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Soundbites And Images To Change The World: Stephen Hawking

‘If we’re the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, we should make sure we survive and continue.’ ~ Stephen Hawking

A great deal has been written and said about Stephen Hawking over the last few decades, and a great deal more with be remembered about him for a long time to come.

Hawking is a renowned professor of physics, the proponent of some of the most groundbreaking theories in the universe. He has popularized science through his use of simple, clear language, giving everyone access to the mysteries of life beyond our own.

Stephen Hawking in zero gravity. Source: NASA

In his TED interview, Hawking discusses the origins of the universe as well as life on earth. He states that the universe seems to have been created from the big bang, and that it’s expanding. He talks about evolution under normal and extreme states, about which there seems to be profound understanding on its dynamics and probabilities — we’ve come a long way! — care of groundbreaking research, before adding a cheeky spin on the subject:

‘We think we have solved the mystery of creation. Maybe we should patent the universe and charge everyone royalties for their existence.’

The man is spirited and his topics of discussion enthralling. He goes on to tackle the mother of all existential questions: are we alone in the universe? He talks about the emergence of life on earth just one billion years after the formation of the planet, revealing how spectacular our existence is. He speaks about the advance of our civilization on the backdrop of the finite resources of the planet and mentions our aggressive instincts, which we’re retained — instincts that, back in the day, were an advantage, a tool for survival, but which are currently backfiring on us.

The solution to this bind is groundbreaking but ultimately simple:

‘Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward-looking on planet earth but to spread out into space.’

Like the great philosophers and explorers before him, Hawking has his gaze fixed on a new world, not on the distractions of the old one.

Stephen Hawking being presented by his daughter Lucy Hawking at the lecture he gave for NASA’s 50th anniversary. Source: NASA/Paul Alers

Hawking moves on to provide a “salutary warning” about the nature of civilization, saying that we’re the only civilization within a radius of hundreds of thousands of light years. The proof behind this assertion is that we’ve not yet received any radio waves from extraterrestrial sources. This means that: a) no advanced form of life ever emerged in our vicinity or, b) that civilization tends to self-destruct after a certain time.

It’s a grim statement based on undeniable, raw, exact logic that may leave one deflated at the futility of it all. But taking a look at this man and listening to what he says, witnessing what he’s done over the years, is proof to the contrary. Hawking has battled a degenerative disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, defying medical prognoses and surviving the condition long enough to become not only a medical miracle but also an academic, scientific, philosophical, and human wonder. This man is one of the most brilliant, awesome minds in history, and we’re lucky to have him. His insight to the universe is outstanding, as is his entire being. And such a humble person.

He says of himself, in an impishly self-deprecating tone:

‘I have been very lucky that my disability has not been a serious handicap. Indeed it has probably given me more time than most people to pursue the quest for knowledge.

Perhaps we can learn from Hawking’s approach. Out of devastating disability comes extraordinary potential and insight. From a man whose condition makes him almost godlike.

Listen for yourself: