Stephen Hawking passed away on 14 March 2018. His work changed literally everything we know about the cosmos and our place in it. But his greatest contribution to our species wasn’t his theories on black holes or how quickly the universe was expanding, it was his humanity.
Professor Hawking was born on 8 January 1942. He would have been 78 years old today – a bit older than ‘boomer’ age, his generation was called the “Silent” one. In his early twenties he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). Eventually he became paralyzed and could only speak with the assistance a computer-generated audio device.
The average life expectancy of a person with ALS is about 2-5 years from the time of diagnosis. Professor Hawking lived with his illness for more than 50 years. He remained active as one of the brightest minds in the world of physics his entire life, all the way up to his final paper, “Black Hole Entropy and Soft Hair.”
Professor Hawking was usually the smartest person in any room. He reportedly had an IQ of 160 – placing him in the top one percent of all humans. But it was his empathy that separated him from other mental giants. He didn’t appear to see the world through the lens of a scientist, but instead through the eyes of a kind, caring person.
He had opinions on politics, he was an atheist, he was married several times, had children, and seemingly lived a full life that ran the gamut of human experience. And, though he didn’t believe in a heaven for scientists who changed everything we know about everything, his spirit will live on. His work is part of the bedrock of science and his life was an inspiration to us all.
And, as he was fond of pointing out, there’s a pretty good chance that we’re living in just one of infinite universes. Maybe there’s a reality out there where the professor is celebrating his birthday today with a future winner of the Miss Universe contest.