The World of Stephen Hawking
Physically wasted and barely able to talk, Stephen Hawking, a brilliant British physicist, has become nearly the perfect cerebral being, thinking his way deeper and deeper into the mysterious heart of creation.
He greets visitors to his Cambridge University office with an impish grin and a hint of conspiracy in blue eyes twinkling behind steel-rimmed glasses. Even at 42, his boyish face makes him look more like a student at the British university than a distinguished professor of mathematics. But his body, slumped awkwardly in a motorized wheelchair, is thin and wasted, with the muscle structure of a bedridden old man. His speech is so laboured it is almost impossible to understand.
Despite these handicaps—perhaps because of them—Stephen Hawking has managed some of the greatest strides in physics since Albert Einstein. In fact, be often has been portrayed as this half-century’s answer to Einstein.
Some physicists even think Hawking could pull off one of the greatest coups in science history. That would be creation of the single theory reconciling the twin pillars of modern physics: Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which declares that gravity controls the behaviour of planets, stars, galaxies and the universe itself and does it in a predictable manner; and the quantum mechanics theory, which maintains that, at the atomic level, matter behaves randomly. Einstein, who spent the last 30 years of his life trying to reconcile these seeming contradictions of nature, rejected the randomness of quantum mechanics. “I cannot believe that God plays dice with the cosmos,” he said.
Finding the underlying interaction that explains both of these theories is an almost religious quest to some scientists, who believe that such a unification would remove the last barrier to a fundamental understanding of the universe. Just as Einstein pulled back the curtain on the atomic age, a unifying theory could usher in a new era of understanding for mankind. Formulating this theory is the goal of Stephen Hawking, whose life is a remarkable lesson in grit, adaptability and the power the human intellect.