Happy Birthday, Dr. Hawking

stephen hawkingThe press is full of news of the 70th birthday of Dr. Stephen Hawking on January 8th, including Discover magazine’s coverage of how he could have lived so long with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Not that I feel he needs me to add to his accolades, but I do have a favorite “Hawking Moment” of my own that continues to inform me professionally, and indeed how I live my life.

In an earlier post here I promoted the book, Transforming School Culture by Anthony Muhammad.  In that post I described my encounter with Dr. Hawking thusly:

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Some years ago (I think it was 2003), the UC Davis Cosmology Group invited Stephen Hawking to present a recent paper, and as luck would have it, one of my 5th grade students that year was the son of one of the cosmology faculty who had extended the invitation to Dr. Hawking, and I was politely invited to join the physicists for lunch with him. Yes, as an amateur astronomer I was thrilled to sit at the master’s feet, and he said a great many things of great complexity and importance during his public lectures.

professor stephen hawkingBut to this lunchtime crowd of mostly his peers, the one thing he said I will never forget was, and I paraphrase here: Forget everything you think you know.  Be like a child and receive the new data as if you were just born.  Easy for you to say, you might think.  Well, nothing is easy for Stephen Hawking to say, and he challenged his colleagues to engage in a personal dogma dump so they might comprehend the meaning of the new astrophysical data emerging at a fantastic rate.  He encouraged them to let go of everything they thought they knew about the universe.

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So, Dr. Hawking, thank you for encouraging the dogma dump, that we might regard our world and our roles in it afresh as the data informs and change remains our ever-present companion.  We are all the better for it.

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