Just about one year ago, on the morning of 14th March, 2018, legendary theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author Stephen Hawking died at age 76, leaving behind a remarkable legacy for not just the scientific world, but for us all.
"We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world.
He once said, “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.” We will miss him forever."
~ Statement from Stephen Hawking’s family
After his diagnosis at age 21 with ALS, Stephen Hawking’s physical condition deteriorated. He was told he would not live past age 23, but he persevered for 55 more years. We heard from him almost exclusively through his computer (a Lenovo Yoga running Windows 10 with 512GB of solid-state storage, in case you were wondering), on which he would slowly type out the information he wanted to convey using his cheek muscle and predictive text software trained on his lectures and books. One can only wonder about all of the thoughts in Hawking’s mind that we never got to hear. His body might have been useless, but his mind was truly infinite. You can read this brilliance for yourself in Hawking’s own words in this lecture he gave in 2016.
Hawking was one of the most influential scientists in history, just like Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. He is perhaps best known for his study of black holes, relativity, and the Big Bang, all which have revolutionised our understanding of the universe and our place within it. It is no surprise that upon hearing the sad news of his death, tributes poured in from around the world, from world leaders to tech pioneers:
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” -Stephen Hawking. We will always be inspired by his life and ideas. RIP.— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) March 14, 2018
Professor Stephen Hawking was an outstanding scientist and academic. His grit and tenacity inspired people all over the world. His demise is anguishing. Professor Hawking’s pioneering work made our world a better place. May his soul rest in peace.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 14, 2018
Have fun out there among the stars. pic.twitter.com/S285MTwGtp— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 14, 2018
Remembering Stephen Hawking, a friend of @UNESCO, interpreter of the universe & advocate for ICT’s for people with disabilities.— UNESCO (@UNESCO) March 14, 2018
Professor Hawking embodied the values of UNESCO to share knowledge & empower people.
His star will forever shine brightly in the Universe. pic.twitter.com/N9EaUdnQgC
In an episode of StarTalk, host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson interviewed Stephen Hawking, covering topics varying from black holes to terraforming Mars to religion. Toward the end of his episode, Tyson says that our bodies are no different from that of any other animal. In fact, our bodies are less capable than many animals – we are neither the fastest, nor the strongest, nor the largest. Our greatest gift is not our bodies, Tyson says, but rather our minds. It is through our minds that we can do the extraordinary things that separate us from other species.
Think about this: our society today gives more attention to “celebrities” than to scientists and educators, and we often value material wealth over knowledge and discovery.
Perhaps it is we who are actually imprisoned, thinking our body and material surroundings matter, when really, it is only our mind that matters. As Tyson says, “at the end of the day, it’s really all about your thoughts, all about your dreams, all about how we react to our life experience in this world and share it with others. That is the cosmic perspective.”
And of course, almost no one knows this better than Stephen Hawking himself, who was able to go places across the universe and through time with the power of his mind, even though he had no power from the rest of his body. Stephen Hawking’s life is a testament to the fact that your mind, your intelligence, your knowledge, can take you farther than anything outside ever can.
Hawking’s ambition and determination is one of the most admirable in our lifetimes. He lived every single day as if it was his last, constantly battling the struggle and depression of paralysis. Yet, he had a great sense of humour, and talked about all the things he wanted to do before dying. He was always found encouraging others to never give up on their dreams, just like he never gave up on his.
That is perhaps Professor Hawking’s greatest contribution to our human species – he showed us how to turn the impossible into possible.
So what’s stopping you?
"Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up."