As the passing of renowned physicist and public intellectual Stephen Hawking is met with grief and remembrance the world over, Next Avenue wanted to honor the man who educated the world on a host of issues by sharing five important lessons we learned from him:
1. Trust in science, but remember that we haven’t uncovered all its mysteries yet.
At 22, Professor Hawking was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neuron disease and told he only had a few years to live. For most of his adult life, he was wheelchair bound and could speak only with the aid of a vocal synthesizer. Yet, against all odds, Hawking had a successful career and rich family life until passing away at the age of 76.
2. Sometimes a person’s greatest impact happens when he or she feels (literally) voiceless.
From Oxford graduate to public figure to cosmologist to celebrity, Stephen Hawking was perhaps the scientist with the most prominent place in the public eye in the past few decades. His book, A Brief History of Time, shattered expectations for sales. And in recent years, he was a vocal critic of environmental policies that he felt were hurting the planet. He traveled to space, figuratively, and had a “theory of everything.” In short, Hawking hasn’t spoken without the aid of a computer for decades, but he has most definitely been heard.
3. The universe is vast, and our own potential is just as limitless.
Professor Hawking had as much to say about humanity as he did about the cosmos. In a 1998 interview with Der Spiegiel he said “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” He also had great wisdom about our responsibilities to ourselves and one another as people. In a 2010 interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC, Hawking offered three pieces of wise advice: “One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”
4. Live in the moment and remember what (and who) truly matters.
Despite having his mind and gaze directed at the stars, Hawking was always present in the life, family and community that surrounded him. Indeed, his children have credited him as being a loving father, noting that he would often say, “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.”
5. Don’t fear the end.
Perhaps one of the most famous of Hawking’s quotes is the most prescient on the day of his passing. Once, when speaking on his theory of everything, in which he explains that the universe is governed by a set of laws, Hawking pondered how the universe began. He then added, “Where is it going and will it have an end? If so, how will it end? If we find the answers to these questions, we really shall know the mind of God.” In other words, the end was not a finale as such, but the beginning of a whole new way of knowing.
So long, Professor Hawking, and may you find peace on your journey. You helped make the world kinder and smarter for having been in it. You are a giant on whose shoulders we now stand.