Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Goodbye Professor @Steven_Hawking It was great to be a small part of your Universe. "It's Turtles All The Way Down"

Just over 36 years ago, I was lucky enough to have been taught theoretical physics (for a short while at least) by Professor Stephen Hawking. He had recently been elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics when I went up to Cambridge and had started with tutoring both under-graduates as well as post-graduates. My own interests were cosmology, quantum gravity and general relativity and he was the go-to guy in these fields. He soon gave up with us under-grads though as his health was deteriorating and he wanted to write a book. Therefore, I was one of the lucky ones in that brief history of time between him having enough energy to teach and him needing full-time nursing care in 1982. Six years later he had finished his book and as we all know A Brief History of Time was to go on to sell big - 12 million copies.

His lectures weren't the rock concert events they were to become years later but they were well attended all the same. He obviously prepared what he was going to say and in his tutorials it was slow to get responses to questions. He was incisive, sharp-witted and blunt though.

A year ago, it was with some excitement I ventured out to see him again. Or so I thought. It was his 75th birthday and he was due to give a lecture. His book had become an app called Stephen Hawking's Pocket Universe so he was keen to flog that too.

Sadly, he was not there that night in person as he was ill so this place was taken by Martin Rees my old Master at Trinity College. Such a shame to have missed him but Stephen had pre-recorded his talk for us and some answers to pre-submitted questions.

His mind was still on top form. Short answer: robots *will* take over the world, information is never lost, everyone on earth will die eventually, there is no God and the Universe will expand into virtual nothingness.

And, what's this about turtles?

Well, Stephen used to tell a story about the mighty Bertrand Russell.

Bertrand Russell once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.
At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."
The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"
"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady.
"But it's turtles all the way down!"

Stephen found this anecdote very, very funny. He had a keen sense of humour. Something that must have stood him in good stead for the challenges life threw his way.

Goodbye Professor. It was great to be a small part of your Universe.

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