Archive for Stephen Hawking

Did Hawking Say “There Are No Black Holes”?

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on February 5, 2014 by telescoper

telescoper:

Last week there was a rather tedious flurry of media activity about Stephen Hawking’s alleged claim that there are no black holes after all. Here’s a nice blog post explaining what Hawking actually said. Also, check out the link at the start of this article to a very nice layperson’s guide to the Black Hole Information Paradox.

Originally posted on Of Particular Significance:

Media absurdity has reached new levels of darkness with the announcement that Stephen Hawking has a new theory in which black holes do not exist after all.

No, he doesn’t.

[Note added: click here for my new introduction to the black hole information paradox.]

First, Hawking does not have a new theory… at least not one he’s presented. You can look at his paper here — two pages (pdf), a short commentary that he gave to experts in August 2013 and wrote up as a little document — and you can see it has no equations at all. That means it doesn’t qualify as a theory. “Theory”, in physics, means: a set of equations that can be used to make predictions for physical processes in a real or imaginary world. When we talk about Einstein’s theory of relativity, we’re talking about equations. Compare just the look and…

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The Student Education Paradox

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 24, 2014 by telescoper

An exciting new paper by a leading theoretical physicist prominent educationalist has just appeared on the arXiv. In it the author addresses the important question of whether information is destroyed in black holes students actually learn anything during lectures.

Until recently it was generally believed that any information falling into a black hole entering the mind of a student was lost forever even though black holes do evaporate students do take examinations after a finite time. This belief is motivated by the properties of Hawking radiation produced by black holes observations of examination scripts written by students, which some claim to be entirely random, i.e. devoid of any information content whatsoever.

This picture has however been challenged by a number of educationalists theorists with a variety of counter-arguments. For example, some have argued for a statistical interpretation in terms of the multiverse a very large class; although information may be destroyed in individual black holes students, in a infinite multiverse large enough class, there may be a finite number of examples in which some information is retained.

The latest article (referred to above) offers a different resolution of the Black Hole Information Student Education Paradox which rests on the idea that information radiated by black holes examination scripts written by students are not in fact entirely random, just produced so chaotically that, although information is present, for any practical purposes such information is so garbled that it is impossible to decipher.

This intriguing suggestion has led to a number of interesting, if somewhat speculative, extensions. Some have even argued that there may after all be some information present in the speeches of Education Minister Michael Gove, though this idea obviously remains highly controversial.

Stephen Hawking is 72.

The Annunciation of Death

Posted in Opera with tags , , , , on June 19, 2013 by telescoper

It’s a lovely day so I thought I’d turn away to the doom and gloom of the ongoing bin strike towards a much cheerier subject: death. In the film about Stephen Hawking I saw last week there was a moving segment in which Hawking sought solace in music after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and given just a few years to live. The specific piece of music he discussed was the Annunciation of Death by Richard Wagner. Not being a Wagner expert I wasn’t familiar with this piece so did a bit of research over the weekend to find out more about it. That turned out to be quite interesting.

The Annunciation of Death turns out to be a leitmotif  appearing in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, often known as the Ring Cycle. Leitmotifs of various types occur throughout this epic series of four operas. Some are associated with individual characters, sometimes present on stage and sometimes absent but relevant to the drama. Other leitmotifs relate to specific emotional states, locations  or even inanimate objects (e.g. a sword).

The Annunciation of Death (in German: Todesverkundigen) makes its first appearance at the beginning of Act II Scene 4 of Die Walkürethe second Opera of the Ring Cycle, when Brünnhilde approaches to tell Siegmund of his impending death. You can see why Hawking thought of this when given his prognosis. This is the leitmotif

What’s interesting about this is that it is formed by the merger of two other leitmotifs, one relating to Erda, the Goddess of earth and the mother of the three Norns, who has the ability to see the future:

and another more generally associated with fate

Doom takes on a very specific manifestation for poor old Siegmund. Here is the leitmotif as it appears in the actual Opera, as part of the instrumental prelude to the glorious voice of the legendary Kirsten Flagstad as Brünnhilde singing Siegmund! Sieh’ auf mich!

I never expected to learn something new about Wagner by watching a film about Stephen Hawking, but there you go!

Hawking at BAFTA

Posted in Film, Television, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on June 13, 2013 by telescoper

Having survived the chairing of our lengthy Progression and Award Board this morning here in Sussex, I thought I’d just spend a few minutes on the blog before going up to London for an event at the Royal Society this evening.

In fact I was in London for much of yesterday too, partly for a meeting relating to SEPNET but then later to attend a special Event for Fellows of the Institute of Physics at the plush premises of British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in Piccadilly:

entrance-8976

The event was a special preview screening of the a feature length documentary called Hawking, about the life and career of celebrated British cosmologist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, followed by a question-and-answer session with the producer and director. There have been many films about Hawking already, but the distinctive thing about this one is that Hawking himself contributed to the script so, to some extent, it’s “in his own words”. It’s quite clear that it wasn’t meant so much as a science documentary as an unflinching look at Hawking’s struggle against Motor Neurone Disease, with his scientific work merely serving as background to the human interest story. It is, of course, a very moving narrative not only because of the hardship he has been forced to endure but also because of what he has achieved as a scientist in the face of difficulties that would have defeated persons of lesser determination.

