It should go without saying that Stephen Hawking is one of the most intelligent human beings on Earth today; he was born precisely 300 years after Galileo died, and excelled greatly at mathematics as a child before mastering natural sciences as an adult. When Hawking was born on January 8th, 1942, no one knew that he would eventually show signs of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) at the age of 21, and they certainly had no idea that doctors would tell him he probably wouldn’t live past the age of 24.
However, Hawking has managed to persevere (just as he has in all other aspects of life) and live to be 74 years old; what’s more, he still teaches, researches, theorizes, and publishes to this day. Hawking admits that he began to expect nothing more in life when he was initially diagnosed with ALS, but he also argues that that has made each and every one of his enjoyable experiences and accomplishments since then even more fulfilling. He now has 12 honorary degrees, and he has made several ground-breaking discoveries pertaining to the Universe, the Big Bang, and life itself—most while being restrained to a wheelchair without the ability to speak.
Hawking reminds us to keep the right perspective in life: “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.” Shockingly, in a January lecture at the Royal Institute in London, Hawking related black holes to depression mainly because they are both virtually impossible to escape.
Hawking proclaims that, “The message of this lecture is that black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up; there’s a way out. . . . The victim should have the right to end his life, if he wants. But I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”
Indeed, Hawking’s insights are applicable and invaluable in many ways that have nothing to do with science or astronomy at all: “If you are disabled, it is probably not your fault, but it is no good blaming the world or expecting it to take pity on you. One has to have a positive attitude and must make the best of the situation that one finds oneself in; if one is physically disabled, one cannot afford to be psychologically disabled as well. In my opinion, one should concentrate on activities in which one’s physical disability will not present a serious handicap. I am afraid that Olympic Games for the disabled do not appeal to me, but it is easy for me to say that because I never liked athletics anyway.”
In part, Hawking was interested in science because it was accessible to virtually everyone: “On the other hand, science is a very good area for disabled people because it goes on mainly in the mind. Of course, most kinds of experimental work are probably ruled out for most such people, but theoretical work is almost ideal. My disabilities have not been a significant handicap in my field, which is theoretical physics. Indeed, they have helped me in a way by shielding me from lecturing and administrative work that I would otherwise have been involved in. I have managed, however, only because of the large amount of help I have received from my wife, children, colleagues and students. I find that people in general are very ready to help, but you should encourage them to feel that their efforts to aid you are worthwhile by doing as well as you possibly can.”
As can be seen, Hawking sees many similarities between the cosmos and human beings in general, and as his daughter Lucy explains, he draws inspiration from both subjects: “He has a very enviable wish to keep going and the ability to summon all his reserves, all his energy, all his mental focus and press them all into that goal of keeping going. But not just to keep going for the purposes of survival, but to transcend this by producing extraordinary work writing books, giving lectures, inspiring other people with neurodegenerative and other disabilities.”
Kind of makes you want to go out and make a significant difference in the world—or the Universe—doesn’t it?
*This content was inspired by an amazing article that can be found here.