Stephen Hawking’s Legacy Includes Making His Work Widely Approachable

We are saddened by the passing of physicist Stephen Hawking. One of the great minds of our time, Hawking’s work to apply quantum theory to black holes launched his career and led to his best known theoretical discovery that black holes emit radiation, aptly known as Hawking radiation.

Thinking back on Stephen Hawking’s contributions to humanity, it strikes us that one of his most important is his embrace of pop culture. While his scientific discoveries and writings are what will stand the test of time, in our own age it is remarkable that Stephen Hawking is a household name around the world.

Hawking’s first book, A Brief History of Time, has sold more than 10 million copies and for many readers was their introduction into the way physicists view space and time. It was written for general consumption and not reserved for those who were already bathed in the jargon of theoretical physics. It sent the message that contemplating science is something that is fun to do in your spare time. This work continued with his more recent mini-series Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking created for the Discovery Channel.

A fan of the series, Hawking appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1993 and made subsequent, often repeat, appearances on The SimpsonsFuturama, and The Big Bang Theory. This was great fun for all science geeks who knew of his work, but it has a far more profound effect of normalizing interaction with a world-class scientist. Appearing on these shows told the story that the pursuit of knowledge is cool.

Having scientists in the public light is crucial to research and advancement. It lets the general public know what kind of frontiers are being pursued, and why that matters. This trickles both up and down, inspiring the next generation of scientists by introducing deep topics at an early age, and ensuring funding and opportunities for this upcoming wave of researchers has widespread support.

Stephen Hawking showed us some incredibly complicated secrets of the cosmos both through his discovery, and through his ambassadorship of scientific knowledge. He will be greatly missed but leaves behind an admirable legacy which we can all strive to live up to.

[Main image by Martin Pope via The Telegraph]

38 thoughts on “Stephen Hawking’s Legacy Includes Making His Work Widely Approachable

  1. “Having scientists in the public light is crucial to research and advancement. It lets the general public know what kind of frontiers are being pursued, and why that matters. This trickles both up and down, inspiring the next generation of scientists by introducing deep topics at an early age, and ensuring funding and opportunities for this upcoming wave of researchers has widespread support.”

    I’d say that’s important to a lot of fields, not just science. It’s important to see that it takes many hands to build the world we currently enjoy.

  2. My Mum had been on a Sydney Harbor ferry one day, when one of her fellow passengers suddenly stood up, gave an almighty grunt of frustration, and launched a book down one of the ferry’s aisles. After the woman had stormed off, and wanting to know what kind of book could have drawn such an emotive response, my mother went over and picked it up. That’s how I got my 3rd-hand copy of Professor Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’.

  3. Setting aside his unmerited self-righteousness and egregious behavior towards his wives – he was more often a failed theoretical speculator who excessively preached (poetically, as are often those who can only write books and not do hard science) human values and misled research far more than an accomplished scientist who promoted verifiable research. His breed of sanctimonious theorizing is a corruptive pandemic today – now many choosing to vainly convey theory as fact regardless of what qualifies good science. Read early works by Hawking that many qualify to his genius and swiftly realize how much of it is now waste bin material. We shd have a greater standard of celebrity in science than via the Kardashian’izing method.

    1. Here we go again, someone who doesnt seem know what the scientific term “theory” means.
      “A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not “guesses” but reliable accounts of the real world.”

      Are you saying that none of his theories have been proven or that you dont agree with the accepted definition of scientific theory?

      The collective intelligence of the human race has reduced significantly by the passing of Stephen Hawking as illustrated by Skippys post.

    2. Setting aside the r/iamverysmart attitude…

      He got people interested in science – regardless of what you think of him personally, you can not diminish the effect he has had on bringing science to the everyman. Even discussion regarding an incorrect theory can yield great strides of discovery.

    3. Obviously I did not wish him dead, but I do think that in an important way it’s good that now astronomy can move on with real science (after maybe 15 year period of stabilization), and we can try some more realistic theories based on actual observation instead of fawning to the rather shaky always twisting big-bang theory primarily because the guy was handicapped, and thus having astronomy being stuck in a dead end while he was there to be fawned to.

      To the crowd: This is my view, please allow for people to have different views than yours.

      1. “Shaky big bang theory”?

        “realistic theories based on actual observation” ?

        Wow someones shook up the cockwombles.

        Of course I apologise if you’re actually speaking from some kind of authority and your qualified to make an assessment like that. But you dont sound like a scientist to me.

        1. Interestingly he very recently made another modification on his thoughts of the big bang in regards to the question if there was a ‘before’ I read.
          So he himself too did not see it as a completed model.

          I’m not saying he was a fool, and in fact I think he too would have been helped by a more honest discussion on the subject without all the cult forming including fanatic adherence and the forceful shutting down of ‘dissenting’ thought, even in scientific circles.

          1. I’m not blaming him in the sense of him being responsible, but he was the one that attracted that situation by being him and having his condition.
            An unfortunate set of circumstances.

      2. >> rather shaky always twisting big-bang theory

        That’s how science works. Get new data, adjust the model.
        But AFAIK there hasn’t been all that much shaking to the big bang theory in the past 30 years. Just confirmation (more accurately: non-rejection) via CMBR and gravitational waves. While many of Hawking’s hypotheses rely on theory rather than observation, his math checks out and give people places to look. So I’m not sure what your gripe is.

        You’re entitled to your opinion and everyone else is entitled to think it’s silly. You can’t post to a public forum and then expect people to ignore it. That’s not how it works.

    4. “Read early works by Hawking that many qualify to his genius and swiftly realize how much of it is now waste bin material.”

      You have a weak grasp of science and in particular imperical enquiry if you think this is a bad thing or even exceptional.
      It’s how sciesnce is done.

  4. Stephen Hawking – A One Act Play
    (Stephen Hawking wakes up in a spiritual domain.)

    HAWKING

    What? I should be dead – nothing. Yet I still am aware. Something is amiss. Ah, there’s Chris Hitchens and Carl Sagan. I’ll ask them what’s up.

    Hi guys. Fancy meeting you in this place.

    HITCHENS

    Yeah, I guess we are sitting around anticipating a meet with this mystical Eye in the Sky but all I’ve seen are a bunch of whiners and moaners in a big waiting room.

    SAGAN

    Yes, there must be billions and billions of souls in this place – a veritable cosmic household of humanity – all wondering what will be the outcome of our situation.

    HITCHENS

    Well, Carl, I guess we were wrong about atheism – sure as hell hope the Christians were wrong about hell.

    SAGAN

    Yes Chris, I suppose I should have said: “The Cosmos is NOT all that there is or was or ever will be.”

    HAWKING

    I’ll wager a subscription to The Christian Chronicle that we’re going to wish we were vanishing black holes. There must be a formula for our current predicament. Have you seen a blackboard anywhere? That is if Albert will give it up.

    (fade to black… holes?)

      1. Good question and it made me sit and ponder for a while on my motivation. I suppose there is a little bit of a desire for revenge which certainly qualifies as self-gratifying – obviously not very Godly behavior and I’ll ask forgiveness later for that. It was also fun to imagine how such a conversation might evolve. Finally, I had hoped to provoke someones thoughts about the subject. As to my delusions, they have served me well in my 64 years of life and like an old suit of clothes, I am reticent to abandon them. Anyway, I won’t pray for you as that would just offend you so I will just wish you a great life.

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