This was a hard episode to record. I greatly admired Stephen Hawking and his work. He was a man who fundamentally reimagined the cosmos, who could understand the implications of entropy of a black hole changing with respect to surface area of the event horizon rather than volume. But he was also a man who never lost his love of humanity, and his faith that they could be great.
For today’s episode we are going to talk about something very different than what I normally do. Hearing about the passing of Stephen Hawking affected me more than I expected and I wanted to take a day off from my normal updates to discuss what this man means to me and to science as a whole. It is rare the world has the benefit of a man as great as Stephen Hawking, and the world is greater now than it was before thanks to his contributions. In many ways my interest in theoretical physics and cosmology were inspired by Stephen Hawking. A man who looked out at the cosmos, and fundamentally re-imagined it, but never lost sight of the incredible power of humanity as a whole. A man who looked at humanity and could say, “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.” To understand that despite our seemingly small position in this vast cosmos, there is something inherently special about humanity because we are willing to strive for and reach for a greater understanding of the world around us. A man who understood despite his great knowledge understood that, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” He wanted to understand the truth and the deepest nature of our world, purely for the beauty of the nature of reality and for the sake of knowledge itself. This is the fundamental nature of all scientific inquiry and he did it with a warm heart and a gentle heart.
One of the most impactful lines I ever read of his was that: “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” This was a man who no matter what found gentleness and humor in his fellow man, and believed in the fundamental greatness of humanity.
I want to leave with two quotes that for me always struck me as indicative of the power Hawking had to truly appreciate the beauty of the cosmos and the beauty of humanity. “I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization that there probably is no heaven and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful.” and ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ Stephen Hawking helped me understand that it was possible to be a lover of both science and of humanity. Thank you for everything you have done to make the universe a more knowable, more humorous, and more kind place Stephen Hawking. You have left as your legacy a better world.