Throughout human history there are people who have altered the mind of man, changing our course of thinking and in turn making us look back upon our fragile selves. Such a beautiful human was theoretical astrophysicists Stephen Hawking.
One of the world’s greatest minds, Hawking died on International Pi Day (3.14) March 14, 2018, also Einstein’s birth date, at his home in Cambridge, England. His work changed the way we understand the Universe, refining the great work of Einstein less than a century earlier.
He was a longtime sufferer of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which left him paralyzed for decades. He was one of the longest survivors with the dreadful ALS disease when he died at age 76, spending decades in a wheel chair and communicating through a computer synthesizer.
His most ground-breaking work was the discovery where Black Holes leak energy and break down. Hawking’s bestseller book of 1988 “A Brief History of Time,” made him a house-hold word and a pop culture icon.
Hawking’s work centered around new concepts for Black Holes, proving they don’t hold back everything, emitting energy now called “Hawking Radiation.” He also tried to find proof of Albert Einstein’s Unification Theory, questioning Einstein’s statement that “God doesn’t play dice” in the Universe, saying God, if existing, may have loaded the dice. He was also mathematics professor at The University of Cambridge, a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton, another giant of physics upon who’s shoulders both Hawking and Einstein stood upon. Hawking never took an I.Q. test, and considered those who boasted about their intellect as “losers.”
Britain’s Royal Astronomer, Lord Rees, summed up this great scientist of the world: “Stephen was far from being the archetypal unworldly or nerdish scientist. His personality remained amazingly unwarped by his frustrations. Few, if any, of Einstein’s successors have done more to deepen our insights into gravity, space and time.”
Hawking admitted his thoughts of God were unconventional, along the lines of a Deist, who says a supreme entity placed the ingredients in the Universe and allowed the laws of nature to do the cooking. In recent years, he affirmed he was an atheist, and did not believe in heaven, the afterlife or that he had a soul.
In A Brief History of Time, he wrote: “If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God.” In the same book he suggested that the existence of God was not necessary to explain the origin of the universe.
Hawking’s thoughts on the issues of this world—and alien worlds—are interesting. He urged caution in contacting intelligent aliens, which he believed thrive throughout the Universe. He said that any civilization we meet would be centuries ahead of our technologies and probably hostile. Advanced aliens might see Earth as easy prey for our abundant natural resources of water, minerals and slave labor. On the subject in 2010 he said, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.
One of the rare scientists who transcends their academic intellect to the mainstream public. Einstein was one. Astronomer Carl Sagan in the 1970s and ‘80s, and Neil deGrasse Tyson today are also brainy “superstars” of science.
Hawking was also a media star, appearing on many movie and sitcoms as himself, and indeed, a good biographical movie called “The Theory of Everything,” which was a true pursuit to merge relativity and quantum mechanics.
Hawking’s image and synthetic voice became famous on the television shows “Simpsons” and “Futurama.” Perhaps the best of his television appearances has been on “Big Bang Theory” where he validates the genius of show star Sheldon.
Not only did the stargazing nerds talk about Hawking in their circles, but it was fashionable to display that copy of “Brief History…” on the bookshelf of any home party to spur a little small talk and show off your smarts.
One of the most repeated of Hawking’s many inspiring statements is the one urging people to keep their heads up, not down on the floor and streets. He also urged people to never retire, to keep working at something enjoyable and challenging. And he also talked about love, something that nerdy scientists are supposed to be inept about. “If you’re lucky enough to find love, remember it is there, and don’t throw it away.”
Stephen William Hawking’s biographical thumbnail: Born in Oxford, England, Jan. 8, 1942, 300 years after Galileo died; his parents were academics, his dad a doctor specializing in parasites; he had two younger sisters and an adopted brother; twice married with three children; at age 21 he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or “ALS” and Lou Gehrig’s disease, that gradually paralyzed him over the decades. He lost his speech but was able to communicate with a voice-generating computer. His collegiate education made him Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge.
The official Hawking family statement said: “His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love’. We will miss him forever.”
The world weighed in with memorials:
Astrophysicists and popular science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson on Facebook: “His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure.”
NASA on Twitter: “Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014.”
And also on Twitter from Big Bang Theory: “In loving memory of Stephen Hawking. It was an honor to have him on the #BigBangTheory. Thank you for inspiring us and the world.”