“Yeah, yeah, I know. He’s the wheelchair dude who invented time.” – Penny on Hawking from TBBT, Season 5, Ep. 21.
For most of us, this is pretty much all we know about Stephen Hawking. He’s in a wheelchair, he talks through what sounds like a Speak and Spell and he’s one of the smartest people on the planet…if not THE smartest.
And for those of us with a non-science background, what this man thinks about on a daily basis is probably inconceivable. I mean, the man works in Quantum Gravity. I looked it up and I still don’t understand it. I’d have to have someone explain it to me like I was a six year old. No joke.
Stephen William Hawking was born in Oxford, England on January 8, 1942. I had no idea the man was British. This shows you how much I had to look up about him. He’s been married twice. His first wife, Jane Wilde was with him from 1965-1991 and is the mother of his three kids. Yeah, I didn’t know the man had kids. But, I found out that he wasn’t always wheelchair bound either. Hawking suffers from motor neuron disease. He was diagnosed at age 21, after he became increasingly clumsy and took a fall down some stairs during his senior year at Oxford, and his doctors at the time gave him a life expectancy of two years. Not surprisingly, the 21 year old Hawking fell into a deep depression after learning of his diagnosis, but his ongoing and increasingly familiar relationship with his sister’s friend Jane Wilde “gave him something to live for.” They were engaged in October of 1964 and married in 1965. I guess he showed those doctors, huh? He’s got kids MY age.
Now, I could go on and on about his schooling and his early years, which would basically be a straight rip off of the Wikipedia pages. And I can’t even begin to understand the man’s work. He works in areas of physics and cosmology that I, as a layperson, am awed by but don’t fully understand.
After reading about him, I know he discovered that black holes generate radiation. Okay, that I understand in it’s most basic terms. I also know that this radiation is named after him. It’s Hawking Radiation. Why it’s important? Haven’t got a clue. But it’s still a cool fact.
Hawking didn’t end up in a wheelchair until the late 60’s. And apparently that took some serious persuasion. He strived to maintain his independence: not accepting help or make exceptions for his disability. His wife is noted as saying that “Some people would call it determination, some obstinacy. I’ve called it both at one time or another.” But with a brilliant mind like Hawking has, I would be pretty obstinate too. He always wanted to be known as “a scientist first and a popular science writer second, and, in all the ways that matter, a normal human being with the same desires, drives, dreams and ambitions as the next person.” Who’s gonna argue with a mind like that? Not me.
What I think is hilarious, is that he apparently became notorious for his reckless and wild wheelchair driving. I see him in my head as the Evel Knievel of theoretical physics, popping wheelies and running people down with his chair. Which doesn’t seem to be too far off, apparently because he was known for his brashness, popularity and his wit.
And this amazing wit is one of the reasons he’s been able to parody himself on TV shows like The Simpsons and Futurerama, as well as making guest appearances on shows like The Big Bang Theory. I saw an interview with Simon Helberg, who plays Howard Wolowitz on BBT, and he said it was kind of nerve-wracking to do his Hawking impersonation in front of the man himself, but that he was pretty cool about it. Hawking is discussed and fondly teased in The Big Bang Theory often, from jokes about him rolling off a ship in the ocean during an expedition, to Howard’s impersonations, to Sheldon playing Words with Friends with the great man himself.
And this is one of the reasons Hawking is pretty damn nerdy and awesome.
Bazingirl, She who is so not as smart as Hawking.