The famed physicist Stephen Hawking died last month at age 76.
During decades in the public eye – from his work investigating black
holes to a cameo on The Simpsons – he amassed a portfolio of witty
and memorable quotes.
A few of them appear below, on subjects including artificial intelligence,
fame, life, the universe and everything.
On life and death
Hawking did not believe in an afterlife, he said in 2011. But
the threat of one was not necessary to induce people to
behave well, he added. When asked how a person should
live their only life, he said: “We should seek the greatest
value of our action.”
In the same interview with The Guardian, Hawking said
having motor neurone disease meant he had lived with the
possibility of dying early for several decades. He added:
“I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so
much I want to do first.”
And he was quoted in People’s Daily Online in 2006 as
having said about euthanasia: “The victim should have the
right to end his life, if he wants. But I think it would be a
great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always
something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life,
there is hope.”
On artificial and extraterrestrial intelligence
“I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell
the end of the human race,” Hawking told the BBC in 2014.
“Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it will take
off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate.
“Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution,
couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”
Despite pushing for humanity to escape Earth and explore space,
and in 2016 backing the Breakthrough Starshot interstellar spacecraft
project, Hawking felt strongly that
first contact with alien species should be avoided.
He told the National Geographic Channelin 2004: “I think
it would be a disaster. The extraterrestrials would probably
be far in advance of us. The history of advanced races
meeting more primitive people on this planet is not very
happy, and they were the same species. I think we should
keep our heads low.”
On human intelligence
“People who boast about their IQ are losers,” he said in the
December 2004 interview with The New York Times.
Nonetheless in a 1999 episode of The Simpsons – “They
Saved Lisa’s Brain”, in which Lisa joins the Springfield
branch of Mensa and eventually takes over the running of
the town – Hawking silenced all the show’s brainiest characters
by announcing during an argument as to who was
smartest: “Big deal. My IQ is 280.”
He further admonished the group with a lecture on how
power corrupts, while sending himself up with an Inspector
Gadget-style turn from his motorised wheelchair.
Hawking was famously possessed of a sharp wit. Speaking
to comedian John Oliver on his programme Last Week
Tonight the physicist was asked whether in a reality that
contained multiple universes, one existed in which the host
was “smarter than you”.
“Yes, and also a universe where you’re funny,” the Cambridge
academic shot back.
On his fame
“The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere
in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for
me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair
gives me away,” he said on Israeli TV in December 2006.
However, he told The New York Times two years earlier he
wanted his books “sold on airport bookstalls”.
On space and the universe
Hawking remains best-known for his work describing the nature of black holes.
Of the phenomenon, he said in a 1996 book: “Einstein was
wrong when he said, ‘God does not play dice’. Consideration
of black holes suggests not only that God
does play dice, but that he sometimes confuses us by
throwing them where they can’t be seen.”
In his classic book A Brief History of Time, Hawking famously
said of scientists striving to produce a unifying theory
explaining the universe’s mechanics: “If we discover a complete theory,
it would be the ultimate triumph of reason – for then we should know the
mind of God.”
The memorable, metaphorical statement has been often
discussed since it was published in 1988, but questions
over Hawking’s beliefs about the origins of the universe
were answered firmly in his 2010 book, The Grand Design.
In it, he wrote: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the
universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous
creation is the reason there is something rather than
nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary
to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set
the universe going.”
Hawking told The New York Times in 2011 that motor neurone
disease had taught him “not to pity myself” because
others were worse off.
He added: “My advice to other disabled people would be,
concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you
doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with.
Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”