Farewell, Stephen Hawking

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With the death of British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking — it is not just this field of modern science that has lost one of its brightest stars. The world has, too. For Hawking’s mind did not just travel the cosmos; it also forayed far beyond his chosen profession to dwell on such diverse subjects as feminism, climate change and the shock election of Donald Trump to the White House. Not to mention how he viewed Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn a man of principles but, nevertheless, unelectable.
Yet it is science that remained his first love and it was this affair that brought him to the people; as did his resilience in the face of the debilitating motor neuron disease that took hold of his body at just 21years of age. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) ultimately left Hawking wheelchair-bound and immobile except for eye and partial finger movement. Thus his is a story of mind over matter, quite literally.
Fast-forward a few years and Hawking’s research led him to explore gravity and the phenomena of black holes. Indeed, it was his thesis on Black Hole Expansions back in 1974 that consolidated his reputation as one of the world’s most reputed scientists, at least in terms of peer-to-peer review. Just over a decade later came his book, A Brief History of Time. It proved to be a game-changer. For it thrust him into the public consciousness with its layman accessibility. Yet ever the showman, when asked what it was about Hawking rather famously and fiendishly answered: the mind of God.
Never before had the contemporary world seen a scientist become part of popular culture. That he endured physical limitations, while keeping his devilish sense of humour, turned him into a true icon. And one whose legacy must endure. For Hawking had some very serious words of caution for the world. Not only did he slam Trump Town’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change last year — he was also concerned over the rise of Artificial Intelligence; warning that it had the potential to surpass the primitive human brain in both capacity and capability. Thus if the world is sincere in wanting to pay homage to one of the most brilliant minds, it has to look beyond Stephen Hawking the pop icon and return to Stephen Hawking the extraordinary physicist. After all, it may or may not be a coincidence that he was born some 300 years after Galileo Galilei; a key figure associated with the transition from natural philosophy to modern science.