Torchbearer Down

A good part of this week has been spent in a walking blank state: the result, I suppose, of the discorporation of Steven Hawking.

I have to admit that I missed the discorporation of Richard Feynman. I was busy and the media was much less in-your-face than today. Feynman was the court sage only of physicists and a few science nerds and geeks, not of bogs and debutantes. His work was also closer to me; I have always been a matterist, going afield in optics a bit, but mostly I care about the local. Probably comes of initially being brain washed by Chemists. Thanks George Toffel!

I have been aware of Hawking for years, but have never read any of his work. Some of that comes of reading outreach tomes only grudgingly. The last one I enjoyed was Weinberg’s “To Explain the World.” I actually finished that one; most I get five pages in and either ruin the volume with regurgitant or I douse it with petrol and set it to fire. 

While I wasn’t much interested in Hawking’s work, mostly I read bits to answer questions posed by friends who are incapable of reading (and comprehending) for themselves, I did respect him for his work and doubly the handicap he persevered. I identified with his problems: communication; near-nasty intruding people; finding a persisting life partner; getting work done. And his ability to transcend much greater difficulties than mine made my life easier and seem less futile. When you are submerged in an ocean of sharks it is hard to catch fish.

So when I saw an article [Link] this morning entitled “Stephen Hawking dies: Scientist’s most memorable quotes” I could not resist paying homage to him in my inimitable pseudo-snarky fashion.

“On why the universe exists…

❝If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God❞ – A Brief History Of Time, published 1988

It seems to me that the obvious conjecture here is the universe is a petri dish and the deity is a scientist. It’s an experiment and the deity is hyper-objective.

On humanity…

❝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❞ – Interview, Der Spiegel, October 1988

The problem is that while we as a species can (maybe) understand the universe, the fraction of humans who can do so is vanishingly small. Sir Arthur Eddington once asked who was the third person who could understand Einstein’s Relativity Theory. I suspect Sir Arthur was being a bit arrogant – the British do that quite as well as a Congressional staffer – but the fraction seems rather low. As an estimate, the number of physicists in Amerika is about 35K while the total population of 350M. That gives a fraction of 0.0001 (1E-4). So since four nines of humanity can’t understand reality, they will swamp those who can and generally be assured of vertically copulating everything including the continuation of the species.

On life…

❝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❞ – Interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, June 2010 

My first thought when I read this is that Hawking hasn’t had to worry about going down stairs since he was in his twenties. My second thought is that the stars may engender all sorts of feelings but they don’t necessarily inspire everyone. So I would alter the advice to make sure you seek out things that inspire you and control what you look at that is uninspiring.

On living with a disability…

❝My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically❞ – Interview, New York Times, May 2011

IOW, Illigetimi non carborundum. Or as I paraphrase it, don’t let the bogs get you down. Everyone has a disability or two. Some folks, notably bogs, are often unaware they have one until someone sentient tells them. Of course bogs generally have no idea of what Hawking considered work; their idea is what they get paid for and they hate it.

On an imperfect world…

❝Without imperfection, you or I would not exist❞ – On Into The Universe With Stephen Hawking, Discovery Channel, 2010

The only thing that may be perfect is a proton. We have never seen one decay. That doesn’t mean that it can’t or that it is perfect. Imprefection is how the universe is, so ignore that at your risk.

On staying cheerful…

❝Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny❞ – Interview, New York Times, December 2004

We have to remember that Hawking was British and the British have a better capability for seeing humor than Amerikans (and some others.) We also tend to harass and murder people who find humor. So caveat emptor. And never laugh in front of a politician; they have neither scruples nor integrity.

This is getting a bit tedious and I am not a journalist, who would have no sense of being tedious nor propriety. So Selah.

I will not invoke the after life because it seems boggish. But you will be missed, Steven Hawking, at least for a while.