4 Things Stephen Hawking Taught Us (That Have Nothing to do with Physics)

Physicist, cosmologist, and black hole enthusiast, Stephen Hawking possessed the kind of brilliance and determination that most of us can only stand in awe of. Despite a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease that doctors said would kill him in his twenties, the British scientist went on to live an extraordinary life filled with discovery, passion, and strength of character. Here are four important lessons Hawking taught us during his 76 years on earth:

Never lose your voice.

In 1985, Hawking lost his ability to speak after complications from a motor neuron disease necessitated he undergo a tracheotomy. Yet, this did not deter him. He adopted a unique way of speaking through a voice synthesizer, which registered the twitching movements in his right cheek. Just three years later in 1988, he published A Brief History of Time, which sold more than 10 million copies and remained on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for an unprecedented 237 weeks. Hawking refused to be silenced, and his resiliency and tenacity should serve as a reminder to us that setbacks are merely opportunities to strengthen our message.

Share your passion.

Prof Hawking was the first to suggest a theory of cosmology focused on the unification of relativity and quantum mechanics. He also discovered that black holes emanate energy, which eventually causes them to implode and fade to nothing. Hawking was obsessed with a highly complicated subject matter, yet his theories and publications were studied and read by legions of people. The reason for this is simple: he made his work accessible to everyone. Hawking understood the importance of effective communication — knowing his discoveries would be useless if he wasn’t able to share them.

Stay curious.

Hawking is quoted as saying, “be curious, and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” Those that knew him well often described him as fervently inquisitive and absolutely determined. His goal was simple: “a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” He was fueled by a pure interest in the unknown and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Choosing to stay curious means choosing to continually learn and evolve, and doing so allows us to work towards self efficacy and personal achievement.

Practice empathy.

The theoretical physicist suggested that aggression is the greatest human failure. Useful in the caveman days, he believed it to be a significant threat to humanity today. Hawking also believed empathy to be the most effective counter to aggression — suggesting that empathy, rather than some complex calculation, would save mankind. Though seemingly simple, he suggested that the ability to understand and relate to another person’s emotions takes practice. However, exhibiting this altruistic and selfless behavior can lead to positive outcomes in our lives. Choosing to understand the circumstances and feelings of one another is a uniquely human gift, and it should be treated as such.

Stephen Hawking possessed the mindset and the courage of a true visionary. His contributions to science and life, in general, were expansive and insightful. And I think his presence on this earth helped us all learn a little bit more about the mysteries of the universe — and the mysteries within ourselves.


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