Cosmology, physics, Uncategorized

What Stephen Hawking Can Teach Us. Lessons From A Great Man.

To eulogise Professor Hawking is not in my remit, I knew him too little and there are those much better deserving and placed of that honour. To obituarise him is also beyond my scope, as I possess neither the gravitas or right to do so. But to celebrate him, and all that he has achieved through his inexhaustible pursuit of knowledge, that is something that we  all can do. Stephen was a pioneer, philanthropist, physicist and inspiration, and it is only right that he be celebrated.

For Stephen. 1942-2018. 

Somewhere in Cambridge University, likely dog-eared and covered in dust, lies a paper written over 50 years ago.  Within its pages, between the rather impenetrable prose, lies a set of formidable equations. And these equations carefully examine the nature of our universe, in particular the properties of its expansion with relation to ‘singularities.

It may seem odd that thin wood and scattered ink can capture such dramatic notions, but I assure you it can. And with this first foray into the laws of the Universe, the late Stephen Hawking laid strong foundations for a future we can all dream of.

”Closed in a room, my imagination becomes the universe, and the rest of the world is missing out.” – Criss Jami

An Expanding Universe

In 1929 Edwin Hubble used an analysis of light wavelength change to demonstrate the expansion of the Universe. Each galaxy is rushing away from one and another, in a Universe oft described as ‘Infinite but bounded.’ This is a confusing concept for most (including myself,) and asks more questions than it answers. Will it expand forever (very possibly,) can we ever transverse all of it (disappointingly unlikely,) and why does it behave as it does?

The same questions plagued a young doctoral candidate called Stephen Hawking, who set about to answer them. Having graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Physics, Stephen was ready to prove his worth. His 1965 paper, titled ‘Properties of Expanding Universes’ (note the pluralisation of Universe,) along with many others of his own,  answered seminal questions that propelled this young man into infamy, and we still use his work today.

In his work on ‘singularities‘ (where matter becomes incredibly densely packed,) he investigated the nature of universal expansion, black holes and other phenomena. Alongside mathematician Roger Penrose, Hawking showed mathematical proof for the Big Bang, modelled the nature of Black Holes and even went as far to examine what happens to information devoured by such holes as they die.

In short, Stephen probed the darkest centres of reality and found light. And because of this, modern days physicists can begin to answer even more of the very questions that define our existence.

Stephen and the Universe

‘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 – Professor Hawking

The young hands responsible for this work belonged to a brilliant mind, but one fraught with worry. An exceptional intelligence, Stephen Hawking’s quest for knowledge found little hindrance in the solemnity of disease. When diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (a diagnosis oft questioned,) he fell into a depression which marred his studies. But then the disease failed to progress as expected, Stephen found a new lease of life.

It is something wonderful that Stephens spirit was not crushed by his physical limitations. And even as he lost the use of his body, his mind became freer to set itself amongst the stars. Not only has he answered some of the greatest questions known to man, but propelled countless young minds outwards into the same abyss he explored. It is poetic that even confined physically, he explored more of space and time than many of us ever will.

With his passing today humanity can all feel a collective loss. All great men (and women,) must die, but their deeds are remembered in infamy. Although it is likely, and shamefully so, that many will have never heard his name, their descendants will use his work to transverse the stars, find new homes and spread humanity to the farthest reaches.  And for me at least, opening the pages of his books will always feel like home.

In his very equations are his legacy, the deepest paint on the extraordinary canvas that was a challenging and incredible story. Stephen showed us that the Universe is ours for the taking, and that you can do it from a wheelchair. He showed us that passion and spirit can conquer the greatest odds, and that generosity and determination can build great things.

Goodbye Stephen. And thank you.

What’s Next?

  • Read Stephen Hawkins ‘A Brief History of Time’
  • Learn more about ‘black holes’
  • Go do something wonderful.

The opinions above are those of Dr Janaway alone. You may note that this page still has ads on it, and all proceeds from this post will go to charities associated with Motor Neurone Disease. I hope you find this acceptable. Image courtesy of Lwp Kommunikáció

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