View previous topic | View next topic

Stephen Hawking - cultural icon

Page 1 of 10
Goto page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10  Next

Celebaelin
1277567.  Wed Mar 14, 2018 9:17 pm Reply with quote

Obviously the death of Stephen Hawking is a matter of great sadness although since he was given two years to live in 1963 it is safe to say that he beat the odds by some considerable margin and that, along with his many great accomplishments, is perhaps a source of some comfort to those close to him.
What I find myself wondering is whether his celebrity was to some extent a self-congratulatory phenomenon on the part of the culture from which he came. A culture which has reached a stage where it was possible for Prof. Hawking to continue to work despite the severe limitations placed upon him by his illness.

Societally are we seeking to bathe in the reflected glory of not only Prof. Hawking himself but of the healthcare systems and philanthropic contributions which enabled his work to continue, his existence to persist and his life to have meaning as his body increasingly trapped his intellect in a cruel and unyielding cage.

Is this self-congratulation in fact a good thing? Now that a severely disabled person can be accepted as a cultural icon and be publicly seen to be a man of not only great intellect but great humour has this eased the passage of disabled people in being accepted as having a valuable contribution to make? How many people would recognise a picture of Helen Keller? Or even have heard of her? Have we reached a turning point such that Prof. Hawking's image is as meaningful in signifying a turning point as that of say, Charles Darwin, Barack Obama or, dare I say it, Margaret Thatcher?

Is this to be his ultimate legacy or will his image be considered secondary to his works?


Last edited by Celebaelin on Thu Mar 15, 2018 7:28 am; edited 1 time in total

 
crissdee
1277574.  Thu Mar 15, 2018 4:19 am Reply with quote

I think for the vast majority of people, the image will be the thing they remember, if for no other reason than that most people cannot begin to understand his work to any meaningful extent. We here in QI-land are all intelligent, inquisitive people (I can see that from here!), yet I would wager that most of us have only a sound grasp of the basics at best. To the great unwashed, whose worldview is built on "Gogglebox" and "Loose Women", his work will be unintelligible gibberish. In his field, he will always remain the most significant figure of his generation. For the rest, he will be the genius in the wheelchair.

 
Celebaelin
1277581.  Thu Mar 15, 2018 5:46 am Reply with quote

Whilst I understand the reasons for your assertion I feel you may be forgetting Prof. Higgs (amongst others).

OK, so different fields technically but both physicists.

Somewhat fancifully, what if the Alcubierre drive proves viable?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcubierre_drive
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miguel_Alcubierre

 
'yorz
1277585.  Thu Mar 15, 2018 7:18 am Reply with quote

I think crissdee has summed it up nicely.

 
cornixt
1277603.  Thu Mar 15, 2018 10:22 am Reply with quote

I feel that while the importance of his work would remain the same, his celebrity status would be significantly smaller if he was just another able-bodied person. He'd probably be as recognisable as someone like Dawkins was, who most people would not know.

 
AlmondFacialBar
1277606.  Thu Mar 15, 2018 10:40 am Reply with quote

Gogglebox actually makes for great Sunday veg watching... ;-)

Anyhow, yes, I doubt he'd have had the same celebrity status had he been able-bodied. He'd have been one of several excellent science communicators and have been revered for that by the usual cohort of nerds, but he definitely wouldn't have appeared on The Simpsons.

His actual work as a theoretical physicist would stand one way or the other because it transcends the public face of science (and is quite likely unknown to most people who are currently mourning his passing). Even if it were to be eventually disapproved experimentally, Hawking Radiation will still remain the closest thing to a Grand Unified Theory the human race had achieved by the year 2018 BCE and be remembered as that.

As for Helen Keller, in a way far too many people recognise pictures of her. She's marketed as inspiration porn when she was actually one of the finest socialist radicals of her time.

:-)

AlmondFacialBar

 
'yorz
1277607.  Thu Mar 15, 2018 10:54 am Reply with quote

The picture of HK with Charlie Chaplin also does the rounds for some reason. How many would actually have seen "The Miracle Worker"?

 
GuyBarry
1277613.  Thu Mar 15, 2018 12:34 pm Reply with quote

cornixt wrote:
He'd probably be as recognisable as someone like Dawkins was, who most people would not know.


"Was"? Richard Dawkins is still very much alive (I hope).

I know you're posting from the US, but I'd say that here in the UK Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins have been the two great popularizers of science during my lifetime whose fame transcended the spheres in which they worked.

Unfortunately the fact that their names are slightly similar has led to a certain level of confusion between them (the number of media references to someone called "Hawkins" or "Hawkings" has been commented on elsewhere). I remember having a conversation with someone once who claimed to be opposed to Stephen Hawking because of his militant atheism.

 
cornixt
1277614.  Thu Mar 15, 2018 12:41 pm Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:
cornixt wrote:
He'd probably be as recognisable as someone like Dawkins was, who most people would not know.


"Was"? Richard Dawkins is still very much alive (I hope).

