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Hawking's Retrospective

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Professor Hawking

Stephen Hawking gave lecture at the Perimeter recently.  It was his first to a nation-wide Canadian audience.

Due to his long time illness with Lew Gehrig's disease, it takes him some time to compose a lecture for any audience, so one would expect him to choose his words carefully and he did.

Hawking spent most of the lecture going back in 'time' both in his life and in the life of the universe.  It is difficult for a world class expert in cosmology to get ideas across to a general audience hanging on his every word.

Professor Hoyle

Hawking chose to give a review of his career and the friendly battles he has waged with peers over ideas and the direction of cosmology.  He paid particular attention to Fred Hoyle who held that the universe is in a sort of steady state.  It always existed and somehow is 'creating' new pieces all the time.  Trying to join the twin ideas of new creation and always being in existence was hard to do.  Hawking, younger than Hoyle, rejected the idea and agreed with the at that time new 'Big Bang' theory that has gained acceptance.

Hoyle continued his lecture as a history of his work in science and the people who have populated his world.

It is interesting that his whole life has been associated with that most illusive quantity 'TIME'.  He has written a popular book called "A Brief History of Time".  It is dubbed the book least read and most purchased of all time.

In many ways it was difficult to see him on stage being greeted by dignitaries, who do not quite know how to approach him.  An aid held one of his hands up for the first mandatory shake by a 'big-wig'.  It was an awkward moment and did not improve with repetition.

After the greetings the retrospective began.  It was an important lecture.  The venue was packed and quiet awaiting Hawking's computer generated voice.  That voice does not change and has a very human connection with the scientist himself and his audience.

The lecture was like many done by important scientists or mathematicians.  Try as they might, they have trouble reaching the general audience.  They really want to get to their peers and not the uninitiated, anyway.

The public does not mind because they enjoy the panoply of witnessing the workings of a great mind and the reactions of the rest of the audience.

Hawking did not spend much time on the future of cosmology and physics except to acknowledge that the Perimeter Institute has a promising future in basic research.

Reading between the lines, one gathers that he is proudest of his work with Sir Roger Penrose and his impact on young scientists.

One wonders what a healthy Hawking could have accomplished?

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Monday, June 28, 2010