It has been a glorious time to be alive…
These words would seem an incredible irony from a man confined to a wheelchair for most of his life, yet Professor Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease at age 21 (and told he had only two years to live!), was renowned for his courage and persistence, as well as an incredible sense of humour.
Professor Hawking died yesterday at his home in Cambridge, UK, and with his passing the world lost probably its most eminent scientist.
In another of those strange twists of fate, he passed away on Albert Einstein’s birthday, a date that will now forever link two of the greatest minds of the modern era.
I remember reading Stephen Hawking’s definitive quantum physics book A Brief History of Time. Never have I felt so out of depth in trying to grasp concepts, even though the book was written specifically for the layman. I’ve heard the term “mental vertigo” used to describe the effect some of the theories have on the first-time reader. The book stayed on the best-seller list for over 230 weeks after its publication in 1988, and has since sold over 10 million copies.
The formula below, derived by Hawking himself, measures emissions from black holes known as Hawking Radiation. It was pretty much when maths began being comprised mainly of letters and symbols that I started realising I wasn’t very good at it, yet minds like the professor’s are somehow built to comprehend things outside the normal sphere of human understanding. Hawking was adamant that he would like this formula carved on his tombstone!
Minds like Hawking’s may only come around once or twice in our lifetimes. What set him apart though was his incredible humanity. His resilience in the face of what for most would be unimaginable adversity. In 1985 he nearly died from pneumonia, and it was only a tracheotomy that allowed him to continue breathing without the use of a ventilator, but at the same time removed his ability to speak. To continue researching and pursuing his life’s work in such circumstances, while still maintaining his irrepressible sense of humour, is to me a far more endearing side of his spirit than his sheer genius.
Despite being on what was clearly a higher plane of intelligence, many of Hawking’s quotes reveal that he was still wonderfully human:
It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love…
Whilst sitting under a winter’s sky at Londolozi, staring up at the cosmos, one can’t help but be awed by its unimaginable scope and size. The mind boggles. You simply sit and stare, knowing that what you are looking it is just too vast, too grand and ultimately too complicated to do more with than simply appreciate its majesty and beauty.
Yet Stephen Hawking would have been calculating, imagining, observing, and seeking answers…
Professor Stephen Hawking, despite his beloved universe seemingly conspiring against him to make his life as difficult to live as one could imagine, saw his trials through with ultimate grace, humour and compassion, and did what all people should ultimately aspire to do; he left the world a better place.
Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.
However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.
It matters that you don’t just give up.