Archive for Stephen Hawking

Astronomical and Other Events this Week

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on July 4, 2017 by telescoper

This week sees the 2017 National Astronomy Meeting which is taking place in Hull (which, for those of you unfamiliar with British geography, is in the Midlands). I usually try to attend this annual event but this year haven’t been able to make it owing to other commitments. I’m particularly sad about this because I’ll miss seeing two old friends (Nick Kaiser and Marek Kukula) being presented with their RAS medals. Moreover, one of the pieces of astronomical research announced at this meeting that has been making headlines features my office mate and fellow resident of Pontcanna, Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder.

Anyway, to keep up with what’s going on at NAM2017 you can follow announcements on twitter:

This week also sees a meeting in Cambridge on Gravity and Black Holes to celebrate the 75th birthday of Stephen Hawking, which goes on until tomorrow (Wednesday 5th). This conference also looks like a very good one, covering a much wider range of topics than its title perhaps suggests. Stephen’s birthday was actually in January, but I hope it’s not too late to wish him many happy returns!

Finally, though not a conference as such, there’s annual Royal Society Summer Science exhibition going on in London this week too. This is a showcase for a wealth of scientific research including, this year, an exhibit about gravitational waves called Listening to Einstein’s Universe. There’s even a promotional video featuring some of my colleagues at Cardiff University (along with many others):

Anyway, if you’re in London and at a loose end and interested in science and that, do pop into the Royal Society and have a look. The Summer Science Exhibition is always well worth a visit!


Stephen Hawking’s Reith Lectures

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on January 8, 2016 by telescoper

Yesterday I took off early from work to head up to the Royal Institution in London to attend a recording of the Reith Lectures, this year given by Stephen Hawking.

Here’s a rather crappy phone pic to show I was there.


In fact they recorded two of this year’s lectures, as well as a lengthy question-and-answer session. The talks and answers to audience questions did of course have to be pre-loaded into Stephen’s computer before delivery which necessitated some pauses for uploads. This together with the recording of various intros, outros and idents made for quite a lengthy event but I found the whole process fascinating and didn’t mind that at all. I did have three glasses of wine at the drinks reception before the show, however, so was in quite a relaxed frame of mind generally.

In charge of the whole thing was the inestimable Sue Lawley who did her job brilliantly. On a few occasions, Stephen Hawking’s computer had a glitch and made a spontaneous interjection in an inappropriate place. Sue Lawley proved  completely unflappable.

The topic for the series is, not surprisingly because it is what Hawking is most closely associated with, Black Holes. The lectures were enjoyably sprinkled with some very witty asides, but I did get surprisingly technical at a few points; the audience members beside me were visibly baffled on more than one occasion. See what you think yourself when the lectures are broadcast, the first on 26th January and the second a week later, both at 9pm on BBC Radio 4. They will also be broadcast on the BBC World Service.

The Reith Lectures are open to the public. Apparently over 20,000 applied for tickets to attend last night, such is the draw of Stephen Hawking. The capacity of the Royal Institution lecture theatre is only about 400 so many were disappointed. Fortunately for me, owing no doubt to some form of administrative error, I was an invited guest. I was however somewhat relieved to find I was only on the B-list so although I got to use the VIP entrance I didn’t have to sit among the big nobs at the front in reserved seats.

Did Hawking Say “There Are No Black Holes”?

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

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:


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.