In the past century humanity has learned more about the environment and the universe than in most of history. We don’t need to think too hard to realize that technological and scientific innovation has dominated the era: the quality of life has been extended like never before; new ways of storing and transforming energy have changed the everyday life; man has walked on the moon; images showing Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and other corners of our solar system have been obtained.
At a glance, it seems like we’ve come so far. There are some who believe we are at the peak of knowledge. Humanity is, at its most, interconnected, healthy, and satisfied. Almost anything is available by just pushing of a button. Yet anyone who claims “there’s no better time to be alive than now” is actually making a huge mistake.
The most important physicist alive is also a brilliant critic of human behavior. Stephen Hawking questions how science evolves according to those controlling it, economic inequality, different creeds, and what the current framework means to a species that, even with all its technological advances, still is incapable of solving its most basic issues.
These are the British scientist’s best quotes that, far from flattering and idealizing human science and intelligence, pose an uncomfortable reality to those who believe the development of knowledge has no use outside the lab, or even a connection to social realities.
“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans.”
“We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity.”
“There’s a realization that we are changing our climate for the worse. That would have catastrophic effects. Although the threat is not as dire as that of nuclear weapons right now, in the long term we are looking at a serious threat.”
“We are each free to believe what we want, and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization. There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that, I am extremely grateful.”
“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. We cannot quite know what will happen if a machine exceeds our own intelligence, so we can't know if we'll be infinitely helped by it, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it.”
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
"Religion believes in miracles, but these aren't compatible with science."
“To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.”
“Obviously, because of my disability, I need assistance. But I have always tried to overcome the limitations of my condition and lead as full a life as possible. I have traveled the world, from the Antarctic to zero gravity.”
One might think of Hawking as a pessimist, realist, or just someone who sticks to the facts presented to him. But, in truth, the way his study into the universe has shaped his perception of humanity and belief is a fascinating stroke of wisdom to add to the answers we seek each day.
Did you know which places are Stephen Hawking's favorites in all the universe?
Translated by María Suárez