Mr Stephen Hawking

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.”

Chapter 7 – Goodnight 2017

I haven’t written on this for ages. about 4 months in fact, so, sorry about that. I’ve been averaging about 15 emails a week from you and I confess I haven’t had the chance to read them all yet, but I will get to them all! Not that I’m making excuses – I could have made the time, but to be honest, I have been a bit busy and have been lacking motivation – not only for this but in many aspects of my life. But its the end of the year and this is as good a time to change my outlook as any.

The end of a year is a time for reflection, for taking in what has happened over the last year, what you want to leave behind and what is important enough to take with you into the next. This brings be to my first new years resolution – I vow to add to this blog more frequently and reply more promptly to anyone who takes the trouble to contact me.

So what has happened over the last year? Well I’ve loved and lost, trusted and been betrayed, given and been taken advantage of and in may respects got a lot of my priorities wrong. For me, in many ways, 2017 has been a fail. But as I have been trying to explain to a certain friend over the last few months, failure is not a negative, but an opportunity to learn and to fix what is broken. So while there are many things that I regret from 2017, these are the things I can leave behind, and I move forward into 2018 feeling strangely unburdened as metaphorically leave the negatives at the roadside and accelerate away from it. This leads me to the second of my 3 new years resolutions – I vow not to dwell on the things that I cant change and to focus my efforts instead on the things I can.

But New Year isn’t just a time for reflecting on yourself, it’s a time to reflect on others and on the bigger picture. And worldwide, the news this year has been pretty bleak. We have lost many good lives to terrorism, to natural disasters and to avoidable disasters (Grenfell – my thoughts are particularly with you at this difficult time). Someone I can only describe as sub-human has somehow taken the office of “most powerful man in the western world” and in doing so has raised the threat of terrorism, both domestic and internationally and has made North Korea a genuinely scary looking place rather than just a funny little sideshow. Britain continues to shoot itself in the foot without truly understanding why, Las Vegas experience a terror attack of its own (and yes it was clearly a terrorist attack – just because the shooter wasn’t Muslim doesn’t mean they weren’t a terrorist – similarly just because someone is a Muslim doesn’t mean they are a terrorist), Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, there continues to be war in Syria, famine in Somalia and genocide in Rohingya. I honestly wonder how people can live with some of the things they do and the effect they have on others.

So basically, 2017 can do one, especially as Jaffa cakes have gone from packs of 12 to packs of 10. But we must remember, it wasn’t all bad news – we should take solace from the fact that there have been some huge positives in world politics (Macron’s win against the odds to beat down the rise of racism in France, Corbyn reminding Britain that we’re not all self-serving, uncaring arseholes, Hillary Clinton actually won the most American votes against the vile Donald Trump. And in other news, China have banned the domestic ivory trade saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of elephants per year, many endangered species are no longer endangered (snow leopards, giant panda’s and hump-backed whales to name a few), The Queen still hasn’t given Trump a state visit, astronomers have found 7 new earth like planets, scientists in Holland might have discovered a way to reverse ageing and equality worldwide has made huge strides forwards. The hole in the o-zone layer is getting smaller and Katie Hopkins finally got fired. These are positive things from 2017 that we should hold tight in its final hours and take forward to 2018.

But those positives wouldn’t have happened without good people. And there aren’t enough of them either. So my third New Years resolution is to be a better man. I aspire to echo the bravery of our emergency services which we have seen in spades over this last year, to mimic the kindness of the 1.2 billion people who’s google search began with “how can I help…” and to honour those who have lost their lives this year (albeit unwillingly) to highlight the real problems facing our world today, so that their deaths can mean something, by being the change that makes a difference in peoples lives.

And finally, I would like to wish you all a Happy 2018 – I’ll speak to you all again next year!

Chapter 3 – Modern Communication

I’m still young apparently. I’m 26. People tell me I’m still young and that feels good to be told. But in many ways, I’m much older than my years suggest. Aside from being unable to stand up or sit down without making an involuntary “Ooh” sound, and being quite happy to be sat in front of the telly with a hot chocolate by 2100 on the occasional Saturday night, this is most apparent to me in my attitude towards modern conversation.

I went to the pub during the week and was dismayed by what I saw. 40% of the people in there had their phones on the table next to their drinks, face up as if they were expecting the call to tell them their wife has gone into labour. The other 60% had their phones in their hands. That’s right. I had walked into a room full of zombies where at least half of them were not actually socialising with each other.

Even for my age group, I cant be the only person that finds this disturbing. How can you go to a pub with friends, then spend most of your time talking to other people who aren’t even in the room? If you need to contact someone, either do it without ignoring the people in the room, or, if you really have to, go outside, call them, have a quick conversation and wrap it up quickly, rather than subjecting your friends to the back cover of your phone all night.

I am just old enough to remember being in a pub or restaurant and seeing people speaking to one another across the table. I remember when phones were only used for phone calls and irritatingly short text messages only. I even remember a time before mobile phones, when you were forced to speak to each other with no other distractions. When you had a house phone (remember them?) which sat on a table of its own, perhaps with a pad of paper and a pen for message taking.

And I miss those times. People used to go on walks or trips or holidays and enjoy the sights with their eyes, rather than through a 2 inch screen, or whilst uploading a picture of their breakfast to Facebook. People used to get on a train and read a book made of paper rather than staring gormlessly at level 783 of candy crush. Presidents used to make policy announcements at press conferences rather than on Twitter. It was a classier time.

Do you remember life before emojis and “txt tlk”? This has become almost a second language nowadays. I have a friend who sadly had to have their pet dog put down once. Obviously, this was on Facebook within 5 minutes, and soon followed by messages of condolence from well meaning strangers (most of which i suspect were sent by people who were ignoring their real life friends sat opposite them in a pub). But one person made a mistake which caused the Facebook equivalent of a riot. Rather than the sad crying face, they had (I presume accidentally) sent the “crying with laughter” face. An easy mistake to make, but for people hiding behind their phone screens, apparently not so easy to forgive.

Easier mistakes to make though are the acronyms which the early days of texting invented for us to save us money on the original “pay per character” tariffs. Thinking “LOL” means lots of love instead of laugh out loud is forgivable, especially as it is usually placed at the end of a message and still usually makes sense. However, it is really bad when your message reads: “I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your son. Our thoughts are with you during this tragic time. LOL.”

It’s a minefield. Maybe we should revert to an ancient, yet surprisingly efficient communication method: Talking.