Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most influential physicist of his generation, passed away in 2018. He was at work on this book, which puts complex scientific ideas and large general questions into language that lay people will understand, before his death. His friends, colleagues, and family completed it for him. His basic goal in science education remained unchanged.
[M]ost people believe that real science is too difficult and complicated for them to understand. But I don’t think this is the case. To do research on the fundamental laws that govern the universe would require a commitment of time that most people don’t have; the world would soon grind to a halt if we all tried to do theoretical physics. But most people can understand and appreciate the basic ideas if they are presented in a clear way without equations . . .
One of the most provocative big questions for which Hawking provides answers has to do with human colonization of space. What are the ethical issues involved in taking humanity to other planets? He considers the tremendous expense as well as the need first to resolve terrestrial issues. Hawking favors space exploration, although it will not solve Earth’s problems, as a way to unite people and uncover possible new human habitation sites in the long run. Space travel
will give a new perspective on them [Earth’s problems] and cause us to look outwards rather than inwards . . . This would be a long-term strategy, and by long-term I mean hundreds or even thousands of years.
In the last part, Hawking speculates about the future of knowledge. He is concerned about cuts in funding for scientific research. Joining together to understand common issues is crucial for human communication as well as the results that research yields.
[T]he exchange of people across borders enables skills to transfer more quickly and brings new people with different ideas, derived from their different backgrounds. This can make for progress thought now it will be harder.
Hawking notes that science and technology form a larger part of young people’s lives than in the past, so he expects they can contribute in innovative ways to positive change. He offers positive though simple advice.
Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up. Unleash your imagination. Shape the future.