According to this website (in Chinese, my translation to English follows, original Chinese below)

In 1988, 76 Nobel prize winners gathered together, including the 46 year old Hawking. The interviewer asked Mr Hawking:

"In which university or laboratory did you learn the most important knowledge?"

Hawking replied:

"I learned the most important knowledge in nursery. Give half of my stuff to my friends. Don't take things that are not mine. Keep tidy… all I learned are these."

"Hawking: Everything I learned in kindergarten is a hundred times more important than any university", Sohu.com, 2019-12-25 19:00 https://www.sohu.com/a/362761642_611018


1988年,76名世界顶尖的科学家们齐聚一堂,包括当时年仅46岁的霍金。 记者问霍金先生:“您在哪所大学、哪个实验室学到了您认为最重要的东西?”

霍金回答:“我在幼儿园里学到了一生中最重要的东西:把自己的东西分一半给小伙伴,不是自己的东西不拿;东西要 放整齐;吃饭要洗手;做错了事情要表示歉意;学习要多思考;要仔细观察大自然……从根本上说,我学到的东西就是这些。”

Did Stephen Hawking ever say anything resembling this during an interview in a major event?

  • 6
    Considering that Hawking lost the last of his ability to speak in 1985 and the difficulty of answering an off-the-cuff question for Hawking after the fact, this is most likely a no.
    – DenisS
    Jul 20, 2021 at 15:05
  • 12
    There is at least one factual error in the text (at least the translated version): Hawking was not, either before or after 1988, a Nobel prize winner. If the gathering was indeed only of Nobel laureates, we can infer that the statement in question, even if it was actually said by someone, must have been misattributed to Hawking.
    – Dan Romik
    Jul 20, 2021 at 20:38
  • 2
    @DanRomik I don't think you can make such an assumption from a (supposed) statement which was translated into Chinese and back into English. The last sentence doesn't sound "real" either. OP asks if SH ever said anything resembling this, not whether you think it is likely. Jul 21, 2021 at 7:57
  • 3
    The 1988 event seems likely to have been a symposium in Paris entitled "Facing the 21st Century: Threats and Promises" organized by then-President Francois Mitterand, January 18-21. It was covered in the May 1988 issue of UNESCO's Courier magazine. Page 23 lists the official participants, all Nobel laureates and not including Hawking. Jul 21, 2021 at 15:12
  • 3
    All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten a book by Robert Fulgham 1988. The date is the same, at least.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 22, 2021 at 12:07

1 Answer 1


As per the comment by @GEdgar, a book was published in 1986 , two years before the Hawking attribution in Chinese, that contains the following poem :

Most of what I really need/ To know about how to live/ And what to do and how to be/ I learned in kindergarten./ Wisdom was not at the top/ Of the graduate school mountain,/ But there in the sandpile at Sunday school./

These are the things I learned:

Share everything./Play fair./Don't hit people./Put things back where you found them./

Clean up your own mess./Don't take things that aren't yours./Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody./Wash your hands before you eat./Flush./Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you./Live a balanced life -/Learn some and think some/And draw and paint and sing and dance/And play and work everyday some./Take a nap every afternoon./When you go out into the world,/Watch out for traffic,/Hold hands and stick together./Be aware of wonder.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum

The wording and the sentiments are very similar to that quoted and the book was published two years before the supposed attribution.

So Stephen Hawking, if it can be proved that he attended the Nobel Laureate's function, may have quoted the poem or may have been inspired by the publication to speak in a similar vein himself.

And, suggested in comment (which I did not think of myself) the finding of @GEdgar may suggest that Professor Hawking did, indeed, share the sentiment of Fulghum's book and poem but at another time and in another place.

Thus we have support for the existence of the words and sentiment, two years before the attribution, documented in 1986 : but we have not (yet) fixed the time and place in which reference was made to them.

  • 1
    The meeting? washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1988/01/19/… It's rare that 76 nobels gather (only again that number in 2015 for climate action?) results then in UNESCO link-pdf in Nate's comment above. Now I really doubt that SH was in Paris or ever met Mitterand… Jul 23, 2021 at 8:20
  • 1
    This is what I don't like about attribution questions. We can never show that a person did NOT say something, even when there is good reason to believe this is simply someone trying to make something sound more profound by putting in the mouth of a physicist.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 23, 2021 at 13:14
  • SH must have had a set of canned responses for all sorts of common situations, and a question that asks "what was the best (etc) moment..." is hard enough (and boring) to answer anyway. It would be great if anyone knew this to be a frequent response of his. Jul 23, 2021 at 17:05
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    I don't see how knowing about the Fulghum essay helps at all in determining whether Hawking said those words in 1988, so I can't regard this answer as helpful. Jul 24, 2021 at 14:56

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