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How can we know the mind of God? What’s the future of science and humanity itself?
Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking taught us a lot about black holes, the big bang, time travel, and space travel. But he also left us with many inspiring words that spark our imagination and stir up our determination.
Keep reading for 12 inspirational Stephen Hawking quotes from his books A Brief History of Time and Brief Answers to the Big Questions.
Inspirational Stephen Hawking Quotes
These inspirational Stephen Hawking quotes are sure to get you thinking and dreaming. We included some context and explanation to help you understand Hawking’s ideas better.
“Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.”
According to Hawking in A Brief History of Time, the ultimate goal of science is to develop a theoretical model that fully explains how the universe works. This would be a “unifying theory” that can be applied in any context. Scientists have made progress toward this goal but have not yet achieved it.
“If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all—philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people—be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.”
This inspirational Stephen Hawking quote (also from A Brief History of Time) relates to a unified theory. Hawking points out that, if you could formulate a unified theory of physics and if you knew the exact state of the entire universe at any point in time, you could use that theory to predict the state of the universe at any other time. However, the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics limits our ability to measure the state of the universe at any given time. So, even if you had a unified, deterministic theory, you couldn’t measure the present state of the universe accurately enough to exactly predict its future state.
“The rate of progress is so rapid that what one learns at school or university is always a bit out of date. Only a few people can keep up with the rapidly advancing frontier of knowledge, and they have to devote their whole time to it and specialize in a small area. The rest of the population has little idea of the advances that are being made or the excitement they are generating.”
This inspirational Stephen Hawking quote from A Brief History of Time speaks to one of the reasons why Hawking wrote this book. He wanted to make the discoveries and implications of modern science more accessible to everyone.
“We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and ask: What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it, and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?”
Hawking believed that science has profound implications for philosophy and everyday life because science describes and predicts how the universe works. For example, the discovery that time itself had a finite beginning point implies that the physical universe is not eternal, and allows us to infer certain things about its origins.
“Why is the universe the way we see it? The answer is then simple: If it had been any different, we would not be here!”
This is another inspirational Stephen Hawking quote from A Brief History of Time. He relates how, as scientists continued to refine the big bang theory, their models implied that the initial conditions of the universe (like its initial rate of expansion, density and uniformity, and so forth) would have to be exactly right for habitable planets to form. If any of the physical parameters of the big bang had been even slightly different, human life would never have been possible.
“I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.”
This inspirational Stephen Hawking quote from A Brief History of Time might seem surprising, considering his achievements. But, it speaks to his humility, which makes it all the more inspiring. Hawking first became famous in the physics community for his study of singularities in the 1960s. In 1974, at age 32, he became the youngest scientist ever elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. He continued to make contributions to the advancement of theoretical physics throughout his life. He remained active in his field despite the challenges he faced with ALS. This quote helps us see how we, too, can achieve, and it reminds us that we won’t always find answers—but that’s okay.
“When we see the Earth from space, we see ourselves as a whole. We see the unity and not the divisions. It is such a simple image with a compelling message: one planet, one human race.”
Brief Answers to the Big Questions is Hawking’s exploration of science, philosophy, and human destiny—and how these three relate to each other. His perspective is that we’re all in this together, evolving and struggling together to survive. This evolution isn’t just in the past. Hawking anticipates that the ongoing evolution of life on earth will give rise to new challenges for the human race that we all must face together.
“While there’s life, there is hope.”
This inspirational Stephen Hawking quote from Brief Answers to the Big Questions relates to the concern he has about the future of the human race. He believes that our species is running out of space and resources on Earth. Hawking proposes that colonizing space mitigates the risk of extinction. So, although Hawking has concerns, he’s optimistic that scientific progress and determination are the answers to human survival.
“I don’t believe in boundaries, either for what we can do in our personal lives or for what life and intelligence can accomplish in our universe. We stand at a threshold of important discoveries in all areas of science.”
In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking explains that the human genome has been sequenced and that increasingly powerful gene-splicing technologies are being developed. He anticipates that genetic engineering will allow us to cure diseases and syndromes. Then, we’ll be able to upgrade our children’s genetics for increased intelligence, natural immunities, and eventually capabilities we haven’t even imagined yet. In addition to accelerating the evolution of our own species, we may create an entirely new form of life: electronic life.
“I am very aware of the preciousness of time. Seize the moment. Act now.”
This inspirational Stephen Hawking quote from Brief Answers to the Big Questions can be connected to his religious beliefs. Hawking doesn’t believe in an afterlife or resurrection, so he believes that this life is all we have. Thus, we should make the most of it—as he’s done with his own life.
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.”
In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, this reference to the stars is likely both literal and symbolic. Hawking points out that, even if a small percentage of stars have habitable planets, it will give mankind a lot of new real estate to settle. Thus, we need new generations of scientists and engineers to solve the technical problems of colonizing outer space. But, he also seeks to inspire and encourage people in all disciplines of life, urging them to dream, persevere, and shape the future.
“Be brave, be curious, be determined, overcome the odds. It can be done.”
Writing Brief Answers to the Big Questions at the end of his career, Hawking offers his readers some final words of wisdom on the issues he considers most important. Reflecting on his own life and career, he realizes how his success can be attributed largely to his curiosity and determination despite his challenges. The book was published by his family and colleagues shortly after his death.
It’s easy to see that Hawking offers more than paradigm-bending scientific discoveries and theories. We hope that these inspirational Stephen Hawking quotes encourage you to aim high, dream big, and never give up. What are your favorite Hawking quotes? Please share them in the comments below.
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