It is the ultimate irony that the “finest mind alive” today is a mind held captive in a speechless, dying and withering body!
It is the mind of Stephen Hawking – world’s leading Cosmologist and most brilliant and original theoretical physicist. Presently the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, he has been proclaimed as the greatest genius of the late 20th century.
Yet, as he lies limp in his wheel-chair, weighing only 38 kilos and not even capable of lifting his head if it fell forward – his mind scans the farthest reaches of the universe, traverses the limits of time and space, postulates and proves theories about the original, expanse, nature and future of the universe, the arrow of time, the role of the Creator. Tackling not only the oft-pondered “what” of the curious child but also the seldom–considered “why”? and in the process studying what he calls – “the mind of God”.
A normal speaking, moving body, taken for granted by all of us has been denied to this brilliant mind with so much to disclose. It can see, perceive and think but, - housed like a fluttering prisoner in an immobile heap of flesh and bones, - can communicate (and that too defectively) only through the most sophisticated scientific gadgets.
It is may be because the Divine Will won’t have too many of its secrets revealed too soon.
Or is it a nemesis for overreaching – crossing into forbidden realms?
What is inspiring about Stephen Hawking is not only his works and discoveries that reached the laymen through his 1988 record – buster, best selling book: “A Brief History of Time”, but also his life and struggles, his eccentricities and the complete sense of composure even when pitted against the worst odds. “Apart from being unlucky enough to get ALS, or motor neuron disease, I have been fortunate in almost every other respect”, he writers.
Born on January 8, 1942 exactly the day Galileo, died 300 years ago – Hawking was always the wiz kid. He had incredible instinctive insight. The physics and maths courses he studied at school were far below a child of his I.Q. He was always far ahead of the courses being taught at school and distrusted the textbooks, he found “full of errors”.
The year 1962 was a watershed in his life. At 21, he already had an aura of intellectual arrogance about him that Jane (his future wife) was to find irresistible and that was later to become his hallmark along with the famous grin. Two things happened at a new year party that year, he for the first time realised, when he found himself unable to pour wine that some thing was seriously wrong with him. Soon he was diagnosed as having a rare and incurable disease called ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) or the motor neuron disease that makes the body but not the brain, to waste away progressively, and doctors in 1967 gave him 2 years to live.
At the same new year party he met Jane who was to become his wife and a powerful influence in his life. In the ensuing months of gloom, Jane proved to be the inspiration he needed. Their relationship grew, they got engaged and Jane gave him the will to live and his works and research grew from strength to intensified strength. With his thesis on singularity theory and black holes he was soon on the way to become the most original scientist of his age.
In the following years he would refuse to be helped around, preferring to take several minutes to climb a few stairs with the help of crutches, rather than u sing a wheel chair or accepting a helping hand. His image at Cambridge was that of a “difficult genius”. At the same time he grew more outspoken, cutting and ruthless in his questioning, probing and working harder than before – but crutches had to give way to wheel chair and he also lost his voice, though partially at first.
At 32 he become one of the youngest scientists in history to become a fellow of the Royal Society.
Not able to use paper and pen or...