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Stephen Hawking: 'There is no heaven; it's a fairy story'

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  • medit8ionsociety
    From The Guardian 5/15/11: A belief that heaven or an afterlife awaits us is a fairy story for people afraid of death, Stephen Hawking has said. In a
    Message 1 of 1 , May 17 4:48 AM
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      From The Guardian 5/15/11:
      A belief that heaven or an afterlife awaits us
      is a "fairy story" for people afraid of death,
      Stephen Hawking has said.

      In a dismissal that underlines his firm rejection
      of religious comforts, Britain's most eminent
      scientist said there was nothing beyond the moment
      when the brain flickers for the final time.

      Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neurone
      disease at the age of 21, shares his thoughts on
      death, human purpose and our chance existence in
      an exclusive interview with the Guardian today.

      The incurable illness was expected to kill Hawking
      within a few years of its symptoms arising, an
      outlook that turned the young scientist to Wagner,
      but ultimately led him to enjoy life more, he
      has said, despite the cloud hanging over his future.

      "I have lived with the prospect of an early death
      for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death,
      but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want
      to do first," he said.

      "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," he added.

      Hawking's latest comments go beyond those laid
      out in his 2010 book, The Grand Design, in
      which he asserted that there is no need for a
      creator to explain the existence of the universe.
      The book provoked a backlash from some religious
      leaders, including the chief rabbi, Lord Sacks,
      who accused Hawking of committing an
      "elementary fallacy" of logic.

      The 69-year-old physicist fell seriously ill
      after a lecture tour in the US in 2009 and was
      taken to Addenbrookes hospital in an episode that
      sparked grave concerns for his health. He has
      since returned to his Cambridge department as
      director of research.

      The physicist's remarks draw a stark line between
      the use of God as a metaphor and the belief in an
      omniscient creator whose hands guide the workings
      of the cosmos.

      In his bestselling 1988 book, A Brief History
      of Time, Hawking drew on the device so beloved
      of Einstein, when he described what it would mean
      for scientists to develop a "theory of everything"
      – a set of equations that described every particle
      and force in the entire universe. "It would be
      the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then
      wehould know the mind of God," he wrote.

      The book sold a reported 9 million copies and
      propelled the physicist to instant stardom. His
      fame has led to guest roles in The Simpsons,
      Star Trek: The Next Generation and Red Dwarf.
      One of his greatest achievements in physics is
      a theory that describes how black holes emit radiation.

      In the interview, Hawking rejected the notion
      of life beyond death and emphasised the need to
      fulfil our potential on Earth by making good use
      of our lives. In answer to a question on how we
      should live, he said, simply: "We should seek
      the greatest value of our action."

      In answering another, he wrote of the beauty of
      science, such as the exquisite double helix of
      DNA in biology, or the fundamental equations
      of physics.

      Hawking responded to questions posed by the Guardian
      and a reader in advance of a lecture tomorrow at
      the Google Zeitgeist meeting in London, in which
      he will address the question: "Why are we here?"

      In the talk, he will argue that tiny quantum
      fluctuations in the very early universe became
      the seeds from which galaxies, stars, and ultimately
      human life emerged. "Science predicts that many
      different kinds of universe will be spontaneously
      created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance
      which we are in," he said.

      Hawking suggests that with modern space-based
      instruments, such as the European Space Agency's
      Planck mission, it may be possible to spot ancient
      fingerprints in the light left over from the
      earliest moments of the universe and work out
      how our own place in space came to be.

      His talk will focus on M-theory, a broad mathematical
      framework that encompasses string theory, which
      is regarded by many physicists as the best hope
      yet of developing a theory of everything.

      M-theory demands a universe with 11 dimensions,
      including a dimension of time and the three
      familiar spatial dimensions. The rest are curled
      up too small for us to see.

      Evidence in support of M-theory might also come
      from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, the
      European particle physics laboratory near Geneva.

      One possibility predicted by M-theory is supersymmetry,
      an idea that says fundamental particles have heavy
      – and as yet undiscovered – twins, with curious
      names such as selectrons and squarks.

      Confirmation of supersymmetry would be a shot in
      the arm for M-theory and help physicists explain
      how each force at work in the universe arose from
      one super-force at the dawn of time.

      Another potential discovery at the LHC, that of
      the elusive Higgs boson, which is thought to give
      mass to elementary particles, might be less welcome
      to Hawking, who has a long-standing bet that the
      long-sought entity will never be found at the laboratory.

      Hawking will join other speakers at the London
      event, including the chancellor, George Osborne,
      and the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

      cience, truth and beauty: Hawking's answers
      What is the value in knowing "Why are we here?"
      The universe is governed by science. But science
      tells us that we can't solve the equations,
      directly in the abstract. We need to use the
      effective theory of Darwinian natural selection
      of those societies most likely to survive. We
      assign them higher value.

      You've said there is no reason to invoke God to
      light the blue touchpaper. Is our existence
      all down to luck?

      Science predicts that many different kinds of
      universe will be spontaneously created out of
      nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.

      So here we are. What should we do?

      We should seek the greatest value of our action.

      You had a health scare and spent time in hospital
      in 2009. What, if anything, do you fear about death?

      I have lived with the prospect of an early death
      for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death,
      but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want
      to do first. 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.

      What are the things you find most beautiful in science?

      Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations
      of phenomena or connections between different
      observations. Examples include the double helix in
      biology, and the fundamental equations of physics."
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