"My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all." – Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking’s last warning for us before he died is chilling: Get off the planet or face extinction.
We are an ignorant, nasty, brutish lot – us humans. But we are also a curious, loving lot. Our dichotomy is apparent by simply looking at the U.S. electoral landscape.
However, this isn’t one of those columns.
This is about hope.
Not a “Star Wars, New Hope” fiction. It isn’t about Pandora’s Box and it isn’t an admonition to anyone – unless you consider it a fair word of warning to everyone.
Just consider Stephen Hawking. A flawed human being as we all are, pressing forward through personal problems, overwhelming physical maladies and overcoming obstacles through his sheer will and presence of mind.
If that isn’t cause for hope, then I don’t know what is.
He remains on a very short list of people I wish I’d met in my life. Not to fawn over, but to engage in a conversation – to pick his brain and see how he thinks.
I’ve lost that opportunity forever, and we’ve all lost a man who thought beyond the shallowness of every day existence to see a reality few of us contemplate and fewer understand.
We are but brief residents on Earth, and as the comedian and the scientist once noted, we are all made of stardust and are merely the Universe’s way of experiencing itself consciously.
We reside on an isolated blue marble revolving around an average star in a solar system among uncountable solar systems in a galaxy among uncountable galaxies.
Our tiny planet can fall victim to an asteroid strike, a plague, a nuclear conflagration, global warming or some other unforeseen calamity.
Gamma-ray bursts or a giant solar flare could wipe us from the face of existence in an instant.
Should anything of the sort occur then everything ever written, shared, fought over, built by or loved by man wouldn’t even be a memory. It would simply be gone.
The works of Shakespeare, or a Tribe Called Quest, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Kansas would all be dust in the wind; Monet, Picasso and Rembrandt gone.
To that end, Hawking saw a need to expand our consciousness and our footprint in the Universe.
What we really lack . . . is that spark of curiosity
While some scientists and social historians believe humanity is a foul infestation – akin to a cancer unleashed on the planet – Hawking’s last warning was indeed just the opposite.
Humanity has grown much since we crawled out of our caves at the end of the last ice age.
We have made astounding discoveries and begun to search the heavens. We no longer look up and wonder, but actually have pulled ourselves up to explore that which confounds us.
Still, too many of us become enmeshed in our own melodramas and are weighed down by our day to day struggle for existence.
Go to a diner and listen to the conversations of your fellow humans. Rare is it that you’ll hear a discussion about the future, or science, literature or an expression of hope.
You will often overhear tales of woe, politics, taking the kids to the dentist, how your favorite sports team did in the draft, how bad something in your life sucks, or how something on television angered you.
Putting the lack of education on many issues aside – after all I’m honestly amused by waitresses and politicians who weigh in on such issues as medical care and the military industrial complex – what we really lack in our daily existence is that spark of curiosity and interest that drove us from our caves in the first place.
It’s hard to think about our place in the universe when we’re worried about racism, misogyny, poverty, health care and eroding liberty.
But Hawking gave me hope and is an example of a man who put the daily drama away for the study and discussion of the survival and betterment of our species.
I know I don’t do that enough. And I’m not accusing anyone of being as shallow as myself.
I merely recognize Hawking as a man who could fight through his own pain and limitations to consider larger and far more important issues.
I cannot tell the man or woman suffering from cancer to put aside their pain to think of life on other planets.
It seems patently absurd.
But imagine for a moment if the seven billion people on this planet struggled together to find a better life for all of us. Considering how far we’ve come in the last 10,000 years – and more importantly in the last 200 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution – it isn’t beyond the realm to believe we can conquer cancer, increase our longevity, make the planet livable for all of us and expand off this little blue marble to grab a place in the cosmos where ultimately we should be.
Hawking saw that. It is his legacy.
We should endeavor as a species to work together to make it come true.