Brenda Cooper

Stephen Hawking Lecture Notes

I saw Stephen Hawking for the second time last night. Seeing that man work gives me the same fundamental reaction: best stop whining.

Dr. Hawking’s disease has progressed so far that he can only select words to use with a mechanism that recognizes when he blinks. A blink moves the cursor. The cursor has what looks like thousands of words in a list to choose from. It takes him a long time to communicate. Yet he has told us so much so very well.

He could have written his speech and had it recorded and delivered to us. Instead, he wrote it in advance, and used the blinks of his eye to deliver it, line by line. He might have been winking to us.

The speech was simpler than the last one I saw, a reprise of his scientific life, followed by one I’m not sure I understood but which intrigued me – suggesting that there are many possible histories, but the current state of affairs “freezes” the actual history that led us to this moment in time.

He also led us through the idea that universes may arise like bubbled from steam – a simple quantum perturbation may create a universe from “nothing.” Equally interesting, he seemed to be having a conversation across the two talks in this lecture series with the other lecturer, Dr. Brian Greene about the number of dimensions in our universe (Greene suggests 11, Hawking 4).

He also managed to get the audience laughing out loud at multiple points in his talk. All this from a man who cannot walk or talk, who cannot twist in his chair to look behind him or even move his own wheelchair where he wants any more.

Oh, and by the way, he went up in an airplane in yesterday’s fairly high winds and toured the San Juan Islands, and he plans to go up in Space Ship Two.