GUID­ING STAR

The Peak (Malaysia) - - The Road Ahead -

The the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist and cos­mol­o­gist Stephen Hawk­ing, who died re­cently, in­spired us to look at the uni­verse dif­fer­ently.

It is im­pos­si­ble to see Stephen Hawk­ing, who passed away at time of writ­ing, and not be amazed. Con­strained phys­i­cally to his wheel­chair, he still man­aged to ex­plore the in­fi­nite uni­verse, seek­ing, as he ex­plained, “a com­plete un­der­stand­ing of the uni­verse, why it is as it is and why it ex­ists at all.” The lat­ter part of that sen­tence could just as well ap­ply to him – di­ag­nosed with amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis, a mo­tor neu­rone disease, at the age of 21 and given just two years to live, Hawk­ing car­ried on with life in­stead, har­ness­ing his for­mi­da­ble in­tel­lect to re­shape mod­ern cos­mol­ogy and in­spir­ing mil­lions around the world by his ex­am­ple and in­sights.

He would go on to live another 55 years, for­mu­lat­ing a se­ries of rad­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies that tested the lim­its of hu­man un­der­stand­ing across time and space, from the ori­gins of the uni­verse and the pos­si­bil­ity of time travel, to the mys­ter­ies of space’s all­con­sum­ing black holes. Elected at the young age of 32 to the Royal Society in 1974, Hawk­ing be­came Lu­casian Pro­fes­sor of Math­e­mat­ics – one of the world’s most dis­tin­guished aca­demic po­si­tions – at Univer­sity of Cam­bridge five years later, join­ing a sci­en­tific pan­theon that in­clude Isaac New­ton, Joseph Lar­mor, Charles Bab­bage and Paul Dirac.

Hawk­ing held the chair for 30 years, dur­ing which time he tran­scended the aca­demic world and slipped into pop cul­ture, mak­ing ap­pear­ances in Star Trek: The Next Gen­er­a­tion and The Simp­sons, and writ­ing the most un­likely best­seller ever, A Brief His­tory of Time. He also, more re­cently, had the unique dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing been por­trayed by Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch and Red­die Red­mayne (who won an Os­car for play­ing Hawk­ing in The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing) on TV and film, re­spec­tively.

More than just a man who per­son­i­fied the bound­less pos­si­bil­i­ties of the hu­man mind, Hawk­ing is also re­mem­ber for his wicked sense of hu­mour and lack of hes­i­ta­tion in ad­mit­ting he had made a mis­take – he was, in fact, well known for mak­ing bets about his the­o­ries.

While he won nu­mer­ous awards, in­clud­ing the Al­bert Ein­stein award, the Wolf prize, the Co­p­ley medal and the Fun­da­men­tal Physics prize, he never won the No­bel prize, but only be­cause no one has yet to prove the ac­cu­racy of his the­o­ries. As yet, we still don’t have the tech­nol­ogy to ver­ify his big­gest ideas. Hawk­ing once said: “My ex­pec­ta­tions were re­duced to zero when I was 21. Ev­ery­thing since then has been a bonus”. For the rest of hu­man­ity, as we seek un­der­stand­ing of the uni­verse and, by ex­ten­sion, life it­self, Stephen Hawk­ing will re­main a guid­ing light for gen­er­a­tions to come, point­ing us to the stars and in­spir­ing us to open our minds to them. Bonus, in­deed.

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