Stephen Hawking, the great English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author, and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge died on 14 March 2018 at the age of 76. He is a symbol of struggle as he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21 which gradually paralysed him over the decades. However, he has also a lesser knows side. He was very much involved in the political world and had no fear of sharing his thoughts.
Hawking was concerned about life on the Earth which he believed is at risk from a sudden nuclear war, global warming, or other dangers which humans have not yet thought of. In 2006, he posed an open question on the Internet: “In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?”
Hawking believed that “the universe is governed by the laws of science”. In an interview with El Mundo, he said that “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation.” In discussing the book “The Grand Design”, he told ABC News that “The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a creator.” In an interview published in The Guardian, Hawking regarded “the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail”. In 2011, he commented that “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” In 2011, Hawking declared: “We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate.”
Hawking was greatly concerned over healthcare, and supported the UK National Health Service (NHS). He said that “I believe in universal health care. And I am not afraid to say so.” He was against privatization and stated that “The more profit is extracted from the system, the more private monopolies grow and the more expensive healthcare becomes. The NHS must be preserved from commercial interests and protected from those who want to privatise it.” He also wrote that “If that all sounds political, that is because the NHS has always been political.”
Hawking also said that “we should really be scared of capitalism, not robots” and wrote: “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality”.
Hawking spoke at an anti-war demonstration in London’s Trafalgar Square where protesters read out the names of thousands of Iraqis and coalition troops killed since the March 2003 Iraq invasion by US. According to him, “The war was based on two lies. The first was we were in danger of weapons of mass destruction and the second was that Iraq was somehow to blame for September 11th… As many as 100,000 people have died, half of them women and children. If that is not a war crime, what is?”
Hawking also pulled out of a high-profile conference in order to support an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, organized by international activists to protest Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
In another hard-hitting piece in 2014, Hawking wrote: “What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice?” He also said that “We must work together to end this war and to protect the children of Syria… As a father and grandfather I watch the suffering of Syria’s children and must now say: no more.”
Hawking was a Labour Party supporter, although he was not very fond of current leader Jeremy Corbyn. In 2007, Hawking fronted a campaign by scientists, Church leaders, actors and writers to urge the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to cancel Trident (UK nuclear programme). He was disappointed with Brexit as he believed it would negatively influence science funding. In late 2016, after the election of Donald Trump, Hawking wrote that “We are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity”. He feared Donald Trump’s policies on global warming could endanger the planet and make global warming irreversible.
Let’s remember the great scientist and also the symbol of humanity once again.