When I first saw news report that Stephen Hawking had died, I immediately remarked to myself: “That was a good ride.” Hell of a ride, would be the more apt Americanism. Hawking died last week at the age of 76. Hawking was a physicist who did much to increase our understanding of the universe.
He held the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge in England. In case that doesn’t impress you, I would have you know that Hawking’s peers were on a whole different level. Among other notables to have held the Lucasian Chair were Isaac Newton, the Sir Isaac Newton, and Charles Babbage, the Father of Computing.
Hawking suffered from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Some of you might know the disease from the ice bucket challenge. ALS is a progressive neurological disease that leads the patient to lose control of their voluntary muscles. Hawking was robbed completely of his body, and eventually even his voice.
From 1986, Hawking spoke through an artificial computerised voice. While for more than 40 years Hawking’s paralysed body was confined to a wheelchair, his mind roamed farther than most of us can even begin to imagine. He travelled through space to the farthest galaxies bringing to us the secrets of black holes, objects so dense that they swallow everything even light.
He travelled through time trying to pierce its veil and wondering if humanity would be able to know what happened before time itself began. When I was in college, it was reading Hawking that I started gaining an understanding of some of modern physics most difficult concepts. General Relativity, Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are the foundations of modern Physics.
Unfortunately without a solid understanding of higher mathematics, one cannot even begin to comprehend Physics. I am always appreciative of the fact that Hawking’s bestselling book, A Brief History of Time, only had one mathematical equation. Quantum mechanics is not an easy subject to understand because it runs counter to our notions of common sense.
In this world where tiny particles reign supreme, an object can be in more than two places at the same time. Objects are not only waves, but also particles. It all seems very nonsensical, so you need a steady hand to guide you through this alternate reality that is actually our reality. Incidentally, I finished reading another Hawking book in January Black Holes, and Baby Universes.
It’s a collection of essays that are biographical, scientific, and Hawking’s musings on life in general. Hawking’s humor always made him a delight to read. We should be grateful to live in a time like this when such a rare genius walked among us. Just like Newton and Einstein before him, Hawking was able to read nature like a book and explain its mysterious wonders to us. —The writer is a Management Fellow at the City of Wichita, USA —@janeksunga