Centre for Theoretical Cosmology News

Stephen Hawking opens Paralympic Ceremony

A thought-provoking extravaganza marking the beginning of the Paralympic Games was kicked off yesterday by Professor Stephen Hawking. Entitled ‘Enlightenment’, it saw central character Miranda, taken from Shakespeare's The Tempest, go on a journey of discovery around the themes of reason and human rights. Performed by over 3,000 volunteers and 100 professionals to a sold out crowd at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, London, the show featured the world famous physicist throughout.

Stephen Hawking at the ceremony rehearsals 

Stephen Hawking at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony rehearsals. (Judith Croasdell)

The Paralympic Ceremony's Big Bang

Following Hawking's first address, the Ceremony staged a "Big Bang" of its own. (University of Cambridge)

Appearing on the Protocol stage at the beginning of the Ceremony, surrounded by projected images of space, stars and nebulae, he opened proceedings by proclaiming:

“Ever since the dawn of civilisation, people have craved for an understanding of the underlying order of the world. Why is it as it is, and why it exists at all. But, even if we do find a complete theory of everything, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations, and makes a universe for them to describe?”

After the introduction of Miranda, Hawking began guiding her on her journey of discovery, conveying the fundamental importance of the application of reason and the scientific tradition of empiricism:

“We live in a universe governed by rational laws that we can discover and understand. Look up at the stars, and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

Following the Parade of Athletes, the Ceremony entered its second segment, called “Brave New World”, in which the main stage of the Olympic Stadium being reimagined into a giant book surrounded by reefs and islets of smaller books, in a tribute to learning and reading. The Ceremony went on to explore the themes of navigation and gravity, paying homage to advances in physics and mathematics. Professor Hawking, whose famous contributions to theoretical physics include the “No Boundary Principle” and work on Black Holes, bodies so dense that light cannot escape their gravitational attraction, paid tribute to the human spirit and in particular to Isaac Newton, who also held the same Professorship as Hawking:

“There ought to be something very special about the boundary conditions of the Universe, and what can be more special than that there is no boundary. And there should be no boundary to human endeavour”…“When Isaac Newton saw an apple fall to the ground, he suddenly realized that it must be the same force that holds together the beautiful system of the sun, the planets and the comets. This gravity is the same force that can draw us into a black hole, never to return!”

The Ceremony's climax

Hawking was joined by electronia duo Orbital at the climax of the show (Copyright © 2012 by Jonathan J. Wood, all rights reserved)


Pyrotechnics coincided with Hawking's speech. (University of Cambridge)

At the climax of the Ceremony, the themes of the show; reason and human rights, were brought together as the main stage of the Stadium was transformed from a sea of books into the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, revealing a giant reproduction of Marc Quinn’s sculpture of Alison Lapper Pregnant, whilst the LED displays and a giant performance display around the Stadium were used to reference the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Addressing the audience on the possibility that the Higgs Boson, a particle which interacts with others to give them mass, had been found there earlier this year, Hawking said:

“The Large Hadron Collider at CERN is the largest most complex machine in the world, possibly the universe. By smashing particles together at enormous energies, it recreates the conditions of the Big Bang. The recent discovery of what looks like the Higgs Particle is a triumph of human endeavour and international collaboration. It will change our perception of the world and has the potential to offer insights into a complete theory of everything.”

At this point, Hawking was joined by electronica duo Orbital, donning a pair of their signature glasses. As the Paralympic Flame was zipwired into the stadium from the nearby AcelorMittal Orbit structure, coinciding with a huge pyrotechnic display, he addressed the athletes directly:

“The Paralympic Games is also about transforming our perception of the world. We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem there is always something you can do, and succeed at. The Games provide an opportunity for athletes to excel, to stretch themselves and become outstanding in their field. So let us together celebrate excellence, friendship and respect. Good luck to you all.”

Professor Hawking held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics in the University of Cambridge from 1979 to 2009, when he retired and was succeeded by Michael Green. Previous holders include Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage and Paul Dirac. He currently is Director of Research at the University’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, where he is also a member of the Gravitation and Relativity research group, as well as the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology which he founded within the Department in 2007.

Hawking who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neurone disease, in 1963, commented that: “I was delighted and honoured to be in the Ceremony. It was a real pleasure to welcome the Paralympic athletes to London for such a special event. To use this stage to show the world that regardless of differences between individuals, there is something that everyone is good at, is very important.”

Some of the news coverage of this event can be found here:

Hawking joined by Orbital on stage

Hawking was joined by electronia duo Orbital at the climax of the show (Copyright © 2012 by Jonathan J. Wood, all rights reserved)