I was once on an 11-hour flight next to the world’s most boring human being. This was one of those guys who thought every banal detail of his job was fascinating. He thought his spreadsheets were poetry. Spoiler alert: they weren’t.
When I landed I called my daughter from the airport and said, “Just one of these days I want to end up next to Stephen Hawking on a long flight!”
Think about it. How many times have you been in a coffee shop or on a subway train or just walking down the street and someone is screaming nonsense at their friend or into their phone? It seems to happen daily.
People just talk. And they are generally boring. All this technology, all this information available, all this education and – maybe it’s just me – but it doesn’t seem like the world has gotten more interesting.
Hawking, who passed away last month, thought about life’s big questions. He discussed the nature of the universe. He wasn’t always right but he was never afraid to be wrong. (And he always, always owned it when he was.)
This was one of the most brilliant minds ever. Imagine what conversations with him must have been like. I bought A Brief History of Time, sat down with it and realized ten pages in that this guy was thinking in a way I never could. I was in awe of his brain.
And how profound a story. That impeccable mind in a body that failed him. If you’ve never seen the film The Theory of Everything, you should.
The following is from a brilliant reflection in the Financial Times by Anjana Ahuja:
“Few can grapple with such incredible concepts; to do so while being unable to scribble down equations or work conventionally at a computer is astounding. His disability led to a romanticised notion of a brilliant mind trapped in an uncompliant body. An electronic voice, necessitated by a tracheotomy, only added to his mystique, reinforcing the image of a superhuman intellect revealing the secrets of the universe.
Hawking relished his place in popular culture, and in recent years used it to highlight what he thought were existential threats. He believed humans should act quickly to tackle global climate change, and advocated colonising other planets to ensure survival.
He warned of the perils of artificial intelligence and feared that the rise of the machines would be accompanied by the downfall of humanity. Not that he felt that human civilisation had particularly distinguished itself: our past, he once said, was a “history of stupidity”.
Hawking’s life epitomised exactly the opposite: outstanding intellectual and cultural achievements in the face of adversity.”
Will there ever be another like him? The simple answer: no. But there will be plenty of spreadsheet guys coming to an airline near you.
Founder & CEO, AREENA