Stephen Hawking: Works Visually & Awkward Questions

Source: Wired, Jan 2015

Through necessity (he’s no longer able to write equations), Hawking has developed an original way of thinking about the mysteries of the cosmos, not relying so much on equations as most physicists do, but preferring to think in terms of pictures and geometries. Such tools are allied to an approach that aims to make big, intuitive breakthroughs, rather than incremental contributions, in our understanding of the cosmos.

that is what perhaps defines him the most: his unbreakable persistence. “I am just a child who has never grown up,” he writes in his autobiography, My Brief History. “I keep asking ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find answers.”

WIRED: [The mathematician] Roger Penrose has mentioned that you always ask awkward questions.

WIRED: Your longtime friend, physicist Kip Thorne, has described how, as you lost the use of your hands, you developed a powerful set of tools that no one else has, including an unusual ability to manipulate mental images of objects, curves, surfaces, shapes, not merely in three dimensions but in the four dimensions of space and time. Can you describe that mental process? Do you think you managed to solve problems that others couldn’t because of that special set of mental tools?

Hawking: No one can visualise four dimensions. Three dimensions are hard enough. What I do is visualise two-dimensional sections, remembering they are part of a four-dimensional whole. This geometric visualisation I used in proving singularity theorems and my work on black holes, including black-hole radiation. My disability makes it difficult to write down complicated equations so I prefer problems with a geometric interpretation.

Hawking: I believe that the human race will not survive indefinitely on Earth without some disaster. I would like us therefore to spread out into space, so humanity doesn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet.

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