When he was 21, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
Doctors told him he had a few years to live.
He’s now 72 and one of the foremost physicists alive – a professor at the University of Cambridge, an investigator of black holes, and the author of bestselling book “A Brief History of Time”.
When one of the smartest people on the planet says something, it probably pays to listen.
The physics icon and subject of the new biopic “The Theory of Everything”, has said a lot over the years in lectures and books. And some of them are, frankly, terrifying.
Here are some of his wildest thoughts that just might change the way you view the world.
1. Hawking really doesn’t want us to meet aliens, because they’d probably destroy us.
“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach,” Hawking said in a 2011 Discovery Channel special. “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
2. Hawking really wants us to colonize other planets, because otherwise humanity will eventually be doomed.
“Sooner or later disasters such as an asteroid collision or a nuclear war could wipe us all out,” Hawking said in 2006. “But once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe.”
3. Time travel is possible, but..
“Time travel used to be thought of as science fiction, but Einstein’s theory of general relativity allows the possibility that we could wrap space time so much that you could fly off in a rocket and return before you set out,” Hawking told Larry King in 2010. “Unfortunately, it is likely that the wraping would destroy the spaceship and maybe the space time, itself.”
4. We need to start genetically enhancing humans so that A.I. doesn’t take over.
“With genetic engineering, we will be able to increase the complexity of our DNA, and improve the human race. But it will be a slow process, because one will have to wait about 18 years to see the effect of changes to the genetic code,” Hawking said in 2001. “By contrast, computers double their speed and memories every 18 months. There is a real danger that computers will develop intelligence and take over. We urgently need to develop direct connections to the brain so that computers can add to human intelligence rather than be in opposition.”
5. Computer viruses should count as life
“I think computer viruses should count as life,” Hawking said in 1994. “I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We’ve created life in our own image.”
6. On His Schooling
“At school, I was never more than about halfway up the class. It was a very bright class. My classwork was very untidy, and my handwriting was the despair of my teachers. But my classmates gave me the nickname Einstein, so presumably they saw signs of something better. When I was twelve, one of my friends bet another friend a bag of sweets that I would never come to anything. I don’t know if this bet was ever settled, and if so, which way it was decided…”
7. On Disability
“If you are disabled, it is probably not your fault, but it is no good blaming the world or expecting it to take pity on you. One has to have a positive attitude and must make the best of the situation that one finds oneself in; if one is physically disabled, one cannot afford to be psychologically disabled as well. In my opinion, one should concentrate on activities in which one’s physical disability will not present a serious handicap. I am afraid that Olympic Games for the disabled do not appeal to me, but it is easy for me to say that because I never liked athletics anyway. On the other hand, science is a very good area for disabled people because it goes on mainly in the mind. Of course, most kinds of experimental work are probably ruled out for most such people, but theoretical work is almost ideal. My disabilities have not been a significant handicap in my field, which is theoretical physics. Indeed, they have helped me in a way by shielding me from lecturing and administrative work that I would otherwise have been involved in. I have managed, however, only because of the large amount of help I have received from my wife, children, colleagues and students. I find that people in general are very ready to help, but you should encourage them to feel that their efforts to aid you are worthwhile by doing as well as you possibly can.”
8. His I.Q.
“I have no idea. People who boast about their I.Q. are losers.”
9. The advice he gave his children
“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”
10. On death
“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
11. Humans defined
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.
The human race is a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies. We are so insignificant that I can’t believe the whole universe exists for our benefit. That would be like saying that you would disappear if I closed my eyes.
Up to now, most scientists have been too occupied with the development of new theories that describe what the universe is to ask the question why. On the other hand, the people whose business it is to ask why, the philosophers, have not been able to keep up with the advance of scientific theories.. However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason–for then we would know the mind of God.”
12. Importance of communicating
“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”
13. On hope
“The victim should have the right to end his life, if he wants. But I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”
14. On perfection
“The universe doesn’t allow perfection.”
15. Physics theory
“Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.”
16. On knowledge
“The rate of progress is so rapid that what one learns at school or university is always a bit out of date. Only a few people can keep up with the rapidly advancing frontier of knowledge, and they have to devote their whole time to it and specialize in a small area. The rest of the population has little idea of the advances that are being made or the excitement they are generating.”
17. Man Woman Difference
“It is generally recognized that women are better than men at languages, personal relations and multitasking, but less good at map-reading and spatial awareness. It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that women might be less good at mathematics and physics. It is not politically correct to say such things.. But it cannot be denied that there are differences between men and women. Of course, these are differences between the averages only. There are wide variations about the mean.”
18. On anti particles
“There could be whole antiworlds and antipeople made out of antiparticles. However, if you meet your antiself, don’t shake hands! You would both vanish in a great flash of light.”
19. On free will
“Recent experiments in neuroscience support the view that it is our physical brain, following the known laws of science, that determines our actions, and not some agency that exists outside those laws. For example, a study of patients undergoing awake brain surgery found that by electrically stimulating the appropriate regions of the brain, one could create in the patient the desire to move the hand, arm or foot, or to move the lips and talk. It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behaviour is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.”
What great Hawking quotes did we leave out? Share your favorites in the comments.
Source Credits: Drake Baer in Business Insider India, Aaron Couch in The Hollywood Reporter, Erin McCarthy in MentalFloss, Aoife Barry in The Journal, Goodreads