He changed our view of the universe forever, and now he is gone. Stephen Hawking, 76, passed away on Pi Day, Einstein’s birthday, early this morning. It not that surprising, really. Doctors didn’t think he’d live to see 25.
I sometimes wonder how much his genius, his uniqueness, was attributable to his disability. Did being deprived of a normal, physical life, like just the walking around part, push him to live, and do greater things, inside his own mind? Perhaps that’s part of it, but a lesser intellect couldn’t have done it, no matter what.
So, the Big Bang theory. I’m not really a believer. Well, yes and no. I accept that the universe (this universe) began with a big bang. Whether all the stars and planets will continue to fly apart from each other until you have large numbers of barren rocks stripped of atmospheres, drifting in an impossibly large sea of empty space, or whether all the stars and planets will fall back into each other into one impossibly dense singularity, which explodes in another big bang, and this process goes on forever, I don’t know.
What I believe in is the flag paradox. Say an intrepid astronaut from the 24th century makes it out to the edge of the universe. He pokes a flag out over the edge, so now THAT’S the edge of the universe. He makes his way out to the new edge of the universe and extends the flag again. And so on forever because the universe is infinite and it’s turtles all the way down. Or, he’s sticking his flag out into emptiness, but suppose you travel another quintillion grazillion light years or so beyond the edge, out into the emptiness, you’re bound to strike another universe sooner or later.
Because if our universe began with a massive explosion after all its matter was condensed into one small dot, there is no reason to think that other universes weren’t as well, somewhere far away across the silence. Nothing is forever.
Wherever the human race winds up, however, we will be able to thank Stephen Hawking for leading the way for awhile. Farewell, brave genius. You did well.