This poignant Stephen Hawking quote is how he should be remembered
Stephen Hawking was many things. He was a famous cosmologist and an activist who changed the world’s perception of what a scientist could be.
Perhaps more than anything else, Hawking, who died on Wednesday at the age of 76, saw us for exactly what we, as humans, really are.
“We are just a slightly advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet orbiting an average star,” Hawking told Der Spiegel in 1988. “But we can understand the universe, and that makes us something very special.”
He was right. Our ability to interrogate our universe and try to understand our place within it is exactly what makes us special.
Because in most other ways, we aren’t remarkable at all.
At the end of the day, the truth is that we’re a species that evolved on a distant rock orbiting a not-so-special sun. The only real reason it’s special is because it’s ours.
And yet, we’re made out of the same stuff as the rest of the universe. The elements that comprise our bodies are the same ones born in the bellies of exploding stars since the dawn of time. But somehow, we’ve developed the ability to interrogate ourselves and our universe.
Hawking spent his whole life attempting to show all of us why we’re special within the grand fabric of the cosmos. His life’s work focused on trying to explain the most extreme goings-on in our universe.
His theories transformed the way we understand black holes by developing the theory that came to be known as Hawking radiation, in which black holes actually radiate particles at a very slow rate.
Previously, scientists didn’t think that any matter could escape a black hole, but Hawking’s formulas showed that it was possible.
That discovery prompted a major debate that continues to rage on in cosmology today around what exactly happens to the matter when it enters and even leaves the black hole, marking yet another of Hawking’s contributions to the field.
Hawking was also special for the way that he interrogated the universe in front of all of us. He valued bringing the public into the scientific debates that normally take place behind closed doors in labs and offices around the world.
His 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, inspired future scientists and other members of the public alike to learn more about how the universe works and how little we really understand of it.
In myriad ways, he helped all of us see how special we are.