For most of human history, people imagined that the earth is at the center of the universe; or at least that the earth is a significant part of the universe.
The great astronomers and cosmologists of the 20th Century completely shattered humanity’s earth-centric view.
We already knew that our planet is dwarfed by the sun. The sun is about 1.3 million times larger than the earth. Like any other average 5 billion year-old star, the sun is a fiery nuclear furnace that fuses hydrogen into helium to create massive amounts of light and heat.
Later we learned that the sun is just one of 200 to 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
More recently, astronomers dropped an even bigger scientific bombshell. It turns out that the Milky Way is just one of at least 100 billion observable galaxies.
They are unimaginably far away.
The nearest star to our solar system, Alpha Centauri, is more than 25 trillion miles away. The chances that there is life elsewhere in the universe is close to 100%. But our chances of ever visiting one of the other planets with life is pretty much zero.
In other words, the notion that the earth is big, meaningful, and centrally located isn’t just incorrect; it is absurdly wrong. In the grand scheme of things, a human is no larger, longer living, or more important than an amoeba.
No living man has taught us more about the nature of faraway stars and galaxies than Stephen Hawking. He published a best selling book on cosmology. Even Albert Einstein never did that.
But Stephen Hawking is even better known for his illness. At age 21, while earning his doctorate at Cambridge, Hawking was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Doctors told him that he would entirely lose the ability to walk, speak, and control his muscles and that he would be dead in two years. They were half right.
“The Theory of Everything” largely ignores Dr. Hawking’s uplifting contributions to science. Instead, it shows his depressing descent from healthy young man to wheelchair bound mute invalid and the awful effect it had on his marriage.
That’s a shame. Because while Dr. Hawking’s theories are interesting, his personal life really isn’t. This is like a biopic about Lou Gehrig that only has two scenes set at Yankee Stadium.
Viewers like me who are fascinated by astronomy and hoping for a science lesson will be terribly disappointed. “The Theory of Everything” taught me almost nothing.
All I learned is the cruel coincidence that the man who helped us understand the vast majesty of the universe knows all too well how fragile and finite a human body can be.