A decade to two ago, when I was travelling widely across the island on my motorcycle, I used to take a few books with me to read at night. Inside my backpack, there would always be a copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.
There was always little time to read, arriving at night as I did pretty tired by a day’s riding and visits, and looking forward to a good night’s sleep before starting out early again the next day. At best, I’d manage to read a few pages. Looking out of the window, the night sky would be brilliantly lit by stars, but they were a confusing mass to a layman. These two books helped me to get the big picture with some clarity. They strengthened my belief that there are other worlds out there beyond our galaxy, with the possibility of intelligent life. It made you feel less lonely with only crickets for company when the lights were switched off.
Cosmos was always, and still is, easier to read and understand. It must have been written for people like me, with elementary science, in mind. Sagan was already dead, at the relatively young age of 62, when I bought a copy of Cosmos. I dreamed of meeting Dr. Hawking one day. But he died two weeks ago, at age 76. The miracle is that he lived so long.
In 1963, when doctors diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) just after his 21st birthday, he was given less than three years to live. It gradually degenerated all his muscles and, after 1980, he had to be cared for by nurses. In 1981, when he contracted pneumonia, doctors wanted to remove his life support, but his wife Jane Wilde refused. He survived, but could not speak thereafter.
During the final three decades of his life, he was confined to a wheelchair, and could only ‘speak’ through a speech synthesizer activated by laser beams directed at his eye balls. Nevertheless, he took part in a zero-gravity flight and experienced weightlessness at age 65, married twice with three children, became the best known Cambridge University physicist of the 20th century, and a best-selling author who visited every continent while producing some of the most important cosmological research of our time about gravity and the properties of black holes.
It’s mind boggling. After meeting so many arrogant, self-important and humourless people in academia, administration, politics and business during my life, people who have all their limbs and faculties in working order but producing so much less, I marveled at the willpower, tenacity and productivity of this man, entirely at the mercy of the nurse who fed him and brushed his teeth daily, and yet was able to move millions with his words and writing. His body was a trap, and it was a condition which would have destroyed any ordinary mind. But this was no ordinary mind.
Even on my darkest days and hours, that inspired me to keep going, and to keep working. As far as known, he never complained about being trapped inside an inanimate body, possibly because his mind wondering far and wide made him forget his physical existence. His only complaint about his speech synthesizer, custom-made for him in California, was that it gave him an American accent.
Dr. Hawking liked to note that he was born 300 years to the day after the death of Galileo, who initiated the study of gravity. He was a mediocre student at school but at Oxford, he rarely needed to take notes while studying mathematics
Dr. Hawking liked to note that he was born 300 years to the day after the death of Galileo, who initiated the study of gravity. He was a mediocre student at school but at Oxford, he rarely needed to take notes while studying mathematics, and got by with a thousand hours of work in three years, averaging one hour a day. “People have the mistaken impression that mathematics is just equations,” he once said. “In fact, equations are just the boring part of mathematics.”
Cosmology was the only subject which excited him, he said, because it dealt with “the big question: Where did the universe come from?” His initial writing shows a strong religious streak. In A Brief History of Time, he refers to ‘the mind of God.’ But he grew increasingly pessimistic about religion, saying in 2011: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
In 1990, he separated from his wife Jane after 25 years of marriage, and married Elaine Mason, a nurse who had cared for him since his almost fatal bout of pneumonia. She was earlier married to David Mason, the engineer who had attached Dr. Hawking’s speech synthesizer to his wheelchair. This second marriage was unsuccessful and they later divorced.
He wrote A Brief History of Time because he wished to share his excitement about ‘the discoveries that have been made about the universe’ with ‘the public who paid for the research.’ He hoped, too, to earn enough to pay for his children’s education, and that wish came true when the book became a bestseller.
Asked by the New Scientist magazine what he thought about most, he said: “Women. They are a complete mystery.
(Source: The Wikipedia).