He not only looked and sounded like extra-terrestrial, but was almost like alien species trying to get along with earthy traits. He had no intention to invade or exterminate human life on the Earth as most of the science fictions depict, but probably to live with it and take with him the treasure of knowledge. His objective seemed to collect as much data as possible by challenging the theories of the scientists like Albert Einstein and Fred Hoyle.
Impatiently challenged great physicists:
He started his mission on the Earth, by challenging the Big Bang theory when he was a student. Later he vacillated and contradicted his own propositions about the same. He propounded and then took back his own theories about shrinking, then expanding, then light-swallowing and finally light-radiating characters of the black-holes which till this date remain an enigma for the astrophysicists. He first proposed and then questioned the singularity of the universe by characterising it first open and then closed with expanding boundaries.
He belonged to the far flung space in the outer universe many light-years away from us. May be nearer to one of those black-holes about which he researched with undue brashness when he was young researcher impatient with his newly found postulations. That’s why probably he presented them with indecision and opacity when he became more mature.
Mystery-like black hole
Unlike all the aliens in science-fiction, this one, called Stephen Hawking, was tangible but equally mysterious. His arrival on the planet earth was on the 300th death anniversary of Galileo. Two decades after his arrival, Hawking was diagnosed with, what the human-medical experts called it as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative motor neurone disease that quickly robs people of the ability to voluntarily move their muscles. In extra-terrestrial interpretation, it was indeed alien-way to get immobilised to meditate like what Gautam Buddha did 2500 years back. Imaginably, he had to finish his job early and did not have time for ubiquitous conferences and interviews. He possibly had no option but to enter into an avatar that allows him to focus on theoretical researching, challenging the existing theories and collecting data and deciphering the trends.
He was told when he was twenty, that he had two years to live. That was from doctors from the Planet-Earth. But his alien genes might have known exactly the speed needed and time required to accomplish his mission of graduating from the Earth. His immobilization was controlled and slow. His brain cells started working faster than muscles, using the energy that would have otherwise wasted on physical movements including speaking and writing. Hawking’s body weakened, his intellect became sharper.
Losing a bet on God Particle
After trials and errors in thick mathematical equations and in thermodynamic entropy-paradoxes, after ambiguous hypotheses on black-holes and finally losing a bet on the existence of Peter Higg’s boson or ‘God’s particle, he gradually and steadily started making the life-long transition away from his forceful and cheeky approach to astrophysics. He was at one stage openly run over by a younger graduate student, Jacob Bekenstein who went far ahead of him in literally applying the laws of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics to dynamics of black-holes.
Hawking then gradually became more intuitive and speculative rather than fixative and insisting on mathematical proofs. “I would rather be right than rigorous”, he said later while adopting ‘precautionary approach’, in direct contrast to the brashness of his twenties when he openly challenged a number of theories of bigwigs of physics.
After his fortnight stays in India in 2001, his graduation in understanding the nature was nearly complete. He did praise the Indian mastery over mathematics and physics after visiting Jantar Mantar and TIFR but here he surely crossed his boundary of rationality from astrophysics to metaphysics. His observations in wake of climate change, advances in GM organisms, deadly nuclear weapons and even growing inequality are probably most demarcating signs that he was deploying his popularity more towards pointing to the dangerous aspect of the human civilisation than solving the universal mysteries.
Before his departure on 14th March 2018, 139thbirth anniversary of Albert Einstein, this alien species launched a breakthrough initiative-an effort to search for extraterrestrial life. He welcomed the colonization of other planets, simply because he said, there are just about 100 years left for humans on the Earth which is in peril due to climate change.
He at one time made very telling commentary that humans have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it. Waiting until the ill-effects of global warming become obvious will be too late; action must be taken now, was his precautionary warning. As per him, the warming process could run out of control, as “positive feedbacks” in the Earth’s natural systems perilously magnify it. That could lead to the planet becoming uninhabitable – turning it into a hot dead globule like Venus which has long been known to have suffered the ultimate greenhouse effect to inhabitable temperature and sulfuric acid rain.
Hawking, after all, was not a climatologist and his strong words would remain as fragile as his frame.
Note everyone was a friend
As such, despite the popular hype, many top physicists failed him in a poll to even rate among the top practitioners of his profession. Some prominent scientists have even rated him as some-one who got the headlines due to his disability. His popularity, considered by many was thrust upon him and had darker sides.
Personal life-swing: like many of his hypotheses.
His personal life which had its own wavering dynamics. When he married to his first wife, Jane, a physicist of her own calibre, he described the event as “something to live for”. When he married to his second wife Mason, he stated, “It’s wonderful – I have married the woman I love.” After he went back to his first wife Jane and his children and grandchildren in 2007, Jane wrote a book on their personal life which became a subject of a film called ‘ Theory of Everything’in 2014. Hawking was winding up his journey on the Earth and probably thought, “after all, the theory of everything finally converges to one singularity called happiness”.
Most sold-least read book:
His 1988 book, ‘A Brief History of Time’, that catapulted Hawking to international stardom, is called as the ‘least read most sold book’with over 10 million copies translated into no less than 40 different languages.
Maybe his contributions to physics are the most popular but least impactful? But we cannot say the same thing about his journey on the Earth.
Safe journey back (black?) home ( hole?) Dr Hawking!
By – Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, Former Director UNEP, IIT Alumnus.
Former Director UNEP, IIT Alumnus.