Greater Than The Sum Of His Parts

FOR one, we as a society are far poorer as of March 14, 2018 – at least from an intelligence quotient perspective. Think of it this way, though; if Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose never unified Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity with Niels Bohr’s (et al.) quantum theory then we’d be in a slighter stead. We as people would likely attribute something lesser than a sinkhole filled to the brim with primordial soup as a means to pin down life’s source on Earth. It is not only the science world, but humanity as a whole who have lost one of their beloved cerebral sons.

For long we had to hold back in the deification of Hawking as some being sent to impart the twists and turns the universe so intricately laid bare before us. It has no secrets; you just have to dig a little bit. He was just like you and I. A man – a great man, but one who’d bleed if you prick him like all others. It is a great shame that such a mind left us, but remember, years of distress in a near-inept body was arguably far tougher than a mere stroll in the park.

So often do we forget that he was just a bloke, albeit with a bit of extra grey matter. Angela Lambert, back in 1995, so eloquently outlined his humanness in a few simple words. “His role as genius-martyr is unchallengeable. But in recent years he has acquired another, more human and more ambivalent dimension, that of a man apparently still avid for the pleasures of the flesh, despite a wasted body.” Hawking himself once declared, given the choice, that he’d rather meet Marilyn Monroe over Isaac Newton any day of the week.

His life, in some twisted, forced, tortured metaphor is therefore nothing but a brief history in time, but a life that changed our understanding of nature itself. A rap sheet in theoretical physics, cosmology, astronomy and mathematics is quite an imposing one, but the boy who was born on 8 January, 1942 in Oxfordshire was just that – a boy. He was a cheeky kid who’d later chase after the girls just as any high school male would do. There was a curiosity and a seriousness about him that would later morph into one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Both his eccentricity and intellect might just be something he inherited from both his parents. His father, Frank specialised in the medical field of parasitology and his mother specialised in philosophy, politics and economics. The Hawkings lived rather frugality, but both his parents managed to study at Oxford University. Locals in the area thought of them as a rather odd household given that family dinners where spent in complete silence reading and their proclivity to commute in an old converted London taxicab.

As with many who possess a prolific intellect, Hawking himself struggled somewhat at school. His parents placed a high value on academics, but their financial position inhibited his attending more prestigious schools. Despite this, and a difficulty to learn to read, he became both a popular and academically astute student sometimes offset by his interest in science fiction, board games, the fireworks, model aeroplanes and boats. He rightfully earned the epithet ‘Einstein’ and finished his primary education a year early.

Frank Hawking wanted him to study medicine after school as he believed that there were few decent paying career paths in maths. University College, Oxford did not have a mathematics programme at the time. His father insisted he attend the institution which had Hawking opt for physics and chemistry instead. It was during this time that he cultivated a rather rambunctious image laden with bravado, wit and a healthy dose of cynicism. His popularity grew to such a point that he found himself as a coxswain on the rowing crew.

His worry that he may have been somewhat of a languid and difficult student was largely unfounded. His wit and clearly visible intellect afforded him to further his post-graduate studies in cosmology at Cambridge University. His doctoral studies were trying given his dislike of his professor, Dennis William Sciama and his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at 21. He was given two years to live – it sent him into a deep apathetical depression, but it progresses far slower than normal. His professors encouraged him to complete his studies and, in 1966, he received his PhD in applied mathematics and theoretical physics as well as that year’s prestigious Adams Prize.

It was not all study, study, study for him though. His wily and charming character drew the attention of one Jane Wilde, a friend of his sister’s whom he got engaged to and married a year for the completion of his PhD. They remained together for 30 years and had three children together. Severe strain may have been a contributor to their separation in 1990 and subsequent divorce in 1995. Hawking married one of his nurses, Elaine Mason in 1995. They quietly divorced in 2006 after which he spent more time with Jane and his children.

During the early onset of his ALS he remained as stubborn as they come. He often refused help and rarely, if ever, discussed his disease with Jane during the early years in their relationship. Clumsiness and slurred speech eventually led to a full paralysis and an inability to speak. Advancements in technology and caregiving afforded him the opportunity to maintain his relationships and continue with his work as best as was humanly possible.

His ALS caused him a lot of emotional strain in its early stages, but for the most part he remained resolute throughout and once proclaimed following. “I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many. I have been lucky that my condition has progressed more slowly than is often the case. But it shows that one need not lose hope.” For all his quirks and genius, Stephen Hawking like many others was foremost a family man that believed that “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”

“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world,” a statement from his children Lucy, Robert and Tim read. No cause of death has yet been announced but his family said that Stephen Hawking had died peacefully.

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