As the world mourns the loss of one of its finest minds in Professor Stephen Hawking, his comments about mortality take on new poignancy.
In 2011, the British theoretical physicist, who became a symbol for the strength of mind over matter, shared his belief that heaven is a ‘fairy story’ for people afraid of death, and claimed there’s no afterlife.
Hawking, who devoted his life to the pursuit of scientific truth, died peacefully at his home, surrounded by family, in the early hours of Wednesday March 14.
Discussing the concept of death in 2011, Hawking told The Guardian:
I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.
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.
To conclude A Brief History Of Time, published in 1988, he wrote:
It would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God.
After using idea of God as a metaphor for unencumbered knowledge, Hawking was later forced to assert his position as an atheist on numerous occasions.
The candid discussion in 2011 came a year after his book, The Grand Design, was published to backlash from religious groups. In the text, Hawking asserted that there is no need for a creator to explain the existence of the universe.
Later in the interview, he was asked how we should live, and replied:
We should seek the greatest value of our action.
They are words to live by, and take on particular poignancy after the great thinker’s death. The eminent scientist’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim, announced the news this morning.
Their statement reads:
He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.
NASA have also remembered Prof Hawking as a ‘renowned physicist and ambassador of science’ with a beautiful tribute on Twitter.
Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring.
May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014.
Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014 pic.twitter.com/FeR4fd2zZ5
— NASA (@NASA) March 14, 2018
They also shared a video tribute to the British theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author who dedicated his life to answering the question of the universe.
Hawking was a well-respected figure globally, but a well-liked colleague as Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge.
He was a pioneering figure in theoretical physics, and is best known for stating black holes emit radiation, which is now often called Hawking radiation.
Hawking was also the first to set out a theory of cosmology explained using both the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, and a vigorous supporter of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
The award-winning scientist was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States.
His life and work was documented in the award-winning The Theory Of Everything:
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At the age of 22, Hawking was given only years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease, but with a keen mind and his infamous wit, he managed to fight it to the grand old age of 76.
The greatest mind of our generation defied medical opinion, despite suffering from the disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The disease left him unable to speak and in need of constant care, but this didn’t prevented him from continuing his incredible work in science.
As well as being a revolutionary in the science world, Hawking has become a role model for many with disabilities, speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
He understood that disability never defines you better than most:
The ALS Association aims to discover treatments and a cure for ALS and to serve, advocate for and empower, people affected by ALS to live their lives to the fullest.
You can donate here.
Stephen Hawking also gave a final warning to us before he passed, including a few choice words about President Trump.
As if we couldn’t love him any more.