It is no disrespect to the departed to suggest that there was not another man in the world last Wednesday whose death could have saddened so many hearts in so many lands as Stephen Hawking.
It would be gross understatement to call him brilliant. Confined to his wheelchair for the better part of his life, his contribution to cosmology and science generally was much too complex for smooth comprehension… even by scientists.
Afflicted by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the prime age of 21, he was then given only a “few more years to live”. As it turned out, he defied the medical fraternity. Not many could have imagined that given his “vegetative state” he would live till 76, verily 55 more years than what doctors had predicted.
Indeed, cosmology is all the richer because of his lifespan or destiny, if you will. The risk of the discipline being the poorer in his absence is real. To Hawking does the world owe whatever we have garnered as knowledge in the science of cosmology. His death will mean we know a little less about ourselves.
Famously has it been said that from his wheelchair his mind roamed the “multiverses”. His breakthroughs were awesome, pre-eminently his phenomenal thesis that the big bang theory must hold true and then to explain the link between gravity and quantum mechanics.
To few is it given to make such unique discoveries while sitting on a wheel chair. The handicap was crippling ~ dependant as he was on others, even technology, for bathing, dressing, eating… and speech. And yet there was time to acquire fame with his seminal book, A Brief History of Time (1988), a work that dealt with the advances in cosmology.
And then the gem of an expression when asked what the book was all about, indeed his own benchmark that few literary critics could have grasped ~ “The mind of God”, was his equally exceptional reply.
It is hard not to wonder why despite his brilliance, Hawking never won the Nobel prize chiefly because the award is not given for theory unsupported by observation.
This must rank as one of the abiding tragedies of a great scientist. The latest theory on “mini-black holes” could mean that he will be proved right. Hawking was conspicuous in an age of secular triumphs.
Specifically, more than beliefs were required to win arguments. Thus did he defend feminism, the European Union, and Britain’s NHS, couched in a warning to demagogues. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that he enabled the cosmos to know itself.
With his death, there is a risk that humanity will countenance ~ We will know a little less about ourselves. Alas, the world is deficient with the passing of one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein. Only the wheelchair survives as a permanent symbol of his extraordinary ability. All else is transitory.