Of all the celebrity deaths that regularly roll through the media, very few give me pause as I have no sense of connection with any of them. Celebrities, in my eyes, are generally people that are given far too much attention for very little reason (or often purely vulgar reasons such as living selfish lives of excess).
There are some exceptions. Where celebrity has been earned through dedication to a work that genuinely benefits our lives, I take more of an interest and I have to admit, I was genuinely saddened to read of the passing of Stephen Hawkin.
When I was a college lecturer, people such as Stephen Hawkin helped me to be mindful that I should always try to explain concepts that I found simple in a way that my students could also understand, just as he explained the world of advanced physics to people such as myself.
His contributions to science and theoretical physics are well known, particularly as he strove to make scientific theory accessible to the ‘common man’ by explaining complex science in ways that even I can understand. His amiability and acceptance of his condition gave many hope that no matter what physical impairments might afflict them, they might still achieve great things.
His writing was always interesting and his opinions about the nature of the universe were always fascinating to consider. Granted, his insistence that God does not exist may have offended some with religious sensibilities but that was his opinion, based upon a life devoted to science and was just as valid as any whose life is devoted to a faith in a god.
Below are some quotes and observations made by Hawkin that I’ve found the most interesting. I’ve ensured that I’ve provided the original sources of these quotes because already, within days of his death, people are misquoting him for the purpose of Facebook likes and easy click-bait – something that I think he’d find quite offensive.
On his life in a wheelchair
It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining. [The Guardian, 2005]
There are so many people that spend more time complaining about their lot in life than doing something about it. If Stephen Hawkin can write a book with a cheek device that selects one word at a time, what are we capable of?
On the creation of the universe
The question is: is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can’t understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science ‘God’, but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you could meet, and ask questions. [Genius of Britain, Channel 4, 2010]
Different people have difference concepts about the nature of God. Why is it so offensive to many Christians that Stephen Hawkin’s god was the laws of science?
On death (and the afterlife)
I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. […] I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark. [The Guardian, 2011]
I don’t see this as a negative quote. I think that accepting that this life is the one time we are sure we can do anything that makes a difference should motivate us to make the most of it.
On the beauty of science
Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations. Examples include the double helix in biology, and the fundamental equations of physics. [The Guardian, 2011]
I’ve always been amazed at the beauty of mathematics and science. The Fibonacci sequence displayed in the pattern of sunflower seed growth and the spiral growth of a nautilus shell demonstrates the beauty of mathematics and science in the ‘real’ world around us.
On Jeremy Hunt (UK Health Secretary) cherry-picking research for political gain
For a scientist, cherry-picking evidence is unacceptable. When public figures abuse scientific argument, citing some studies but suppressing others to justify policies they want to implement for other reasons, it debases scientific culture. One consequence of this sort of behaviour is that it leads ordinary people to not trust science at a time when scientific research and progress are more important than ever. [The Guardian, 2017]
It’s wonderful that somebody with a reputation for solid research would join the fight against political manipulation aimed at destroying the NHS in the UK.
On the environment and disparity of wealth
We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.
To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations. If we are to stand a chance of doing that, the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many. With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present. [The Guardian, 2016]
On the importance of keeping an active mind
Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival. Living two thirds of my life with the threat of death hanging over me has taught me to make the most of every minute. [The Guardian, 2016]
This has often inspired me to keep learning and to try new things.
On Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement
Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent if we act now.
By denying the evidence for climate change, and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Donald Trump will cause avoidable environmental damage to our beautiful planet, endangering the natural world, for us and our children. [BBC News, 2017]
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