Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stephen Hawking: a Genius, but not an Infallible Philosophical Authority

Image of Stephen Hawkins in zero gravity c/o Cosmic blog.

Dear old Stephen Hawkins. Lovely man, brain the size of a planet, and gifted with the ability to explain complex ideas in simple terms. But he also demonstrates the ability for great minds to miss the bleeding obvious.

Space.com news : "Stephen Hawking Says Humanity Won't Survive Without Leaving Earth".

"Humans stuck on Earth are at risk from two kinds of catastrophes, Hawking said. First, the kind we bring on ourselves, such as possible devastating impacts from climate change, or nuclear or biological warfare.

A number of cosmic phenomena could spell our demise, too. An asteroid could slam into Earth, killing large swaths of the population and rendering the planet uninhabitable. Or a supernova or gamma-ray burst near our spot in the Milky Way could prove ruinous for life on Earth".

OK, straight to the point. A species that devastates its planet with climate change, nuclear or biological warfare does not deserve to survive. Evolution, remember? Survival of the fittest? Are we fit to survive if we destroy ourselves and our life support systems in order to maintain the profitablity of oil companies, and assorted Dr Strangelove think-alikes? No, we are not. We must either alter our  security paradigms, something that is quite possible, or we should accept the verdict of evolution and bow out.

Second, asteroids. Yes there is a possibility of asteroid impacts. Here, the same considerations apply. At the moment we are on a path to auto-destruction. An asteroid might get us before our own idiocy does - but what difference would it make, apart from a couple of centuries maybe? If, however, we make the necessary cognitive shift and address the sustainability problem, then we should be able to extend the strategy to a small asteroid interception facility. It's not rocket science*. You just have to send an unmanned vehicle to the asteroid and give it a gentle nudge away from its impact route.

Stephen is also worried about aliens. He shouldn't. The chance of spatio-temporal co-existence is too small.

This all reminds us of James Lovelock, another genius who has an Achilles' heel in the matter of nuclear power.

In short, geniuses are geniuses, but geniuses are not infallible.

More Hawking  on this blog.

This  is interesting.

And although this post gets a lot of stick, I'm in good company:

*Ok, Ok, it is rocket science, but it is not that difficult.


Anonymous said...

You could possibly have written this in a less arrogant manner...

although I'm sure you have all the answers... if only we would listen.

Anonymous said...

Actually, deflecting an asteroid would be rocket science.

DocRichard said...

Arrogant? "showing feelings of unwarranted importance out of overbearing pride?"

I suggest that term would apply more to a species that messes up one planet, and goes off to find another one to mess up.

You are right about rocket science. I never noticed that.

Edward Wison / Harold Heath said...

It's a familiar declension isn't it:

I am authoritative
You are over-confident
He is arrogant

Too often this word "arrogant" is bandied around when in fact the person concerned has just put a lot of work into a particular subject and has rightful confidence in their knowledge.

However, being a genius in music, physics, mathematics or whatever is usually fairly limited to that field and doesn't generally give the genius much better understanding of other fields than the average layperson.

Unknown said...

lower lip quivering at the cleverness again..............I haven't a blinkin' clue what you're talking about xxx

Anonymous said...

Who the hell is Stephen Hawkins? Some kind of evil mutant child of Stephen HawkING and Richard Dawkins?

DocRichard said...

No of course not. Hawkins is a penetration into this dimension of a little known telephone cleaner who invented a chronosynclastic infundibulum in his garden shed by accident while trying to do something else, the sole effect of which was to cause a number of typos in our present dimension. I can prove this, but it would take too long (10,000 years).

Anonymous said...

You think you are so funny now. (On top of thinking that you may be smarter than Stephen Hawking in some subject. HA!)
The fact is that with all of this, you have proven your ignorance of so many things.
Stephen Hawking is right. Eventually the planet Earth will NOT be the planet we can live on...it might take a billion years or more, or less (or tomorrow), but our yellow sun will not be around in its present form forever, thus, neither will our planet. Plus, there are those things that you quoted that Dr. Hawking said.
Why don't you just stick to the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" tangents that you think are funny with your blogging, and leave it at that?

