for science. After all, it is hard to think of a more important, or fundamental, mystery than what, or who, created and controls the universe. I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science. The basic assumption of science is scientific determinism. The laws of science determine the evolution of the universe, given its state at one time. These laws may, or may not, have been decreed by God, but he cannot intervene to break the laws, or they would not be laws. That leaves God with the freedom to choose the initial state of the universe, but even here it seems there may be laws. So God would have no freedom at all.