The Wide Angle: Hawking taught us all to keep the wonder

Published 11:20 am Saturday, March 24, 2018

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” — Stephen Hawking.

Last week renowned physicist Stephen Hawking passed away at the age of 76.

I can honestly say that Hawking was a major influence on how I have formulated my own thoughts on the world around me.

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I never met the man and I don’t understand a lot of his theories or science. My mind just doesn’t work like that.

I’ve often talked about my eternal struggle with math and making numbers do various things. It rarely made sense and so when I got to a point in my schooling where letters were starting to get introduced and my classes in high school and college started talking about theories, then it just became incomprehensible.

I probably had a better chance at learning Latin and that’s a stretch, especially if there is any video of me trying to learn Spanish. It’s not good, unless we are talking about my air drumming in the back of the class. That made me entertaining if not fluent in Spanish.

But math, physics, science and really anything with “ology” on the end were foreign concepts.

So, now we must get to the question — which by now you are probably scoffing at — how did Stephen Hawking, arguably  one of the best minds to live on this planet, influence me?

Thanks to scientists like Stephen Hawking, even people who struggle to grasp complex science like me can still appreciate the world around them. Eric Johnson/

It’s not that I suddenly became aware of how to solve complex equations and fundamental questions about our universe. I still hate the idea of letters and numbers working together. I don’t want to solve for X.

Rather, Hawking, like scientists Carl Sagan, Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson, managed to make science, at its base, accessible to the common layman — and people like me.

That base is what acted like a bridge for the rest of us to join those complex thinkers. No, we couldn’t work at their level, but we could be curious and a curious mind is a mind that contributes to society.

For me, someone who often has an overactive imagination, Hawking’s ideas opened my mind up to the universe around me in such a way as to at least start asking questions and wondering about not only our own planet, but everything that makes up the universe and how it behaves and works.

Mostly, because he would present it in such a way as make me wonder. Despite his inability to move or talk without assistance, I wanted to be where his mind was.

He’s probably best known for his work in singularities and black hole research, but for me and hopefully people like me, Hawking’s best contribution was his ongoing effort to never stop trying to understand the world around us, but even more simply never giving up.

That’s science. Even a science-challenged ninny such as myself understands that. There are students even now who are going to move on and push the borders and boundaries of science and may even push the ideas and theories of the man himself.

And more than a few will look at not only how Hawking approached science, but his life and they will say that it was because of this that they kept wondering and asking questions.

For me, his ideas and the way he approached life, led me to look at everything around me and appreciate it that much more. I don’t understand where it came from and I don’t understand how it continues to move, but that’s beside the point of never shackling curiosity.

It seems, while I can’t read the man’s mind, I can at least guess that he wanted to live in a society that asked questions, that wasn’t arrogant in a singular belief of only what they knew or wanted to know.

Regardless of one’s mode of thought, our universe is ripe with questions. Hawking made that easier. He was part of a brotherhood of knowledge that wanted people to learn, not stifle, the truth. Those scientists knew that hoarding knowledge was no good.

The world needs thinkers in this day and age and Hawking was a man that actively pushed that narrative.

I came out of high school and college with an almost loathing of science, admittedly because I didn’t nor wanted to understand those concepts.

But what these men and women have done is pushed me to the belief that questions are needed. Understanding is needed, and they are helping people like me restart my education, even thought I’m not in college.

I have tons of questions, most of which will not be answered and many I’m sure would be looked down on by certain people. But Hawking showed me, personally, not to care about those people. His ongoing education push was to ensure that those questions would never stop coming.

So, at the ripe old age of 44, I’m still lacking core understanding about physics and the world around me, but thanks to Stephen Hawking I’m at least brave enough now to ask questions and maybe, most of all, wonder.