In Brief

Stephen Hawking: best quotes from the pioneering physicist

Bon mots from the professor known for his sense of humour as well as scientific brilliance

Professor Stephen Hawking, who died earlier this year, was perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work on relativity and black holes. But he also wrote a number of popular books including A Brief History of Time, which remained on The Sunday Times best-seller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.

Humour “was always a big part of Hawking’s effort to bring physics to the masses”, says Reader’s Digest

For instance, in his 2010 book The Grand Design, he recounts how in 1277 the Catholic Church declared scientific laws such as gravity to be heretical, since they seemed to diminish God’s omnipotence. “Interestingly,” Hawking adds playfully, “Pope John [XXI] was killed by the effects of the law of gravity a few months later when the roof of his palace fell in on him.”

There was also the occasion when US talk show host John Oliver asked him about parallel universes. “Does that mean there is a universe out there where I am smarter than you?” Oliver quipped. Hawking’s dry reply was “Yes. And also a universe where you’re funny.”

Perhaps Hawking’s funniest moment was the cocktail party he threw in 2009. It was a “welcome reception for future time travellers”, he said, so he sent out the invitations the day after the party. No one attended - yet. “Maybe one day someone living in the future will find the information and use a wormhole time machine to come back to my party, proving that time travel will one day be possible,” Hawking explained.

“Hawking’s party was actually an experiment on the possibility of time travel,” writes Atlas Obscura's Anne Ewbank. “Along with many physicists, Hawking had mused about whether going forward and back in time was possible. And what time traveller could resist sipping champagne with Stephen Hawking himself?”

For most of his life, Hawking toured the globe, making his research accessible to the wider public.

Here are some of his greatest quotes.

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