I found the film interesting but a little frustrating because, while it raised many interesting issues (such as the conflict between celebrity and privacy), it moved on so quickly that none of them were really explored in any depth. I did strike me, however, as a very honest film – the discussion of the break-up of his first marriage was very candid, but it was nice to discover that in recent years Stephen and Jane have are at least on speaking terms again. Hawking’s sense of humour, which is often concealed by his disability, also came across very well. I could give an example of this from my own experience, but given the nature of the prank he played I think it’s better not to!

Anyway, I won’t say anything more because I don’t want to colour anyone’s judgement about the film, which doesn’t go on general release in the UK until later in the year. Go to see it yourself, and make your own mind up! In the meantime, here is the official trailer:

Philosophy of Science Poll

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on October 20, 2012 by telescoper

I’m told the following quotation from esteemed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is very profound:

Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.

Huh? I can’t make sense of it at all. Is it just me that finds it entirely devoid of either logic or  meaning?

Please tell Mr Polldaddy what you think….

You might even try to explain it to me via the comments box, but be patient because I’m thick.

Hawking at 70

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on January 8, 2012 by telescoper

Today is the 70th Birthday of renowned British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. His  immense contributions to physics, including but not restricted to cosmology, are remarkable in their own right, but  made even more emarkable that has done so much after having been stricken by such a debilitating disease when he was only in his twenties. Hawking’s is undoubtedly a brilliant and inspirational mind, but his courage and physical endurance in the face of difficulties that  others might have found unbearable provide inspiration far behond physics. I’d therefore like to add a genuine Many Happy Returns to Professor Stephen Hawking, and I hope he’s enjoying the celebratory conference and other events that have been laid on to mark this special occasion.

I have in the past gone on record, both on television and in print, as being not entirely positive about the “cult” that surrounds Stephen Hawking. I think a number of my colleagues find things I have said disrespectful and/or churlish. I do, however, stand by everything I’ve said. I do have enormous respect for Hawking the physicist, as well as deep admiration for his tenacity and fortitude, and have never said otherwise. I don’t, however, agree that Hawking is in the same category of revolutionary thinkers as Newton or Einstein, which is how he is often portrayed.

In fact  a poll of 100 theoretical physicists in 1999 came to exactly the same conclusion. The top ten in that list were:

  1.  Albert Einstein
  2. Isaac Newton
  3. James Clerk Maxwell
  4. Niels Bohr
  5. Werner Heisenberg
  6. Galileo Galilei
  7. Richard Feynman
  8. Paul Dirac
  9. Erwin Schrödinger
  10. Ernest Rutherford

The idea of a league table like this is of course a bit silly, but it does at least give some insight into the way physicists regard prominent figures in their subject. Hawking came way down the list, in fact, in 300th (equal) place. I don’t think it is disrespectful to Hawking to point this out. I’m not saying he isn’t a brilliant physicist. I’m just saying that there are a great many other brilliant physicists that no one outside physics has ever heard of.

It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if the list had been restricted to living physicists. I’d guess Hawking would be in the top ten, but I’m not at all sure where…

And before I get accused of jealousy about Stephen Hawking’s fame, let me make it absolutely clear that if Hawking is like a top Premiership footballer (which I think is an appropriate analogy), then I am definitely like someone kicking a ball around for a pub team on a Sunday morning (with a hangover). This gulf does not make me envious; it just makes me admire his ability all the more, just as trying to play football makes one realise exactly how good the top players really are.

Anyway, I had better wind this up because that sporting metaphor has just reminded me that there are some FA Cup ties on the TV this afternoon. I’ll therefore switch to a slightly different kind of hawking, i.e. trying to peddle a few copies of my book  Hawking and the Mind of God, which was published in 2000. Excuse the blatant self-promotion, but these are hard times!

Here is the jacket blurb:

Stephen Hawking has achieved a unique position in contemporary culture, combining eminence in the rarefied world of theoretical physics with the popular fame usually reserved for film stars and rock musicians. Yet Hawking’s technical work is so challenging, both in its conceptual scope and in its mathematical detail, that proper understanding of its significance lies beyond the grasp of all but a few specialists. How, then, did Hawking-the-scientist become Hawking-the-icon? Hawking’s theories often take him into the intellectual territory that has traditionally been the province of religion rather than science. He acknowledges this explicitly in the closing sentence of his bestseller, “A Brief History of Time”, where he says that his ultimate aim is the “know the Mind of God”. “Hawking and the Mind of God” examines the pseudo-religious connotations of some of the key themes in Hawking’s work, and how these shed light not only on the Hawking cult itself, but also on the wider issue of how scientists represent themselves in the media.

And you can take a peek at the inside here:

The Hawking Paradox on BBC iPlayer

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on August 17, 2011 by telescoper

I just heard at lunchtime that a TV programme I was in was recently repeated on BBC4 and is consequently now available on BBC i Player, so I thought I’d advertise it on here.  I didn’t see the broadcast myself, because I scarcely watch TV these days.

The programme was originally made for the BBC TV series Horizon and first broadcast in the UK in 2005. You’ll find yours truly in a couple of places, when I was working at the University of Nottingham and had more hair. In fact I got quite a bit of stick, from some people at a certain University I used to attend, for being insufficiently reverential in my comments about Stephen Hawking but, for what it’s worth, I stand by everything I said. I do admire him enormously as a physicist, but I think his very genuine contributions are sometimes lost in the cult that has developed around him.

Anyway, I thought the programme turned out relatively well but you can watch it yourself by clicking here and form your own opinion!

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