(Fox News) -- Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist and author who died Wednesday at 76, was undeniably our age’s most well-known scientist. But he was also a great paradox.
I first met Hawking when he came to speak at Harvard in the mid-1980s. Not yet famous to the general public, he was nevertheless a celebrity within scientific circles. So it was no surprise to me that a standing-room-only crowd of faculty and students squeezed into the Science Center to hear what he had to say.
Hawking’s main claims to fame back then were crazy-sounding ideas about black holes and the origin of the universe. At the heart of both, he said, were “singularities” – mind-bending entities that are at once infinitely small and infinitely large. That, you could say, is the first paradox I will always associate with Hawking’s long, distinguished life and career.
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Back then, the young maverick was also raising eyebrows by challenging the prevailing belief that nothing could ever escape from the mortal grip of a black hole’s irresistible gravitational field. He claimed that under certain circumstances, light of various wavelengths – what came to be called “Hawking radiation” – could indeed escape. That’s paradox No. 2.