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What Stephen Hawking’s Final Paper Really Means

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Stephen Hawking, who died in 2018 at the age of 76, was a physicist from another time. He had more in common with the celebrity scientists of the first half of the 20th century — especially the politically-inclined scientist-intellectuals like Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, and Enrico Fermi who came out of the Manhattan Project — than he did with any of his contemporaries. This isn’t so much a question of brainpower as it is of public positioning, as getting the public to understand new scientific ideas is a very different job than coming up with them. On the whole, our most prominent science communicators (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Michio Kaku, etc.) do not actively produce science. Consequently, they are removed from the everyday slog and department politics that pervade the life of a working researcher. Meanwhile, our greatest researchers (a huge list of people I don’t want to enumerate for fear of leaving someone out) don’t prioritize telling the public what their work is and why it matters. Hawking, with his precise insights about physics and beyond who also possessed the power to capture the attention of the public, was a rare link between these two groups. Though some younger physicists like, for instance, Sean Carroll, a cosmologist at Caltech, and Lisa Randall, a particle physicist at Harvard, have similarly rare combinations of theoretical sophistication and an ability to communicate this sophistication clearly, the Hawking’s wide-ranging skills will be hard to replace. After all, I can’t think of anyone else who was able to both shape the modern understanding of black holes and make the only actually funny joke ever aired on The Big Bang Theory.

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GettyImages-151066380.jpg

An artist’s concept illustrates a quasar or feeding black hole. Photo from NASA / ESA / Getty Images.

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Click the link below for the article:

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/what-stephen-hawking-s-final-paper-really-means

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