Monday, March 19, 2018

Life, The Universe, and Stephen Hawking

On March 14, 2018, the world witnessed the passing of Stephen Hawking, world-renowned (dare I say legendary) physicist and one of the truly greatest minds of this or any other time. To say Professor Hawking was a significant contributor to human progress is a bit of an understatement; his name is now mentioned in the same breath as Newton and Einstein as one of a very select group of individuals who has so greatly increased humanity's understanding of our universe that it seems unfathomable to the average person. There are very few people - living or dead - of whom it can be said that it was an honour to simply inhabit this tiny, blue orb hurtling through space into the unknown at the same time that they did. Stephen Hawking was one of those few.

Over the years, Stephen Hawking reached an iconic status, not just for his groundbreaking work in physics and cosmology, but also for his ambition and his ability to take his complex theories and make them accessible for a broader audience outside of academia, perhaps most notable with his most well-known work, A Brief History of Time.

Perhaps even more than that, Stephen Hawking was able to capture people's imaginations because of his courage and perseverance in the face of adversity that would have seemed nearly insurmountable to the rest of us. In 1963 at the age of 21, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative motor neuron disease that resulted in his gradual paralysis, confining him to a wheelchair, and eventual loss of speech, resulting in a replacement robotic voice that has become instantly recognizable to billions of people across the world.

There was something almost poetic about Stephen Hawking's perseverance; an intellect of unmatched potential housed in a body that withered around it. It was the ultimate (and most extreme) example of mind over matter.

But Professor Hawking was not only able to survive, but thrive. Under conditions that would have tested the mettle of even the most tenacious of human constitutions, Hawking was able to continue teaching, write books, and even develop an impressive acting resume, appearing usually as some version of himself (exaggerated or otherwise) in shows like The Simpsons, Futurama, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and The Big Bang Theory. In a world where celebrity has become synonymous with big name actors and musicians, Stephen Hawking helped spread the spotlight to other endeavors, bringing the always much-needed visibility to matters of science.

Stephen Hawking was a true inspiration in both his professional and personal life, though it can be said that through his work and is indomitable spirit he left the world a brighter and a better place than when he first encountered it.


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