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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stephen Hawking and “The Big Bang Theory”

In the March 30, 2012 issue of “Entertainment Weekly,” an article heralded two special cameos in upcoming episodes of the popular sitcom.  One featured the voice of Leonard Nimoy as Sheldon’s conscience, spoken as if by the character’s beloved Spock action figure.  Last week’s episode featured another of Sheldon’s idols, the world-famous physicist and author Stephen Hawking.  

Most everyone knows the fierce struggle Stephan Hawking has waged against Lou Gehrig’s disease over the past decades.  It’s an amazing struggle of perseverance that he has not only survived so long, but also contributed so much to the scientific community.  In a way he’s become a pop culture hero: an indomitable spirit waging war against his failing flesh, a brilliant mind struggling to convey complex subjects to everyday man.  Some might even view him as an oracle: perhaps, if we ask him just the right question, worded in just the right way, he might choose to tell us some of the secrets of the universe!

In 2001, noted physicist and science fiction author Gregory Benford spent an evening with Stephen Hawking.  As the two men were friends, this was not a formal interview, but a casual conversation.  With you and I, the conversation, no matter how unusual and wide-ranging, might be easily forgotten.  But thanks to Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair computer, as well as an attentive assistant, Dr. Benford received a transcript of their conversation, which he used to formulate a magazine article, and has since reproduced on his blog.  I read along, trying my best to follow the two men as they spoke of such exalted topics as the beginning of the universe, baby universes, and even “onion universes.”  Yet, try as I might, I could not twist my cortex (or any part of my brain) around concepts these men batted around more easily than I would expound on the ideas underlying Fiction, “Star Trek,” or Dragons.  

Perhaps a few drawings would have helped.  As Dr. Benford writes: “I feel that any device is justified to span such an abyss of incomprehension.”

Again, what fascinates me is not just Stephen Hawking’s understanding of the universe, but that he can interact with others so readily.  With just a few hand-movements, Hawking responds intelligently to any question, using words, phrases, and sentences he’s comfortable with.  He’s not willing to just sit back and let his wheelchair-computer (or others) do his communicating for him.  In last week’s episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” he could have just sat there for his scene with Jim Parsons, the actor who portrays Sheldon.  He, or others, could have overlaid the dialogue at a later time.  Instead, as Parson’s reported, “he didn’t want that.  He wanted to be the one doing it during the scene.”

Brilliant physicist, best-selling author, and actor: is there anything that Stephen Hawking cannot do?  I may not have his brilliant mind, but neither do I suffer from his physical limitations.  His example becomes yet one more that powers me in pursuit of my goals.  If Stephen Hawking refuses to let anything stand in his way, why should I?  

Why should you? 

Related Dragon Cache entries

From Gregory Benford’s Blog

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