A top scientist was slammed today for branding Professor Stephen Hawking “more machine than man” and a “brain in a vat”.
Helene Mialet also claimed the the eminent British physicist does not need the use of his body because his field of research is all theoretical.
The phrase “more machine than man” was once used to describe arch villain Darth Vader in the Star Wars films.
Her comments were made in a paper entitled “On Stephen Hawking, Vader and Being More Machine Than Human”.
But Chris Whitehouse, of the Right to Life Charitable Trust, blasted Mialet for his accomplishments.
He said: “I disagree passionately and regularly with many of the views that Prof Stephen Hawkins expresses, but I would die for his right to express them.
“I have nothing but the greatest respect for this incredible man and what he has achieved.
“To denigrate him for his disability and to belittle his accomplishments is to denigrate human life itself.”
Mialet’s article was published on the opinion pages of science website Wired.com, on January 8, the day of Hawking’s 71st birthday.
The physicist was diagnosed with degenerative condition amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neurone disease, 50 years ago.
She wrote: “On this day it’s worth examining just who and what we are really celebrating: the man, the mind or the machines?
“Hawking has become a kind of a ‘brain in a vat.’
“Since being afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis almost 50 years ago, his muscles have stopped working, though his mind and senses remain unaffected.
“In some ways Hawking is, to borrow from Obi-Wan referring to Darth Vader, ‘more machine now than man’.”
Callous Mialet even suggests that the father-of-three does not need anything in his life apart from his brain.
She added: “He fits perfectly well with our conception of how science and its heroes work – to be a genius all one needs is a powerful – a ‘beautiful’ – mind.
“And indeed, because of his disability, Hawking embodies the mythical figure capable of grasping the ultimate laws of the universe with nothing but the sheer strength of his reasoning – he can’t move his body, so everything must be in his mind.
“What else would a theoretical physicist need?”
Professor Hawking has been confined to a wheelchair since 1970, but has still managed to publish several key works of science, including A Brief History of Time.
Despite being almost completely paralysed, Hawking is able to communicate through special speech recognition software that converts tiny movements in his face muscles into words.
Mialet has authored several books and papers about Professor Hawking, including Hawking Incorporated: Stephen Hawking and the Anthropology of the Knowing Subject.
She has taught at Oxford and Harvard, and is currently teaching anthropology at esteemed University of California, Berkeley.