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Norsk Login. Title Associate Professor. Academic Institution York University.

Hawking Incorporated by Hélène Mialet (ebook)

Academic department Science and Technology Studies. Country Canada. Even as his body remains confined to a wheelchair, his mind is free to journey to the furthest reaches of space and time. In his memoir My Brief History , Hawking strikes a balance between scientific contributions, communication and image. Writing in his characteristic clear, concise style, he describes how, after an idyllic childhood and some rather lazy undergraduate years, his devastating diagnosis spurred him to make something of his life using whatever abilities remained to him.

What follows are short sketches of his research career, interspersed with accounts of his travels, his two marriages and his role as an advocate for people with disabilities.

Hélène Mialet Remembers Stephen Hawking

Readers with no previous knowledge of Hawking will find these stories interesting. For everyone else, though, the book will feel disappointingly superficial, and perhaps also strangely familiar more on that later.

Helene Mialet_USF_09092015

The tales from his childhood are pleasant enough, but unlike the biologist Edward O Wilson, whose memoir Letters to a Young Scientist seems sure to become a classic, Hawking mostly declines to draw the sort of connections to his later career that would give weight to these reminisces. There are also some curious inclusions, and one even more curious absence.

My Brief History is not entirely colourless, though.


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These are the people who enable Hawking not only to travel and give talks, but also to do the research and writing for which he is famous. Even so, his illness has profoundly affected the way he works. But Mialet, characteristically, probes deeper.

But Hawking cannot do any of these things easily, and some he cannot do at all. How has he managed it? The answer, in a nutshell, is through his students. Because communication is so difficult for Hawking, his students learn to present their questions to him in such a way that he can give them maximum information with minimum effort.

Hawking Incorporated: Stephen Hawking and the Anthropology of the Knowing Subject by Hélène Mialet

They also learn to translate his tiniest facial gestures and most cryptic comments into useful feedback. But this is an art, not a science. My first interview with him was very destabilizing, however. Everything was mediated through the computer he was using at the time to communicate. So I had to read simultaneously the discourse that was slowly being written in front of him, I had no access to any form of body language that is so useful to understand a conversation.

His assistants were coming in to take care of him, disturbing the interaction. The computer broke down. All that created a very strange feeling.

About the author

This is how I realized that there was a complex collective around him — his assistants, the machines, of course, and later on, his students, his colleagues etc. He was delegating a lot of competencies to this collective because he was unable to do a lot of things by himself.


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  • BI : When did it first occur to you that a study of Hawking would perhaps allow you to question the popular conception of scientists as beautiful minds? It is largely an ethnographic study of one individual who was extremely creative.

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    Stephen Hawking, Dis-Incorporated

    After I finished this book, I decided to pursue the themes of genius and creativity and to do a comparison. Hawking was very close by and I thought he would be a fabulous case to study. Unlike my first study, where I was embedded in a lab, I was not with Hawking all the time, I met him at different periods of my study, I spent time with him and was able to see him at work and at social gatherings. I had the possibility to spend some time with him in Potsdam, he invited me to High Table in Cambridge, I even went to dance with him!