I've always been a bit of a smartass. My school teachers throughout the years would attest to that, as would my reddened palms from all the times I got the strap. Part of my problem was learning at a fairly early age that teachers weren't infallible, that indeed, they were sometimes wrong. The rest of the problem was telling them so, sometimes obliquely, like laughing when they made some serious point.
Over time though, I got a few teachers I respected very much. What I liked about them was the fact they were intelligent and they listened. When they disagreed, they did so respectfully. They didn't laugh at me when I said something dumb. I learned from them, not just about English, or Latin, but about life and relating to people. I felt shame when recalling some of those earlier teachers I'd laughed at.
As I aged, I learned I had a lot to be humble about. I wasn't nearly as bright as I'd once thought. My wattage was as a candle to some folks' high beams. And then there's the halogen brilliance of Stephen Hawking....
I spend very little time thinking about what he posits because it's way beyond my ken. Most of my thinking is admiration for his tenacity in staying alive despite struggling with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a fatal wasting disease. I don't know the record for the length of time staying alive after diagnosis but he's got to be approaching it.
Anyway. I rely on other smart people who purport to understand what Hawking theorizes about to attest to his smartness. I concede it.
So when he says something that I can understand, I listen and I think about it.
Last week, in a news conference in Hong Kong, Hawking warned that the human race's survival as a species was dependent upon it seeking out other worlds to colonize. He believes the chances are that mankind will wipe itself out on earth within a hundred years.
He believes we could have a permanent colony on the moon within 20 years and on Mars within 40 - and that we should.
I think we gotta listen to the guy. I believe the US, Canada, Britain, France, Australia and other interested countries should get together, pool their resources, both scientific and monetary, and start making this happen.
Even if Hawking is wrong about earth's and mankind's demise, it's still the right thing to do. The pursuit of knowledge and exploration into the unknown brings out the best in us - it's at the heart of who we are.
Hawking is wheelchair-bound. He speaks with the help of a computer. His disease renders him totally immobile. Nobody is more earthbound than he.
Yet his mind and imagination are not tethered by the law of gravity. They are not encased by dimensional walls. I honestly believe that in a very real way, Stephen Hawking already lives "out there" and is beckoning the rest of us to follow.
I hope there's a few smartasses out there listening, nodding and preparing to do just that.