A Brief History of Time

A Brief History of Time

Nobel Prize Symbol Analysis

Nobel Prize Symbol Icon

Many of the ingenious scientific discoveries Stephen Hawking describes have earned their discoverers Nobel Prizes, a mark of public acceptance and acclaim for their efforts on behalf of humanity. Yet the sometimes ironic tone Hawking uses when discussing these prizes indicates the politics that comes with their conferral. This illustrates how even the scientific community, comprised of highly educated people often focusing on the big existential questions, isn’t free from petty rivalries, disagreements, and inaccurate decision-making. As such, Nobel Prizes represent the characteristically human recognition of human achievements—that is, imperfect and open to discussion.

For example, Hawking writes, “Penzias and Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978 (which seems a bit hard on Dicke and Peebles, not to mention Gamow!).” Here Hawking refers to Arno Penzias’ and Robert Wilson’s identification of background microwave radiation that the universe emits fairly uniformly in every direction. They discovered this almost by accident, although once they realized what they might have found, they spent years gathering data. Their earlier work confirmed Bob Dicke’s and Jim Peebles’ theory, based on a related suggestion made by George Gamow, that light from the furthest reaches of the universe would only now reach us as microwave radiation because of the red shift from the time/distance it has traveled. Thus, while Penzias and Wilson will go down in history for winning the prize, the other three did not receive the same recognition. The Nobel Prize, though likely well-intentioned, thus is a reflection of humanity’s limits and ability to err even in the face of its great scientific achievements and knowledge.

Nobel Prize Quotes in A Brief History of Time

The A Brief History of Time quotes below all refer to the symbol of Nobel Prize. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Search for a Unifying Theory of the Universe Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bantam edition of A Brief History of Time published in 1988.
Chapter 6 Quotes

The hostility of other scientists, particularly Eddington, his former teacher and the leading authority on the structure of stars, persuaded Chandrasekhar to abandon this line of work […] However, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983, it was […] for his early work on the limiting mass of cold stars.

Related Symbols: Nobel Prize
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:
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Nobel Prize Symbol Timeline in A Brief History of Time

The timeline below shows where the symbol Nobel Prize appears in A Brief History of Time. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
...at right angles (away from it). But Albert Michelson (the first American to win the Nobel Prize for physics) and Edward Morley tested this in 1887, and found it not to be... (full context)
Chapter 3
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
...heard about this, and saw they had already found the evidence. The latter won the Nobel Prize in 1978 for their work, which seems hard on those who suggested the theories in... (full context)
Chapter 4
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
The Danger of Stubbornness  Theme Icon
Science and Religion Theme Icon
...observation, therefore introducing randomness into science. Einstein objected to this approach despite the fact his Nobel Prize was partly awarded for his contributions to the theory. He said, “God doesn’t play dice.”... (full context)
Chapter 5
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
...the nucleus of an atom along with the previously discovered proton, and later won the Nobel Prize for his discovery. (full context)
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
In the mid 1900s, Murray Gell-Mann discovered quarks and won the Nobel Prize for his work on them. There are six “flavors” of quark: up, down, strange, charmed,... (full context)
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
Wolfgang Pauli won the Nobel Prize for discovering that two matter particles cannot exist in exactly the same space going at... (full context)
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
...and predicted that electrons should have partners, antielectrons or positrons. This later lead to his Nobel Prize . Indeed, every particle has an anti-particle, it is now known, and the two can... (full context)
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
...electrons were given off in one direction than the other. Lee and Yang won the Nobel Prize for their idea. (full context)
Chapter 6
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
The Danger of Stubbornness  Theme Icon
...hole and ultimately collapse to infinite density. That shocked Eddington but, when Chandrasekhar won the Nobel Prize years later, it was in part for this work. (full context)
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
...neutron stars are orbiting each other. J. H. Taylor and R. A. Hulse won the Nobel Prize for this discovery in 1993. Just before the stars finally collide in 300 million years,... (full context)