Century Marks

Century Marks

Fairy tale?

In 2009 cosmologist Stephen Hawking was gravely ill. He was asked recently whether during this time he feared death. His response caused an outcry: "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark." In his bestselling 1988 book A Brief History of Time, Hawking had written about what a great accomplishment it would be if scientists could come up with a theory of everything, "for then we should know the mind of God" (Guardian, May 15).


May 21 came and went and the Rapture didn't happen as radio preacher Harold Camping had predicted. Followers of his had donated thousands of dollars toward a media campaign to warn people of Judgment Day. Some of them quit their jobs or dropped out of school in anticipation of Christ's second coming. "Life goes on," said John Ramsey of New Jersey on May 22; his pregnant wife thought she'd never get to see her unborn child. Ramsey and his mother both need to find another job since they quit theirs in anticipation of the end. Camping, owner of the Family Radio network, said he wasn't wrong, his prediction was off by five months. The apocalypse will happen October 21 (Huffington Post, May 23; Boston Globe, May 24).

Praying for Osama

At the request of a parishioner, a Catholic church in West Palm Beach, Florida, prayed for the soul of Osama bin Laden during a mass last month. The prayer angered many of the other parishioners, but the priest said his church has never turned down a request for prayer (arcamax.com, May 18).

Look it up

Googleheimer's is a newly discovered condition unique to the Internet age. It strikes when you think of something you'd like to Google—and by the time you reach your computer you've forgotten what you wanted to search (UrbanDictionary.com).

Does history have a future?

Historian John Lukacs says that we live in an era "when many people know less history than their forebears may have known but when more people are interested in history than probably ever before." Some very good histories have been written in the past 50 years, some by amateur historians; since 1960, history books of all kinds have sold better than novels. Yet Lukacs frets about the future of his discipline. Fewer history courses are required in high school and college, and fewer people are earning doctorates in history. He also thinks that history depends on publishing and that the decline in book publishing does not bode well for the future of history (The Future of History, Yale University Press).