Stephen Hawking will be remembered not only as one of the premier cosmologists and physicists in history, but as a man who overcame tremendous health issues to reach his full potential. Hawking’s death on March 14 at age 76 brought an outpouring of remembrances from the scientific community celebrating his genius. While Hawking’s intellect filled lecture halls and baffled even fellow scientists, he had a gift for making pithy and profound statements that everyone could understand. They make us reconsider our place in the universe, and think about how we live — and die — on Earth.
10. “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. We cannot quite know what will happen if a machine exceeds our own intelligence, so we can’t know if we’ll be infinitely helped by it, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it.”
— Hawking echoed the thoughts on many with this comment in a 2014 BBC interview.
9. “The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies. We are so insignificant that I can’t believe the whole universe exists for our benefit. That would be like saying that you would disappear if I closed my eyes.”
— Hawking, in a 1995 interview on UK’s TV show Reality on the Rocks, with Ken Campbell.
8. “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.”
— Given Hawking’s struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis almost his entire adult life, his outlook on life inspired many.
7. “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.”
— Hawking, in a 2010 interview with the Discovery Channel. He warned that trying to contact alien life might not be wise. There’s a whole debate on this topic in cosmology, with some arguing that any life form advanced enough to travel between galaxies would likely be a predator species posing a threat to Earth.
6. “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.”
— Hawking, on the subject of euthanasia.
5. “We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible. [President] Trump’s action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees, and raining sulphuric acid.”
— Hawking’s statement to the BBC in 2017 sounds a bit extreme even among those who fear climate change.
4. “I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.”
— Hawking, in the Daily Telegraph (2001).
3. “I think computer viruses should count as life … I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We’ve created life in our own image.”
— Hawking, in a 1994 speech at Macworld Expo in Boston.
2. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
— Hawking, giving a very grim view of what happens after death, via UK’s The Guardian (2011).
1. “I’m not religious in the normal sense. I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.”
— Hawking, in the New Scientist (2007). While Hawking proclaimed himself an atheist (“There is no God. I am an atheist,” he once said), some of his thoughts on the subject of God were very ambiguous. In a 1988 interview with German publication Der Spiegel, he noted, “What I have done is to show that it is possible for the way the universe began to be determined by the laws of science. In that case, it would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began. This doesn’t prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary.”