As a student in 1954, Penrose was attending a conference in Amsterdam when by chance he came across an exhibition of Escher's work. Soon he was trying to conjure up impossible figures of his own and discovered the tribar – a triangle that looks like a real, solid three-dimensional object, but isn't. Together with his father, a physicist and mathematician, Penrose went on to design a staircase that simultaneously loops up and down. An article followed and a copy was sent to Escher. Completing a cyclical flow of creativity, the Dutch master of geometrical illusions was inspired to produce his two masterpieces.
In 1964, while a reader at Birkbeck College, London, (and having had his attention drawn from pure mathematics to astrophysics by the cosmologist Dennis Sciama, then at Cambridge) in the words of Kip Thorne of Caltech, "Roger Penrose revolutionised the mathematical tools that we use to analyse the properties of spacetime". Until then, work on the curved geometry of general relativity had been confined to configurations with sufficiently high symmetry for Einstein's equations to be soluble explicitly, and there was doubt about whether such cases were typical. One approach to this issue was by the use of perturbation theory, as developed under the leadership of John Archibald Wheeler at Princeton. The other, and more radically innovative, approach initiated by Penrose was to overlook the detailed geometrical structure of spacetime and instead concentrate attention just on the topology of the space, or at most its conformal structure, since it is the latter – as determined by the lay of the lightcones – that determines the trajectories of lightlike geodesics, and hence their causal relationships. The importance of Penrose's epoch-making paper "Gravitational Collapse and Space-Time Singularities" was not its only result, summarised roughly as that if an object such as a dying star implodes beyond a certain point, then nothing can prevent the gravitational field getting so strong as to form some kind of singularity. It also showed a way to obtain similarly general conclusions in other contexts, notably that of the cosmological Big Bang, which he dealt with in collaboration with Dennis Sciama's most famous student, Stephen Hawking. The Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems was inspired by Amal Kumar Raychaudhuri's Raychaudhuri equation.
It was in the local context of gravitational collapse that the contribution of Penrose was most decisive, starting with his 1969 cosmic censorship conjecture, to the effect that any ensuing singularities would be confined within a well-behaved event horizon surrounding a hidden space-time region for which Wheeler coined the term black hole, leaving a visible exterior region with strong but finite curvature, from which some of the gravitational energy may be extractable by what is known as the Penrose process, while accretion of surrounding matter may release further energy that can account for astrophysical phenomena such as quasars.
Penrose is well known for his 1974 discovery of Penrose tilings, which are formed from two tiles that can only tile the plane nonperiodically, and are the first tilings to exhibit fivefold rotational symmetry. Penrose developed these ideas based on the article Deux types fondamentaux de distribution statistique (1938; an English translation Two Basic Types of Statistical Distribution) by Czech geographer, demographer and statistician Jaromír Korčák [cs]. In 1984, such patterns were observed in the arrangement of atoms in quasicrystals. Another noteworthy contribution is his 1971 invention of spin networks, which later came to form the geometry of spacetime in loop quantum gravity. He was influential in popularizing what are commonly known as Penrose diagrams (causal diagrams).
In 1983, Penrose was invited to teach at Rice University in Houston, by the then provost Bill Gordon. He worked there from 1983 to 1987.
In 2010, Penrose reported possible evidence, based on concentric circles found in Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe data of the cosmic microwave background sky, of an earlier universe existing before the Big Bang of our own present universe. He mentions this evidence in the epilogue of his 2010 book Cycles of Time, a book in which he presents his reasons, to do with Einstein's field equations, the Weyl curvature C, and the Weyl curvature hypothesis (WCH), that the transition at the Big Bang could have been smooth enough for a previous universe to survive it. He made several conjectures about C and the WCH, some of which were subsequently proved by others, and he also popularized his conformal cyclic cosmology (CCC) theory. In this theory, Penrose postulates that at the end of the universe all matter is eventually contained within black holes which subsequently evaporate via Hawking radiation. At this point, everything contained within the universe consists of photons which "experience" neither time nor space. There is essentially no difference between an infinitely large universe consisting only of photons and an infinitely small universe consisting only of photons. Therefore, a singularity for a Big Bang and an infinitely expanded universe are equivalent. 
