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POSTMODERN ENCOUNTERS Hawking and the Mind of God PETER COLES
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P O S T M O D E R N E N C O U N T E R S Hawking and the Mind of God Peter Coles Series editor: Richard Appignanesi I C O N B O O K S U K T O T E M B O O K S U S A
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Published in the UK in 2000 by Icon Books Ltd., Grange Road, Duxford, Cambridge CB2 4QF email: [email protected] Distributed in the UK, Europe, Canada, South Africa and Asia by the Penguin Group: Penguin Books Ltd., 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ Published in Australia in 2000 by Allen & Unwin Pty. Ltd., PO Box 8500, 9 Atchison Street, St. Leonards, NSW 2065 Published in the USA in 2000 by Totem Books Inquiries to: PO Box 223, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013 In the United States, distributed to the trade by National Book Network Inc., 4720 Boston Way, Lanham, Maryland 20706 Library of Congress catalog card number applied for Text copyright © 2000 Peter Coles The author has asserted his moral rights. Series editor: Richard Appignanesi No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, or by any means, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. ISBN 1 84046 124 1 Typesetting by Wayzgoose Printed and bound in the UK by Cox & Wyman Ltd., Reading
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The Hawking Phenomenon The British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is one of the few scientists ever to have become a media celebrity. His book A Brief History of Time was a world-wide bestseller, and he has made many appearances on television, not – as with most scientists – restricted to science docu- mentaries, but also in commercials and elsewhere. He is instantly recognisable through the con- straints imposed on him by grievous illness. Suffering from the progressive effects of motor neurone disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) since his early twenties, when he was a student at Cambridge, he is confined to a wheelchair and virtually unable to move except to control the computer attached to it. As a result of a tracheo- tomy in the mid-1980s, he is unable to speak. He talks through an eerily mechanical voice pro- duced by a speech synthesizer. It is remarkable that a man trapped in a tor- tured body and deprived of the most basic means of communication could have achieved such fame. And more remarkable still that he has been able to overcome the immense obstacles placed 3
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before him to pursue a spectacular career as one of the most imaginative and influential scientists of modern times. But there is much more to the Hawking phenomenon than his scientific endeavours. The story of 20th-century physics contains many great intellectual achievements by men such as Paul Dirac, Richard Feynman, Erwin Schrödinger and, of course, Albert Einstein. Of this array of geniuses, Albert Einstein is the only household name. In 1998 The Observer newspaper named Hawking the 68th most powerful man in Great Britain, as a measure of his impact on people’s daily lives. As far as the media and, perhaps, popular consciousness are concerned, Hawking and Einstein rank at a similar level in the physicists’ hall of fame. Indeed, when Stephen Hawking appeared in
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