Hacker News new | more | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
'Mind Over Matter': Stephen Hawking – Obituary by Roger Penrose (theguardian.com)
319 points by DanielleMolloy 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments

I really like this obituary, this is exactly what I was looking for.

Penrose not only understands the details of Hawking's work at a much deeper level than most of us, but as a contemporary of Hawking's he has followed his career for decades and can give us a good overall impression.

The author of the obituary, Roger Penrose, is also a distinguished and forward thinking scientist. I highly recommend reading his book "The Emperor's New Mind". It's especially relevant in today's climate of rapidly accelerating machine learning and A.I. advances (whether you agree with his premises or not).

Many of you will be familiar with the Moore-Penrose pseudoinverse [0], a generalization of the matrix inverse which is defined for non-square matrices and zero matrices, frequently applied in machine learning and statistics.

However, like Hawking, with whom he was a collaborator (as you read in the article), he also wrote several highly successful popular books. I haven't yet read the Emperor's New Mind and look forward to doing so, but I have read the excellent The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe [1]. I might also recommend some joint lectures between the two of them [2].

I don't think there could be a more fitting author for Stephen Hawking's obituary.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%E2%80%93Penrose_inverse

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road_to_Reality

[2]: https://arxiv.org/pdf/hep-th/9409195.pdf

Just for the record, almost nobody accepts the thesis of that book. Penrose is a great fundamental physicist who believes (or did back in 1990) that new fundamental physics is needed to explain how brains produce intelligent behaviour.

The dominant contrary opinion is that this can be done using some form of computation. Other opinions are that something other than computation in the Turing sense is required, but that current physics is probably sufficient to describe it. Very few people think that a theory of e.g. quantum gravity is the right level of explanation for the phenomena of intelligent behaviour.

I think Penrose fell into a common trap: when you are an expert on hammers, every hard problem looks like it needs a whack with a better hammer.

I don't think Penrose's position is that you need new physics for intelligent behavior, but rather that new physics is needed to explain consciousness. There's a big metaphysical difference between the two.

I guess that's true. Then it's even more bold and wacky to declare that we need new physics to describe a thing that is so controversial in its function or effects.

I (possibly mis-)translated into intelligent behaviour in my memory, since that's something most people agree does real work and needs explaining.

Penrose isn't just a distinguished scientist: he's one of Hawking's most famous collaborators. The Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems are named after both of them. They were jointly awarded several prizes/medals too.

One day I hope to decorate my bathroom with Penrose tiles.

How is it relevant? (The AI part of ) TENM is basically, "AI isn't possible, it will never do that." Well, they're doing it -- passing a lot of barriers that were assumed impossible.

Now I don't want to be unfair or hasty here, so let me say this: If I were to claim that such a book were relevant under the above conditions, I would only do it if I could say something like,

"Penrose wisely pointed out that attempts at AI run into the problem of -----, which manifests in such projects as -----, where they tried to ----, but predictably couldn't, because, as Penrose said, ----." (---- = blank)

Can you do that for TENM?

This isn't an ordinary obituary - it actually describes Hawking's contributions to physics from the perspective of another renowned physicist. Really well written.

An accessible summary of the part of Hawking's work that we can digest at present, by someone in a position to know. Don't miss the last paragraph.

I wonder if caloric restriction may have strengthened his immune system and increased his life expectancy?

EDIT: I thought I should do a quick search on that idea and it turns out that I am not the first person to have asked that question: http://forum.lowcarber.org/showthread.php?t=463854

Can also recommend Penrose's Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe, for an interesting take on his own view of cyclic cosmology.


A fitting tribute, from a man who fully understood both the man and his work.

Roger Penrose's book "The road to reality" is great if you want a high level overview (and list of topics) for mathematical physics (The scary stuff!).

Hawking is survived by his children.

Agree, prefer non AMP versions please.

can anyone explain why this amp link still comes from the theguardian.com domain?

If this is considered a problem, could one of the mods please change the link to this desktop site url?

Why would it be considered a problem? The amp page linked there is clean, loads fast.

AMP-usage is pretty contested in these regions, and using an AMP link can be seen as a political statement in favour using AMP. I would avoid it if possible.

Also, if you're like me and you use Firefox & block 3rd party resources by default, the AMP page will show a blank screen for about 5 seconds, whereas the conventional link will load the text instantly.

Or as I do, use reading mode in Firefox.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact