Dr. Stephen J. Hawking, the author of A Brief History Of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell, and who is said to be very close to formulating a theory to explain everything in the universe, is “very ill” in hospital, according to Cambridge University where he’s taught mathematics since 1979. There was a hint last month that his health was failing when Arizona State University announced Hawking cancelled a planned April appearance.
If Hawking is near death, he will leave behind a remarkable legacy: He changed how we understand everything about the entire universe around us.
Despite being stricken with ALS – Lou Gerhig’s Disease – while still an undergrad at university, Hawking may be the most productive, prolific and profound mathematician of our time. During an era when much of science saw Einstein’s E=mc2 as a conclusion, Hawking’s singular genius came from realising it was merely a starting point. Over a 30 year span, this basic awareness allowed Hawking to demonstrate not just the truth of the “Big Bang” but why physics and mathematics compelled it to occur. So much for all of that crackpot “intelligent design” nonsense.
He also used his positively radical idea about Einstein to prove that gravity warps time and that time itself is curved, establish the reality of black holes and, by the way, why they provide rebirth after a couple hundred million years of destroying anything that comes close including gravity and light. His writings gave rise to “string theory,” which may end up being the proof of how and why everything that is, is.
Along the way, Hawking found time to write and narrate several television specials based on his theories. Next year, Discovery Channel will air Stephen Hawking’s Universe, a three-part special exploring the nature of the cosmos.
For fun, he made cameo appearances in The Simpson’s and Star Trek: The Next Generation. One of my favourite Simpson episodes finds Homer stumbling through a time warp in Bart’s room and, when he falls out the other side, mutters to himself “Ooo, I wish I understood more about what that Stephen Hawking guy was writing about.”
Oh, and Hawking enabled me to reach a rudimentary understanding of the meaning of quantum mechanics, physics and higher mathematics. Since I never met the man, this is quite an accomplishment given that, despite intensive tutoring in eighth grade algebra, I still do not understand why A+B must always equal C.
Not a bad list of accomplishments for a man who, for much of his life, was unable to move anything more than an eyelid and the energy inside his massively powerful brain.