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Stephen Hawking & our place in the World


Last Wednesday, 14th March, the award winning physicist Stephen Hawking died aged 76. He was born in Oxford and both his parents studied at Oxford.  When he was 9, Stephen was not doing particularly well at school and whilst he was interested in Science and Maths, he certainly wasn’t top of the class in either subject.  He was, however, fascinated in how things work; he took clocks and radios apart but had trouble putting them together again.  But his keen interest in Science and Maths continued throughout school and by the time he reached the Sixth Form he was offered a scholarship to study Physics at Oxford.   Then, as many of you will know from the recent film about his life, The Theory of Everything, he started falling over, dropping things and his speech became slurred.  Following tests, he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease which eventually paralysed him and required him to have a speech generating device to communicate.  He said of his condition “it is a waste of time to be angry about my disability.  One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly.  People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining”. 

Some of the big questions that Stephen Hawking asked were:

  • Where did we come from?
  • How did the universe come into being?
  • Are we alone in the universe?
  • What is the future of the human race?

It was his deep interest in and concern for humanity that I think made Stephen Hawking the brilliant scientist that he was.  I was interested to learn more about the conclusions he came to regarding the future of the human race and he said this “I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space.  There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet.  But I’m an optimist.  We will reach out to the stars”.   

Fundamentally, his work has helped us to consider our place in the world and I think that sometimes it is easy to get caught in a bubble and become too inward looking.  That can happen in schools, families, businesses, universities – anywhere there is a community of people who come together for a purpose.  As with all things, there is a balance to be struck.  Let’s consider the cross section of an onion and imagine that we are the middle.  The next layer is our local community, then perhaps our county, moving outwards to being part of the UK and then we go global!  Each layer of the onion is inter-dependent on the others and cannot exist in isolation.  It is our responsibility to connect with, and understand our world, so that for our lifetime, all the layers can remain healthy and intact. 

Now, before we can look beyond our ‘layer’ we need to make sure that our part of the world we inhabit is flourishing and is sustainable.  The principles of sustainability are not only about our environment but can also be applied to the communities that we inhabit.  We don’t know what is to live in a war zone or be hungry and that is only possible if we maintain strong and healthy relationships and the actions we choose to take are not damaging to others. 

Posted: 19/03/2018 at 15:46
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