8 ways Einstein would’ve been proud of Stephen Hawking

Hawking Einstein
CC BY 2.0 Lwp Kommunikáció/Ferdinand Schmutzer

If by some quirk of a wormhole Einstein could have known Hawking, here’s what we think he would have been pleased by.

While clearly the world’s most famous theoretical physicists weren’t carbon copies of one another, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking nonetheless had a few things in common. Aside from having two of the most mind-bendingly brilliant brains to have graced humankind – and sharing a taste for all things space and beyond – there’s definitely a sense that the torch was passed from one to the other. That Hawking died on the same date that Einstein was born – Pi Day, no less – seems to tie it all together into one loopy continuum.

If by some theoretical plucking of cosmic strings the two could have had a chance to be acquainted, we can’t help but imagine Einstein taking a shine to Hawking. In this impossible (or maybe not!) scenario, here are some of the ways in which Einstein might have felt pleased with his successor.

1. Hawking didn’t sulk in the face of difficulty
Both Einstein and Hawking had their own set of challenges, but neither of them wallowed; rather, they persevered. Given that Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity,” he would have surely agreed with Hawking when the latter said, "However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at."

2. Hawking wasn’t a star student, so to speak
Einstein wasn’t especially enthusiastic about early education, saying that “School failed me, and I failed the school. It bored me … I wasn’t worth anything, and several times they suggested I leave.” Meanwhile, Hawking didn’t read well until he was eight and his grades suffered. Despite the challenges, Hawking passed the Oxford entrance exam and earned a scholarship to study physics at the age of 17.

3. Hawking shined some light on black holes
When asked by Time magazine what he would say to Einstein given the chance, Hawking said he would ask him why he didn’t believe in black holes. "The field equations of his General Theory of Relativity implied that a large star or cloud of gas would collapse in on itself and form a black hole,” Hawking told Time. “Einstein was aware of this but somehow managed to convince himself that something like an explosion would always occur to throw off mass and prevent the formation of a black hole. What if there was no explosion?" Einstein would surely have been pleased with Hawking’s discoveries about these enigmatic regions of space.

4. Hawking won Einstein’s award
While Einstein received a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921, Hawking never received the same honor. However, Hawking received the prestigious Albert Einstein Award in 1978. Endowed in honor of Einstein’s 70th birthday by the Lewis and Rosa Strauss Memorial Fund, each year the winner was selected by a committee of the Institute for Advanced Study, the first years of which included Einstein himself.

5. Hawking had humor and humility
Both Einstein and Hawking had lively senses of humor. Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for playing Hawking in the 2014 drama "The Theory Of Everything," said upon Hawking’s death, “We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet.” They were both able to poke fun at themselves as well, combining humor and humility in a way that we might not necessarily expect from two of the most brilliant minds of modernity. Einstein quipped that he had become an, “old chap who is mainly known because he doesn't wear socks and who is exhibited as a curiosity on special occasions." Meanwhile, Hawking said, “I am probably better known for my appearances on ‘The Simpsons’ and on “The Big Bang Theory” than I am for my scientific discoveries.”

6. Hawking had a pretty formula
OK, to be honest, it’s kind of hard to beat E=MC2. But hey, Hawking’s most famous formula, an elegant arrangement of characters used to calculate the entropy of a black hole, isn’t too shabby. A collaboration with colleague Jacob Bekenstein, the formula paved the way for further theories about black holes. From one famous formula creator to another, we’re guessing that Einstein might appreciate the fact that Hawking once said, "I would like this simple formula to be on my tombstone."

7. Hawking had some healthy skepticism
While neither Hawking nor Einstein came across as misanthropes, they shared occasional glimpses of skepticism for modern man. In a letter to physicist Paul Ehrenfest, Einstein wryly wrote: “It is a pity that we do not live on Mars and just observe man’s nasty antics by telescope. Our (Lord) Jehova no longer needs to send down showers of ash and brimstone; he has modernized and has set this mechanism to run on automatic.” On a similar note, Hawking told the Discovery Channel in 2010, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans. We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet.”

8. Hawking advocated for curiosity
There may be no better muse for inspiring scientists than curiosity – aside from a remarkable brain, a desire to understand how it all works might be the underlying hallmark trait of all physicists. As Einstein said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” He would certainly admire Hawking’s own take on the spirit of inquiry, made famous by the following quote:

"Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious."

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