Jerry Waters, Contributor
At a recent arts and science conference in Norway, famed scientist Stephen Hawking pleaded with humanity to expedite interplanetary exploration because he believes the Earth has a very short and finite lifespan. Hawking said he thinks that creative applications of Einstein’s theories will result in our ability to travel on beams of light to reach galaxies that are impossibly far away.
So, is Hawking a crackpot or an enlightened prophet with a dire warning for mankind?
First, it’s important to understand that the 75 year old theoretical physicist has done groundbreaking research by developing a cosmological theory that unifies the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. His work has been universally praised and he’s won just about every scientific honor imaginable.
Most people may not even understand his contribution to science, but they will certainly benefit from his research and theories.
Second, Hawking, like many with the courage to question the status quo, has had some humiliating scientific defeats. His most recent was his insistence that Higgs boson, an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics, would never be authenticated. However, thanks to CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, Higgs boson was proven to exist in 2012 and Higgs won the Nobel Prize for Science in 2013 by definitively proving Hawking wrong.
The point, though, is that Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds in the world; a genius who truly understand the rigors of intense scientific inquiry. He is not given to wild speculation, nor does he care about the popularity of his conclusions.
For these reasons, we need to listen when Hawking says he believes that perpetual human existence on our planet is unsustainable. Given his record, he’s not saying this out of hysteria or religiosity, rather as a scientist considering the overwhelming evidence of grave and imminent threats or the real chance of the random and unforeseen. He mentions things like nuclear holocaust, climate change, genetically-engineered viruses, asteroids, and a host of other things that are probable and rational threats to our very existence as a species. Hawking even considers the dark side of artificial intelligence which, in diabolical hands, could be used to perpetrate genocide or unwittingly cause great harm to humanity.
Hawking isn’t just prophesying the demise of Earth; he is showing us a path to survival. This is why he believes so strongly in taking science seriously. With science, interplanetary and intergalactic travel is not only possible, but obligatory. With science, colonization of other worlds is a necessary safeguard to ensure that our species survives. It’s also a way to decrease the drain of natural resources on Earth and give the planet a fighting chance to recover and heal from its most rapacious inhabitants.
This is why we need to take Hawking seriously. He isn’t peddling vague notions or careless speculations, but purposefully searching for real answers to dilemmas that may have catastrophic consequences if left unanswered.
Hawking embodies an everyman who looks at the obvious aftermath of rampant human consumption and self-serving vices and, wisely, chooses to look for a way to achieve universal redemption and realistic salvation. Hawking doesn’t believe that will come from prayer, but will come from our collective intellect applied creatively to our common problems.
In this age of Luddites, who eschew facts and science, we must ensure that great and accomplished men like Hawking are heard above the Facebook memes and internet noise. It’s time to celebrate science, including the science that gives us nightmares.
We need to take Hawking seriously because he’s not only shown us what will likely happen if we don’t act; he’s given us a rational, achievable plan so we can act collectively with purpose and survive to avoid our own demise.