DocRichard said...

Hi Anonymous

I'm not sure what point you are seeking to make. I agree that the Sun will turn into a red giant and fry us in 5 billion years time. We may face other dangers. What I am saying is that maybe we do not deserve to survive as a species unless we get our ethical act together. That's all. Hawking is a great physicist, but when he strays onto philosophical matters, he has no more authority than the next person.

Stewart_in_Oz said...

One thing for sure, Steohen sufferung from amyotrophic laterl sclerosis (Lou Gherig's Disease) and whatever happens, he won't be around to say "I told you so".
Not only that he is promulgating from a theoretical mathematic physics base and like so many previous wuite convinvingly stated by ;clever; people have been proved wrong.
You may rememeber Sir Fred Hoyle, who was the Astronomer Royal in the 60's was a firm believer and promulgator the 'The Steady State' Theory of the Universe. This is largely supreceded by the 'Big Bang' Theory these days. However like many of these authoritative pronouncements, they are impossible to prove or disprove conclusively.
Thus Stephen Hawkins can say whatever he likes and the same applies to his pronouncements.

Anonymous said...

Lets all calm down and roll a spliff, shall we.

DocRichard said...

Not at this time in the morning.

Stewart: a theory is only scientific if it is testable. I believe that string theory is testable, but would need a collider with diameter in the order of the solar system. So not testable in real terms, so not scientific unless they find a workaround.

johnm33 said...

You may not need such a big collider after all, read the articles and news before you dismiss it out of hand http://www.smphillips.8m.com/

DocRichard said...

I am not dismissing anything out of hand, just saying that to be =scientific it must be testable.

I said workaround is needed. If they've found one, that's fine.

Anonymous said...

"Bow out."

Interesting comment. I don't think any species that were eliminated through the process of evolution chose to die off. As long as we can survive, we should.

DocRichard said...

The point is, we are by our actions arranging for our own extinction,whether by global warming or total war.

The alternative is that we wake from out dream of free market unreason and live the reality of rational sustainability.

Unknown said...

>A species that devastates its planet with climate change, nuclear or biological warfare does not deserve to survive.

"Our species" doesn't act, only individuals do. And the "failures" you speak of are all failures of statism.

You speak as if a non-living, let alone, non-moral-agent floating around in space has rights. It doesn't, it's a fucking rock.

Unknown said...

>A species that devastates its planet with climate change, nuclear or biological warfare does not deserve to survive.

"Our species" doesn't act, only individuals do. And the "failures" you speak of are all failures of statism.

You speak as if a non-living, let alone, non-moral-agent floating around in space has rights. It doesn't, it's a fucking rock.

DocRichard said...

Solid S Snake
Your belief in the primacy of the individual is so strong that it causes you to deny that individuals can have aggregate effects. That is Interesting.

On your other point, I'll let you be right. I should have said environment or biosphere, not planet. Planet is a figure of speech. Though Earth is not a fucking rock. The moon is a fucking rock. Earth is a non-fucking rock, more of a fecund rock, a moist rock clothed in a delicate web of living material of which we are part, and on which our existence depends.


tomm said...

Consider that nothing on the table is going to reduce CO2 except to switch away from fossil fuels, don't need a genius for that one, humanity pumped CO2 30% higher in 150-years, something nature takes thousands of years to do, and now this all sits with those that want to continue the insanity and the rest wonder what to do?

My comment is that the drought in the midwest is the canary in the coal mine, it's not going to go away until the ocean cools back down, doesn't take a genius to know that, only someone that heard of the Alti-thermal in American archeology ... however, it takes a society to act on it that's free to pursue goals that match.

So, my call is that we are in the second Dark Ages complete with slaves, serfs, warlords, lords and ladies and fabulous parties by the rich to celebrate their domination and exploitation of those around them.

Recall the party when Moses came back from the mountain the first time? ... party hearty, or as it was said, "Let them eat cakes!".