Editorial: Brief answers to big questions…

Author : Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor

02 November 2018

Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor of EPDT

Stephen Hawking’s final book has recently been posthumously published, following the book launch that took place at London’s Science Museum, with a panel of Stephen Hawking's family and peers. Here, EPDT Editor Mark Gradwell discusses the legacy and messages that the Professor has brought to the world...

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The global press conference was also live streamed on Facebook – and included an important warning from ‘beyond the grave’…

This final book from Professor Stephen Hawking, bestselling author of A Brief History of Time and arguably the most renowned scientist of our age, is a profound, accessible and timely reflection on some of the biggest questions in science. Hawking was a brilliant theoretical physicist and is widely considered to have been one of the world’s greatest thinkers.

Known for his groundbreaking work in physics and cosmology, he was also a revered voice on social and humanitarian issues. Brief Answers to the Big Questions is his parting gift to humanity, leaving us with his final thoughts on some of the biggest questions facing humankind.

As well as unravelling some of the universe’s greatest mysteries, Hawking also fervently believed science plays a critical role in fixing problems here on Earth. Now, as humankind faces immense challenges on our planet – including climate change, the threat of nuclear war, and the development of artificial intelligence – he turns his attention to the most urgent issues facing society. Will humanity survive? Should we colonise space? Does God exist?

These are just a few of the questions Hawking addresses in this wide-ranging, passionately argued final book from one of history’s keenest minds.

Education and science “in danger now more than ever before”

But in his final message, broadcast at the book launch, Hawking warned the world that science and education are under grave threat around the world, and that experts were no longer being respected. He cited the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union as evidence of “a global revolt against experts, and that includes scientists”.

The physicist acknowledged that science had yet to overcome major global challenges, including climate change, overpopulation, species extinction, deforestation and the degradation of the oceans. “We are ... in danger of becoming culturally isolated, insular and increasingly remote from where progress is being made,” he said.

But he also retained a deep faith in science’s ability to solve humanity’s biggest problems: “What lies ahead for those who are young now? I can say with confidence that their future will depend more on science and technology than any previous generation’s has done.” And he urged young people “to look up at the stars, not down at your feet ... And wonder about what makes the universe exist”, issuing a rallying cry for them to use science and technology to find the solutions: “It matters that you don’t give up. Unleash your imagination. Shape the future.”

Hawking’s daughter, Lucy said hearing her father’s unmistakable voice had been “very emotional. I turned away, because I had tears forming in my eyes”. For me, his wise words serve as a timely reminder that engineering, science and technology have a vital role to play in solving the grand challenges that face humanity – and that at a time where, worryingly, experts and evidence are regularly questioned and disrespected, we need to pay attention and support them, more than ever! #STEMmatters

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