I thought he'd died about 1-2 years ago. Not sure who I confused him with since it seems that he is fortunately not yet dead.

 
tetsabb
1277622.  Thu Mar 15, 2018 2:02 pm Reply with quote

I think that one of the great things about him was that he was a great communicator and explainer of complex ideas to the general viewer. Roger Penrose was on 'Newsnight' last night, and was not very articulate, in my view. We are blessed with some scientists who are very good at clarifying thorny issues to a very high standard-- Jim al-Khalili, Helen Czerski, Brian Cox, to name a few.
As an arts student at Uni, I went to a few science lectures of my own volition, and found few of them to be very gripping, largelyy due to poor presentation.

He used his disability, together with a wicked sense of humour, to great effect to keep himself and his work in the public eye.

 
'yorz
1277638.  Thu Mar 15, 2018 3:22 pm Reply with quote

Jim al-Khalili certainly can explain stuff very clearly. I like him a lot.

 
AlmondFacialBar
1277670.  Thu Mar 15, 2018 5:42 pm Reply with quote

tetsabb wrote:
I think that one of the great things about him was that he was a great communicator and explainer of complex ideas to the general viewer. Roger Penrose was on 'Newsnight' last night, and was not very articulate, in my view. We are blessed with some scientists who are very good at clarifying thorny issues to a very high standard-- Jim al-Khalili, Helen Czerski, Brian Cox, to name a few.
As an arts student at Uni, I went to a few science lectures of my own volition, and found few of them to be very gripping, largelyy due to poor presentation.

He used his disability, together with a wicked sense of humour, to great effect to keep himself and his work in the public eye.


Yup, that's exactly it.

:-)

AlmondFacialBar

 
dr.bob
1277763.  Fri Mar 16, 2018 11:24 am Reply with quote

cornixt wrote:
I feel that while the importance of his work would remain the same, his celebrity status would be significantly smaller if he was just another able-bodied person.


There's quite a good control study for that in the form of Roger Penrose. Like Hawking he's a genius and one of the cleverest people of his generation. Indeed, he worked closely with Hawking on his early work on Black Holes. They were jointly awarded both the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Wolf Foundation Prize for Physics.

I think we can probably conclude that, if Hawking hadn't been disabled, he would've been as famous as Roger Penrose.

AlmondFacialBar wrote:
Even if it were to be eventually disapproved experimentally, Hawking Radiation will still remain the closest thing to a Grand Unified Theory the human race had achieved by the year 2018 BCE and be remembered as that.


Hawking Radiation is a nice idea, but it's not really anything to do with a Grand Unified Theory.

On the subject of Hawking, this popped up on twitter showing his first TV appearance on a BBC documentary from 1977:

https://twitter.com/BBCArchive/status/973860636282228741

 
AlmondFacialBar
1277764.  Fri Mar 16, 2018 11:28 am Reply with quote

dr.bob wrote:
AlmondFacialBar wrote:
Even if it were to be eventually disapproved experimentally, Hawking Radiation will still remain the closest thing to a Grand Unified Theory the human race had achieved by the year 2018 BCE and be remembered as that.


Hawking Radiation is a nice idea, but it's not really anything to do with a Grand Unified Theory.


That's the way I've always understood it. Please teach me.

:-)

AlmondFacialBar

 
dr.bob
1277767.  Fri Mar 16, 2018 11:52 am Reply with quote

In the old days, physicists studied electricity, and they studied magnetism. Then they started to notice similarities between the two, like how magnetism can be generated by electric currents, and how electric currents can be generated by passing magnets near conductive wire. Eventually they realised that electricity and magnetism are simply two aspects of the same phenomenon: Electromagnetism.

These days, electromagnetism is recognised as one of the four fundamental forces in the universe. The others three are gravity, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. The strong and weak nuclear forces determine how sub-atomic particles behave. The Strong force binds quarks together to form hadrons (such as protons and neutrons), while the Weak force causes radioactive decay.

With the advent of large particle colliders, Quantum Physicists discovered a range of particles, as well as investigating the Strong and Weak nuclear forces. The problem they had was that the masses of the particles had to be discovered by experimentation. None of them were predicted by theory.

There was a feeling among Quantum Physicists that, if they could combine electromagnetism with both the strong and weak nuclear forces, they would create a theory which would predict all the fundamental particles that we see today. Some success was achieved with the advent of the Electroweak Theory, which combined electromagnetism with the weak nuclear force. It showed that, at high energies, electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force are just different aspects of the same force (like electricity + magnetism = electromagnetism). This won the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics for the guys who developed it.

As of today, nobody has managed to completely combine the Strong Nuclear force with the others. There are a few possible solutions, but they tend to come with predictions, such as the spontaneous decay of protons, which have yet to be observed experimentally. If physicists are eventually successful in combining all three forces, this would be referred to at the Grand Unified Theory, or GUT.

If they were even more successful and managed to combine Gravity with the other three, this would be referred to as the Theory of Everything, or ToE.

 

Page 1 of 10
Goto page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10  Next

All times are GMT - 5 Hours


Display posts from previous:   

Search Search Forums

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2002 phpBB Group