Sunday, February 6, 2011

Stephen Hawking

I was a little bit disappointed when I wasn’t able to attend the Christmas Party of the Davao Bloggers Community last December 3 (Friday) because I had a class at 6:00 to 9:00 pm, but it was a blessing in disguise because we had a wonderful class discussion that night. My professor, a well-traveled lady who took up her two Masteral degrees in Australia and the United States, shared a very touching story about STEPHEN HAWKING.

For people who didn’t know Stephen Hawking, he is a British Theoritical Physicist, Cosmologist and a Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the prestigious Cambridge University (a post previously held by another gifted Physicist, Sir Isaac Newton). He earned his Physics and Mathematics degree at Cambridge and Oxford. Hawking is traditionally called the last genius (in the tradition of Albert Einstein , Galileo Galili and Isaac Newton) to survive in the 21st century.

According to his biography, Hawking is known for his contribution in the fields of Cosmology and Quantum Gravity especially in the context of Black Holes, his key scientific works include Theorems regarding gravitational singularities in the framework of general relativity and the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation, which is today known as Hawking radiation. But this scientist is plagued by a strange disease called “a motor neuron disease” which crippled his body and made him confined in a wheelchair, he looked like a “crumpled box” with a machine attached to his face ( this machine was invented by his Doctor of Physics students at the Cambridge University) to read the blinking of his eyes and to transmit his slurred speech into coherent words.

This noted man of learned science who had been nominated several times at the Nobel Prize Awards, awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 (the highest accolade a US President can give to a private citizen) for his great contribution to contemporary physics, published many books, actively cooperated with NASA for its space technology research (in 2009 Hawking was the first disabled person to take a zero-gravity flight) and yet, despite beleaguered with a life-threatening disease which limited his mobility and speech, he did not stop from doing what he believed could greatly contribute to human kind.

What amazed me more is that despite his incapacity and limited movements, he still teaches at Cambridge University, trained potential Physicists, published many books (his two world’s best-seller books are The Brief History of Time and The Briefer History of Time and one recently published book he co-authored with American Physicist, Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, he also published a journal called God Created the Integers) and continue working on different research studies about Quantum Gravity and Cosmology. This genius is truly an inspiration!

But what really struck me about this exceptional human being is when my professor related the interview of Larry King, a renowned American TV host, with Hawking in his Larry King Live show on CNN. Here’s what my professor shared:
Two years ago when I was in New York, Stephen Hawking was there promoting his book “The Brief History of Time”, then I saw him being interviewed by Larry King, when the latter asked Hawking if he believed in God, the scientist said in a coarse voice transmitted by the machine “No, Larry, I don’t believe in God”
“A year later, I watched Stephen Hawking again (who made another trip to the United States, in a wheelchair, promoting his follow-up book “The Briefer History of Time”) being interviewed by Larry King and asked the same question: “Oh Mr. Hawking I will ask you the same question because the viewers are interested to know your thought about God, Do you believe in God now?”

My professor paused and looked on our bewildered faces (I remember holding my breath while my professor continued sharing about Stephen Hawking) and she said to us “You know class I was struck with Stephen Hawking’s answer when he said in a slow voice “Yes Larry I believed in God, but not your God Larry, but the God of the Universe" (Larry King is a Jew).

For a scientist and one of the few remaining geniuses who once acknowledged that “the big bang was the result of the inevitable laws of Physics and did not need God to spark the creation of the Universe” to utter those lines was a great surprise! Hawking, for many years refused to believe that there is God. But in his great work "The Brief History of Time", Hawking did not dismiss the possibility that God had a hand in the creation of the Universe.

But few weeks ago, his latest book “The Grand Design” which centers on the big bang theory, received criticism from Christians especially Catholic and Anglican church authorities. Nevertheless, my admiration of Hawking is not on religious aspect (as I respected his views about it), but more on courage, bravery and wisdom. His astonishing ability to cope up with frustrations and depression, his unique courage to fight the insecurities and humiliation brought by his paralyzed body, despite his disability, he continues inspiring people with his discoveries and exceptional intellect.

Hawking described himself as “very lucky” despite his disease. In the span of many years battling for this illness, it did not hinder him from making influential discoveries and exploring possibilities of making use of his life while on Earth. The disease, which affected him since he was 21 years old, gave him only 30 years to live (according to his doctors, at that time he was only 40, now Hawking is already 68 years old) During the BBC Interview Stephen Hawking said "Being disabled, or physically challenged, makes no difference to how my scientific colleagues treat me apart from practical matters like waiting while I write what I want to say about the disability and being a scientist".