So this is something of a departure from stuff I normally write about, but Mr Hawking was one of the most incredible, influential, intelligent, ingenious and inspirational people of our time. And my use of adjectives beginning with the letter I are not borne out of some weird obsession or OCD (not on this occasion anyway), but more of a convenient co-incidence.
Hawking was diagnosed with a rare and slow progressing form of motor neurone disease very shortly after he turned 21 years of age. As he was preparing to marry his first wife in 1964, doctors gave him no more than 2 – 3 years to live. This was to be the first of countless times that this great man were to astound leading doctors and scientists. He managed to outlive not just his predicted 3 years, but also what turned out to be a 30 year marriage, followed by a further 11 year marriage, followed by another 12 years.
His mobility clearly declined constantly over this time, however never once did he let this stop him from achieving amazing things – not least of which include 3 children who have grown up to be a novelist & journalist, a multi-lingual loyalty executive for lego, and a software engineer.
Upon visiting the CERN laboratories in Switzerland in the early 1980’s Hawking suffered from Pneumonia which was life threatening when compounded with his pre-existing conditions. Doctors considered him “so far gone” that they were considering switching off his life support machine. Following protest from his wife, he was able to return to the UK for further treatment and was then able to lead what was described s “close to a full and active life”.
Despite his significant scientific prowess – Mr Hawking was not an ignorant man. He was very respectful of the views of others – particularly when it came to religion. An Atheist himself, he made clear his belief that the universe is governed by the laws of science. He stated “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works”. He also stated however in what I believe is a demonstration of his respect for the beliefs of others: “The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws”.
During his career, he inspired some other truly amazing scientists who are making regular groundbreaking discoveries, and through his involvement with popular culture (with iconic appearances on The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory), has at least raised the curiosity of younger people if not having convinced them to make a career from science themselves.
And not once has he achieved these great things in the name of personal accolade or for his own credit, but for the good of the human race and allowing it to progress, protect itself and better understand the universe beyond our limited comprehension. This demonstrated by the fact that he never won a Nobel prize. Having an astounding capacity to visualise scientific outcomes without calculation or experiment, his theories have been regarded as most likely and in some cases proven by others in the scientific community.
Allegedly he was offered a knighthood in the 1990s, however due to his belief that the UK was not funding scientific study enough, he chose not to accept this. As far as I can tell. Mr Hawking never confirmed this story personally, however I find it hard to believe that the offer of a knighthood was never made to this man who has undoubtedly contributed significantly to science. For me this shows how heavily principled Mr Hawking was, who would not push his beliefs to one side, even for arguably the highest honour the United Kingdom has to offer.
Having dedicated his life to discovering a unified theory of everything and endeavouring to prove string theory (which most of us cannot even grasp the concept of), Hawking was relentless and determined with everything he did – even knowing that string theory may itself be impossible to actually prove. This extends to how he lived his life personally. He once wrote that he had motor neurone disease for practically all of his adult life, but that it had not stopped him from having an attractive family, or from being successful in his work. He said: “It shows that one need not lose hope”
I think my mind works differently to others in some respects. For many, beautiful is an artistic masterpiece, mountains and rivers against the backdrop of a perfect sunset or Jennifer Lawrence. And I wouldn’t disagree, but for me, beautiful includes the thinking and ideas of people like Mr Hawking, Elon Musk and the person whose tweet I will be ending this with – Mr Neil DeGrasse Tyson:
“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. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.”