British physicist Stephen Hawking, born in Oxford, England (1942), pursues what physicists call a Grand Unified Theory, or a "Theory of Everything." As Hawking put it, "My goal is simple. It is complete understanding of the universe." His most important work in physics has explored the nature of "singularities," anomalies in the space-time continuum commonly known as "black holes." In 1988 he published A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, a book that brought his work to a general audience.
With publication of his memoir My Brief History and release of the movie "The Theory of Everything," those new to Hawking's story will celebrate the simple fact that he's still alive. Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in his early twenties and given two years to live. He's now 72 years old.
When asked about living with the disease many years later, he told an interviewer he was "happier now" than before he became ill. "Before, I was very bored with life. I drank a fair bit, I guess; I didn't do any work... When one's expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything that one does have."
My favorite of Hawking's quotes is this one: "...the city council of Monza, Italy, barred pet owners from keeping goldfish in curved bowls... saying it is cruel to keep a fish in a bowl with curved sides because, gazing out, the fish would have a distorted view of reality. But how do we know we have the true, undistorted picture of reality?"