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Home / Science / Stephen Hawking said, "Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change." But did he really say that?

Stephen Hawking said, "Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change." But did he really say that?



The well-known British physicist Stephen Hawking died in March at the age of 76. In 201

6 he was on the stage of the New Space Exploration Initiative "Breakthrough Starshot" at the One World Observatory in New York. (Jemal Countess / Getty Images)

View nearly every list of "best quotes" from Stephen Hawking, the brilliant theoretical physicist and cosmologist who died recently at the age of 76, and you'll always find this one: 19659003] "Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change."

She was included in a list of quotes from Telegraph's British newspaper and Forbes Magazine, both from his graduation speech at Oxford University. It is on the list of top 10 sayings from Hawking on BrainyQuotes.com and is also on a Hawking Quotes List on goodreads.com. Academic monographs have used it, unused.

The famous MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas used it in its 2016 Annual Report, with no source. The World Economic Forum has it on its Facebook page. And there are T-shirts for sale with the words printed on the front. Some sites, such as GoodReads.com, refer to Hawking's "A Briefer History of Time," but it's not there.

I included it in a list of Hawking quotes right after his death, but then received an email from a scientist who doubts whether the great scientist has ever really said or written it. I checked different sources and could not find them. I called two Hawking biographers – including one who had Hawking's support for some of their works – and they said they could not name a source and said they did not think he had said that. (I removed the quote from this list.)

Kitty Ferguson, an American science journalist who wrote the book "Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind" in 2010 with the support of the scientist, wrote in an e-mail:

Das sounds like something that Stephen might have said, but I never heard him say it, nor did I read it in any of his own books. I have a very vague recollection that this is attributed to someone other than Stephen, but I can not remember who that was or where I read it. Could it be Machiavelli?

Kristine Larsen, author of the 2007 book Stephen Hawking: A Biography, wrote in an email:

I'm not aware of this quote, so I can not give you any guidance

As for his closing speech So it is not clear that he gave one. According to the book "Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science", the results of his final exam at Oxford were at the borderline between a first and a second honors degree, so he had to pass an oral exam and eventually received the first honors.

Why is it important then? At a time when real news, fake and counterfeit messages are considered real, it's important that sourcing be accurate – every time. There should not be a slippery slope allowed.

Although it is not certain that this quote did not come from Hawking, it is worth noting that it is not on its Wikipedia page that has a long list of other Hawking quotes with source material for everyone.

Wrong attributed citations are common, with one of the best known being related to Albert Einstein. He allegedly said, "If the facts do not fit the theory, change the facts." He did not – although he was generally quoted as if he had said it – as you can read here. And Aristotle does not seem to have written, "Educating the mind without educating the heart is not education at all", it was claimed, though the Dalai Lama said something similar.

The definition of intelligence as "the ability to adapt" seems to go back at least until 1905, with other variations explained here.

And the earliest occurrence of the exact phrase "intelligence is the ability to adapt to change" seems – at least online – to be 1991 in a book titled "Uncommon Sense Leadership." The earliest online source attributed to Hawking's quote seems to be this from an Indonesian book in 2009, but there is no source.

Variations of the quote have been published for decades, as in the 1979 book "The Micro Millennium" by Christopher Evans: "Intelligence is the ability of a system to adapt to a changing world." (Page 157)

So, if anyone comes out there's for sure that Hawking's help and provide the source, please.


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