In simple terms, he believes that the singularity in Einstein's field equation at the Big Bang is only an apparent singularity, similar to the well-known apparent singularity at the event horizon of a black hole. The latter singularity can be removed by a change of coordinate system, and Penrose proposes a different change of coordinate system that will remove the singularity at the big bang. One implication of this is that the major events at the Big Bang can be understood without unifying general relativity and quantum mechanics, and therefore we are not necessarily constrained by the Wheeler–DeWitt equation, which disrupts time. Alternatively, one can use the Einstein–Maxwell–Dirac equations.
Physics and consciousness
Penrose at a conference
Penrose has written books on the connection between fundamental physics and human (or animal) consciousness. In The Emperor's New Mind (1989), he argues that known laws of physics are inadequate to explain the phenomenon of consciousness. Penrose proposes the characteristics this new physics may have and specifies the requirements for a bridge between classical and quantum mechanics (what he calls correct quantum gravity). Penrose uses a variant of Turing's halting theorem to demonstrate that a system can be deterministic without being algorithmic. (For example, imagine a system with only two states, ON and OFF. If the system's state is ON when a given Turing machine halts and OFF when the Turing machine does not halt, then the system's state is completely determined by the machine; nevertheless, there is no algorithmic way to determine whether the Turing machine stops.)
Penrose believes that such deterministic yet non-algorithmic processes may come into play in the quantum mechanical wave function reduction, and may be harnessed by the brain. He argues that computers today are unable to have intelligence because they are algorithmically deterministic systems. He argues against the viewpoint that the rational processes of the mind are completely algorithmic and can thus be duplicated by a sufficiently complex computer. This contrasts with supporters of strong artificial intelligence, who contend that thought can be simulated algorithmically. He bases this on claims that consciousness transcends formal logic because things such as the insolubility of the halting problem and Gödel's incompleteness theorem prevent an algorithmically based system of logic from reproducing such traits of human intelligence as mathematical insight. These claims were originally espoused by the philosopher John Lucas of Merton College, Oxford.
The Penrose–Lucas argument about the implications of Gödel's incompleteness theorem for computational theories of human intelligence has been widely criticised by mathematicians, computer scientists and philosophers, and the consensus among experts in these fields seems to be that the argument fails, though different authors may choose different aspects of the argument to attack.Marvin Minsky, a leading proponent of artificial intelligence, was particularly critical, stating that Penrose "tries to show, in chapter after chapter, that human thought cannot be based on any known scientific principle." Minsky's position is exactly the opposite – he believed that humans are, in fact, machines, whose functioning, although complex, is fully explainable by current physics. Minsky maintained that "one can carry that quest [for scientific explanation] too far by only seeking new basic principles instead of attacking the real detail. This is what I see in Penrose's quest for a new basic principle of physics that will account for consciousness."
Penrose and Hameroff have argued that consciousness is the result of quantum gravity effects in microtubules, which they dubbed Orch-OR (orchestrated objective reduction). Max Tegmark, in a paper in Physical Review E, calculated that the time scale of neuron firing and excitations in microtubules is slower than the decoherence time by a factor of at least 10,000,000,000. The reception of the paper is summed up by this statement in Tegmark's support: "Physicists outside the fray, such as IBM's John A. Smolin, say the calculations confirm what they had suspected all along. 'We're not working with a brain that's near absolute zero. It's reasonably unlikely that the brain evolved quantum behavior'". Tegmark's paper has been widely cited by critics of the Penrose–Hameroff position.
