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Penrose, Roger

Entry updated 26 October 2021. Tagged: Author.

(1931-    ) UK mathematical physicist, Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, who has achieved much significant work in his field. Occasional forays into recreational Mathematics include the creation, with his geneticist father Lionel Penrose (1898-1972), of the impossible ever-ascending or ever-descending Penrose staircase described in their paper "Impossible Objects: A Special Type of Visual Illusion" (February 1958 The British Journal of Psychology) – an optical deception inspired by M C Escher and in turn inspiring Escher's famous Ascending and Descending (1960). Martin Gardner and others have written admiringly about Penrose's 1974 invention of "Penrose tiles" which (unlike the usual squares, hexagons, etc) can tile the plane only in non-periodic ways and uniquely produce patterns with fivefold rotational symmetry. Non-technical publications include The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and The Laws of Physics (1989), complexly arguing against the possibility of strong AI in its usual sense of the algorithmic simulation of human thought by Computers; a follow-up volume is Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness (1994).

In collaboration with Brian W Aldiss, Penrose wrote the sf novel White Mars; or, The Mind Set Free: A 21st Century Utopia (1999), a tale of Mars which within its brief though narratively congested span incorporates an animate Olympus Mons which manifests Penrosian theories of the physicality of mind, a Robinsonade, a swipe against (and homage to) Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars sequence, and very much more.

Penrose's many career honours include a 1994 knighthood for services to science, and the Order of Merit in 2000. In 2020 he received a half share in the Nobel Prize for Physics, commemorating his important paper "Gravitational Collapse and Space-Time Singularities" (January 1965 Physical Review Letters), which showed "that Black Hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of Relativity" and influenced many sf authors. [DRL/JC]

Sir Roger Penrose

born Colchester, Essex: 8 August 1931

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