When Science Touches Everything Else: A Brief Tribute to Stephen Hawking

By Richard Campbell

It was inevitable that when Stephen Hawking looked up into the sky that he would see things very differently than you or I, but it was not a forgone conclusion that he would spread his philosophy of science around the globe, and become a household name before passing away. I cannot, (like most people), pretend to understand his theory of radiation, black holes, quantum mechanics, etc. but read some of the suppositions only to feel, rather delightfully, the top of my head being blown open to a giant sky. We cannot fathom his daring in imagining the universe, and there was always a strange sense of unintentional immortality to his words.

For large scale implications that would change physics books forever, stated in plain terms, was his stock in trade. That he would significantly increase the likelihood that people with primitive belief systems would eventually come to understand new worlds through scientific knowledge; reading Hawking bore the promise of banishing human ignorance-merely by revealing how little we actually know about the origin of the universe. Especially since he presented its unending complexity that can’t be explained in a few sentences, (in a world accustomed to instant, pat answers), Hawking’s speculations sparkle like stars.

Challenging Einstein is not for wimps, but Hawking apparently did so when he contested Einstein’s hidden variable theory, and said that God does play dice, in his appropriately named essay “Does God Play Dice?” He stunned people by how many new ideas he would introduce in short essays, and his own ability to see other points of view. He was as striking when he quoted primitive religions as modern philosophy, and even more so when he plunged them into the world of quantum mechanics, and the origins of the universe. Quite simply, he let all of us non-scientists see the world scientists live in, without burdening us with pages of formulas. His ability to write and speak about the inordinately complex in concise terms was clearly the product of a mind that was at once profound, and also, very unpretentious.

This special sense of humility and humor, combined with a slight devilishness, was what so many people who knew Hawking instantaneously remembered upon his death. People who talked with him for an extended time never went away from the conversation thinking of a handicapped person, for beyond his amusing anecdotes, they were mystified by his brilliance. Probably no one who is familiar with his work can look up at the sky without thinking of his theories. Sometime way back in history when mankind started creating stories about the stars, they also charted a way for humans to find the way out of chaos.

Science has reintroduced chaos to modern man, but when Hawking mentioned this new field of science in an essay, he did so in a way that had a humanizing effect. I suspect that genius is subtler than most people believe- it masks itself out of necessity. He was born exactly 300 years after the death of Galileo, on January 8, 1942. One gets the feeling that if God had not originally created Stephen Hawking, it would have been necessary to do so.

Jeanne Rooney

Jeanne Rooney is the Editor in Chief for South Boston Online.