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What I Learnt From Stephen Hawking-- And It Wasn't Science

To Lucy, Robert, and Tim — your dad was quite an influence.

Karthik Rajan |

Updated:March 19, 2018, 2:37 PM IST
What I Learnt From Stephen Hawking-- And It Wasn't Science
Image: Reuters
Stephen Hawking beamed light on black holes. Yet, you don’t have to know science to know Stephen. I could write essays on his life. I have chosen snippets of moments when I was self aware of how I reacted — when I learned from him, the very first time.

Moments that seared in my memory for relatable reasons.

1) When I could relate as a fellow parent

A question on time travel is a given certainty for any theoretical physicist. Especially someone known for his contributions to the fields of general relativity. In his case, the question was tangentially different in a NY Times , 2011 interview, “what moment in your life you would like to return to?”

His answer:

“I would go back to 1967, and the birth of my first child, Robert. My three children have brought me great joy.”

2) When I could imagine his schooling years playing in my head
From his 2013 book, My Brief History:

“At school, I was never more than about halfway up the class. It was a very bright class. My classwork was very untidy, and my handwriting was the despair of my teachers. But my classmates gave me the nickname Einstein, so presumably they saw signs of something better. When I was twelve, one of my friends bet another friend a bag of sweets that I would never come to anything. I don’t know if this bet was ever settled, and if so, which way it was decided.”

3) When he showed up playing poker with Einstein, Newton and Data

In ‘my’ popular culture — the opening scene from the Star Trek episode: “Descent, Part 1.”

I loved the way the geniuses lorded their scientific knowledge. The best part came at the end — when Stephen revealed the right cards, I chuckled.

4) When he shared this advice for his children in response to Diane Sawyer’s question in ABC’s “World News Tonight”

“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”

When I heard it, I nodded my head in vigorous agreement.

5) When WSJ mentioned his ‘striking physical challenges’ in his obituary, I remembered this striking quote

It is my favorite of his. Ounces of radiance about positive energy.

“It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining”

The most inspirational words from the obituary.

“Pete Denman, an Intel designer who helped build the computer tools Dr. Hawking uses to communicate, told Wired in 2015. “After I broke my neck and became paralyzed, my mother gave me a copy of ‘A Brief History of Time,’ which had just come out. She told me people in wheelchairs can still do amazing things. Looking back, I realize how prophetic that was.”

6) When he magnetized me with messages delivered with British, dry wit humor

1. You have to love the way he connected things to ground reality - “I have noticed that even people who claim everything is predetermined and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.”

2. Sometimes, antonyms are misleading — “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

3. A beautiful backhanded compliment to our race — “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.”

7) Best for last

“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny” — Stephen Hawking.

I laughed out loud when he explained “what is a black hole?” to the science channel. Hawking's response was, “Something you get in black socks.” I did not see that coming.

This piece was first published on Medium. 
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