In their reply to Tegmark's paper, also published in Physical Review E, the physicists Scott Hagan, Jack Tuszyński and Hameroff claimed that Tegmark did not address the Orch-OR model, but instead a model of his own construction. This involved superpositions of quanta separated by 24 nm rather than the much smaller separations stipulated for Orch-OR. As a result, Hameroff's group claimed a decoherence time seven orders of magnitude greater than Tegmark's, but still well short of the 25 ms required if the quantum processing in the theory was to be linked to the 40 Hz gamma synchrony, as Orch-OR suggested. To bridge this gap, the group made a series of proposals. They supposed that the interiors of neurons could alternate between liquid and gel states. In the gel state, it was further hypothesized that the water electrical dipoles are oriented in the same direction, along the outer edge of the microtubule tubulin subunits. Hameroff et al. proposed that this ordered water could screen any quantum coherence within the tubulin of the microtubules from the environment of the rest of the brain. Each tubulin also has a tail extending out from the microtubules, which is negatively charged, and therefore attracts positively charged ions. It is suggested that this could provide further screening. Further to this, there was a suggestion that the microtubules could be pumped into a coherent state by biochemical energy.
Finally, he suggested that the configuration of the microtubule lattice might be suitable for quantum error correction, a means of holding together quantum coherence in the face of environmental interaction.
Hameroff, in a lecture in part of a Google Tech talks series exploring quantum biology, gave an overview of current research in the area, and responded to subsequent criticisms of the Orch-OR model. In addition to this, a 2011 paper by Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff published in the Journal of Cosmology gives an updated model of their Orch-OR theory, in light of criticisms, and discusses the place of consciousness within the universe.
Phillip Tetlow, although himself supportive of Penrose's views, acknowledges that Penrose's ideas about the human thought process are at present a minority view in scientific circles, citing Minsky's criticisms and quoting science journalist Charles Seife's description of Penrose as "one of a handful of scientists" who believe that the nature of consciousness suggests a quantum process.
In January 2014, Hameroff and Penrose ventured that a discovery of quantum vibrations in microtubules by Anirban Bandyopadhyay of the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan supports the hypothesis of Orch-OR theory. A reviewed and updated version of the theory was published along with critical commentary and debate in the March 2014 issue of Physics of Life Reviews.
Penrose is married to Vanessa Thomas, director of Academic Development at Cokethorpe School and former head of mathematics at Abingdon School, with whom he has one son. He has three sons from a previous marriage to American Joan Isabel Penrose (née Wedge), whom he married in 1959.
During an interview with BBC Radio 4 on 25 September 2010, Penrose stated, "I'm not a believer myself. I don't believe in established religions of any kind." He regards himself as an agnostic.
However, in the 1991 film A Brief History of Time, he also said, "I think I would say that the universe has a purpose, it's not somehow just there by chance … some people, I think, take the view that the universe is just there and it runs along—it's a bit like it just sort of computes, and we happen somehow by accident to find ourselves in this thing. But I don't think that's a very fruitful or helpful way of looking at the universe, I think that there is something much deeper about it."
In an interview in The Jerusalem Post, Penrose stated that he could be considered a Jew according to religious laws but he doesn't identify himself as one.
Penrose is a patron of Humanists UK.
Awards and honours
Penrose in a lecture
Penrose has been awarded many prizes for his contributions to science.
In 2020, Penrose was awarded one half of the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity, a half-share also going to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.
In 2017, he was awarded the Commandino Medal at the Urbino University for his contributions to the history of science
His deep work on General Relativity has been a major factor in our understanding of black holes. His development of Twistor Theory has produced a beautiful and productive approach to the classical equations of mathematical physics. His tilings of the plane underlie the newly discovered quasi-crystals.
Techniques of Differential Topology in Relativity (1972, ISBN 0-89871-005-7)
Spinors and Space-Time: Volume 1, Two-Spinor Calculus and Relativistic Fields (with Wolfgang Rindler, 1987) ISBN 0-521-33707-0 (paperback)
Spinors and Space-Time: Volume 2, Spinor and Twistor Methods in Space-Time Geometry (with Wolfgang Rindler, 1988) (reprint), ISBN 0-521-34786-6 (paperback)
Foreword to other books
Foreword to “The Map and the Territory: Exploring the foundations of science, thought and reality” by Shyam Wuppuluri and Francisco Antonio Doria. Published by Springer in "The Frontiers Collection", 2018.
Foreword to Beating the Odds: The Life and Times of E. A. Milne, written by Meg Weston Smith. Published by World Scientific Publishing Co in June 2013.
