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Stephen Hawking’s smile

Where can you share space with royalty, science rock stars such as Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Peter Cox, real rock stars like Brian May of Queen, moon walkers and other astronauts and Nobel Laureates? The Starmus Festival. The stream of achievements proved as intense and dense as expected given the star-line-up, and yet certain aspects of the proceedings proved transcendent

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Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, and cosmology

Renowned English cosmologist Stephen Hawking has made his name through his work in theoretical physics as a bestselling author. His life – his pioneering research, his troubled relationship with his wife, and the challenges imposed by his disability – is the subject of a poignant biopic, The Theory of Everything. Directed by James Marsh, the film stars Eddie Redmayne, who has garnered widespread critical acclaim for his moving portrayal.

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How ‘the future’ connects across subjects

‘Today’s world is complex and unreliable. Tomorrow is expected to be more so.’ – Jennifer M. Gidley, The Future: A Very Short Introduction From the beginning of time, humanity has been driven by a paradox: fearing the unknown but with a constant curiosity to know. Over time, science and technology have developed, meaning that we […]

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Something Old, Something New

The art of secular dying

When Stephen Hawking died recently, a report echoed around the internet that he had rejected atheism in his last hours and turned to God. The story was utterly false; Hawking experienced no such deathbed conversion. Similar spurious accounts circulated after the deaths of other notoriously secular figures, including Christopher Hitchens and, back in the day, Charles Darwin.

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The modern Prometheus: the relevance of Frankenstein 200 years on

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s acclaimed Gothic novel, written when she was just eighteen. The ghoulish tale of monsters—both human and inhuman—continues to captivate readers around the world, but two centuries after Shelley’s pitiably murderous monster was first brought to life, how does the tale speak to the modern age? The answer is that the story remains strikingly relevant to a contemporary readership, through its exploration of scientific advancements and artificial intelligence.

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The secret of the Earth

One of the questions currently keeping astrobiologists (the people who would like to study life on other planets if only they could find some) awake at night is, what is the crucial difference that allowed the emergence and evolution of life on Earth, while its neighbours remained sterile? In their violent youth, all the inner planets started out with so much surplus heat energy—from planetary accretion and radioactive decay—that their surfaces melted to form magma oceans hundreds or thousands of kilometres deep.

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Alan Turing and evil Artificial Intelligence

In November 2017, the Future of Life Institute in California—which focuses on ‘keeping artificial intelligence beneficial’—released a slick, violent video depicting ‘slaughterbots’ [some viewers may find this video distressing]. It went viral. The tiny (fictional) drones in the video used facial recognition systems to target and destroy civilians.

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Why physicists need philosophy

At a party, on a plane, in the locker-room, I’m often asked what I do. Though tempted by one colleague’s adoption of the identity of a steam-pipe fitter, I admit I am a professor of philosophy. If that doesn’t end or redirect the conversation, my questioner may continue by raising some current moral or political issue, or asking for my favorite philosopher.

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World Space Week: a reading list

Space exploration has dominated human imagination for the most of the last 125-odd years. Every year we learn more about what lies beyond the limits of Earth’s atmosphere. We learn about extraterrestrial resources, such as metals on asteroids or water on the Moon; we discover new exoplanets that may be able to support life; we research new technologies that will get us onto planets a little closer to home, such as Mars.

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Paul Feyerabend and the debate over the philosophy of science

Paul Feyerabend (born 13th January, 1924, died February 11th, 1994) is best-known for his contributions to the philosophy of science, which is somewhat ironic because, I suspect, he wouldn’t have thought of himself as a philosopher of science. I don’t just mean he wouldn’t have thought of himself as just a philosopher of science. No, I mean that he thought of himself as a thinker for whom disciplinary boundaries meant absolutely nothing. In his later years, he even denied being a philosopher.

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The ultimate reading list, created by librarians

At this year’s UKSG conference we asked our librarian delegates to help us build the perfect library by answering one simple question: which one book couldn’t you live without? Whilst the instructions were straightforward – write your chosen title on one of our book stickers and stick it on our bookshelf – the question itself proved challenging for the majority of our exceptionally well-read participants.

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Quantum mechanics – a new lease of life

“It’s not quantum mechanics” may often be heard, a remark informing the listener that whatever they are concerned about is nowhere near as difficult, as abstruse, as complicated as quantum mechanics. Indeed to non-physicists or non-mathematicians quantum mechanics must seem virtually impossible to appreciate – pages of incomprehensible algebra buttressed by obscure or frankly paradoxical “explanations”.

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Brexit wrecks it for science

We are all reeling from the vote for Brexit. No one in my scientific circle was for exit. Now all are heavily lamenting it. Even cursing it on Facebook. Scientists voted to stay. Seems the entire science sector was pro-Europe and for many good reasons. Many of the best UK science labs are filled with brilliant researchers from across the EU.

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How to be good

Recently philosophers and scientists have tried to identify how to make the world better by making people more likely to do good rather than evil. This same problem has also faced those interested in artificial intelligence. As Giuseppe di Lampedusa had Tancredi say in The Leopard, “If we want things to stay as they are things will have to change”… and that goes for people also!

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Let us not run blindfolded into the minefield of future technologies

There is a widely held conception that progress in science and technology is our salvation, and the more of it, the better. This is the default assumption not only among the general public, but also in the research community including university administration and research funding agencies, all the way up to government ministries. I believe the assumption to be wrong, and very dangerous.

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Einstein’s mysterious genius

Albert Einstein’s greatest achievement, the general theory of relativity, was announced by him exactly a century ago, in a series of four papers read to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin in November 1915, during the turmoil of the First World War. For many years, hardly any physicist—let alone any other type of scientist—could understand it.

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