Attempting to answer the question “How do we shape the future?” in the book’s final chapter, the scientist writes: “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.”
Anyone who has followed the life and works of Stephen Hawking is probably as much in awe of his accomplishments as I am. Today I saw this quote from Hawking’s final book that was published subsequent to his death by his daughter.
In addition to this reminder being symbolic of Hawking’s life and formidable disability, it’s also a message to keep looking toward the vastness of the future rather than where your feet have already taken you. When you combine this statement with an earlier observation made by Hawking, the future becomes more interesting and potentially more confusing.
The headline for this article included a statement that to Hawking, there was no God. Some of us may want to assume that Hawking’s conclusion about the lack of God had to do with his potentially debilitating motor neuron condition diagnosed when he was 21 and his eventual death from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Hawking disallowed this theory, indicating that his condition was purely based in science. In spite of or perhaps because of his physical limitations, Hawking went on to be one of the most widely read and highly respected scientists of our time.
Perhaps it suffices to say that Hawking’s dedication to his science and its teachings prevented their origins from a divine, all-encompassing source. We can leave the existence or non-existence of God to theologians or those who are less certain of God’s presence in their lives.
Rather than attempt to summarize or comment on his vast body of work, it makes more sense to derive some meaning from this one statement. Looking down, the scenery is predictable and essentially uninspiring. We see our feet, the steps we’ve taken and with limits, the destination immediately ahead of us.
Looking up, the view is infinitely better. We see blue skies and ephemeral but magnificent cloud formations. We can also appreciate the landscape, anticipate the geography that is ahead and generally look beyond views of the present. Thank you, Mr. Hawking. You continue to inspire and transform us. Shalom.