Foreword to "A Computable Universe" by Hector Zenil. Published by World Scientific Publishing Co in December 2012.
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Criticism of the Lucas/Penrose argument that intelligence can not be entirely algorithmic:
MindPapers: 6.1b. Godelian arguments
References for Criticisms of the Gödelian Argument
Boolos, George, et al. 1990. An Open Peer Commentary on The Emperor's New Mind. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13 (4) 655.
Davis, Martin 1993. How subtle is Gödel's theorem? More on Roger Penrose. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16, 611–612. Online version at Davis' faculty page at http://cs.nyu.edu/cs/faculty/davism/
Krajewski, Stanislaw 2007. On Gödel's Theorem and Mechanism: Inconsistency or Unsoundness is Unavoidable in any Attempt to 'Out-Gödel' the Mechanist. Fundamenta Informaticae 81, 173–181. Reprinted in Topics in Logic, Philosophy and Foundations of Mathematics and Computer Science:In Recognition of Professor Andrzej Grzegorczyk (2008), p. 173
In an article at "King's College London – Department of Mathematics". Archived from the original on 25 January 2001. Retrieved 22 October 2010. L.J. Landau at the Mathematics Department of King's College London writes that "Penrose's argument, its basis and implications, is rejected by experts in the fields which it touches."
Sources that also note that different sources attack different points of the argument:
Princeton Philosophy professor John Burgess writes in On the Outside Looking In: A Caution about Conservativeness (published in Kurt Gödel: Essays for his Centennial, with the following comments found on pp. 131–132) that "the consensus view of logicians today seems to be that the Lucas–Penrose argument is fallacious, though as I have said elsewhere, there is at least this much to be said for Lucas and Penrose, that logicians are not unanimously agreed as to where precisely the fallacy in their argument lies. There are at least three points at which the argument may be attacked."
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^Hameroff, S. (2006). "Consciousness, Neurobiology and Quantum Mechanics". In Tuszynski, Jack (ed.). The Emerging Physics of Consciousness. Springer. pp. 193–253. Bibcode:2006epc..book.....T.
^ abHameroff, Stuart; Marcer, P. (1998). "Quantum Computation in Brain Microtubules? The Penrose—Hameroff 'Orch OR' Model of Consciousness [and Discussion]". Philosophical Transactions: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 356 (1743): 1869–1896. ISSN 1364-503X. JSTOR 55017.
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Dangerous Knowledge on YouTube – Penrose was one of the principal interviewees in a BBC documentary about the mathematics of infinity directed by David Malone
Penrose's new theory "Aeons Before the Big Bang?":
Original 2005 lecture: "Before the Big Bang? A new perspective on the Weyl curvature hypothesis" Archived 7 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine (Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge, 11 November 2005).
Original publication: "Before the Big Bang: an outrageous new perspective and its implications for particle physics". Proceedings of EPAC 2006. Edinburgh. 2759–2762 (cf. also Hill, C.D. & Nurowski, P. (2007) "On Penrose's 'Before the Big Bang' ideas". Ithaca)
Audio: Roger Penrose in conversation on the BBC World Service discussion show
Roger Penrose speaking about Hawking's new book on Premier Christian Radio
"The Cyclic Universe – A conversation with Roger Penrose", Ideas Roadshow, 2013
Forbidden crystal symmetry in mathematics and architecture, filmed event at the Royal Institution, October 2013
Oxford Mathematics Interviews: "Extra Time: Professor Sir Roger Penrose in conversation with Andrew Hodges." These two films explore the development of Sir Roger Penrose's thought over more than 60 years, ending with his most recent theories and predictions. 51 min and 42 min. (Mathematical Institute)
BBC Radio 4 – The Life Scientific – Roger Penrose on Black Holes – 22 November 2016 Sir Roger Penrose talks to Jim Al-Khalili about his trailblazing work on how black holes form, the problems with quantum physics and his portrayal in films about Stephen Hawking.
The Penrose Institute Website
A chess problem holds the key to human consciousness?, Chessbase