How to persevere, dream big and live your best life, according to Stephen Hawking

Hawking's influence exceeded the field of science. He was a pop culture phenomenon and an arbiter of great advice — not just on the nature of the universe, but on life itself.

“My goal is simple," Hawking once said of his work. "It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

Stephen Hawking, universally beloved scientist and one of the greatest minds of our generation, died at age 76.

The theoretical physicist, best known for his work in cosmology (particularly with black holes), was both a visionary and an inspiration. Outside his vast intelligence (of which he was very modest, once saying that people who boasted about IQs were losers), he was also a study in resilience and perseverance.

At the age of 21, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The disease progresses quickly, and Hawking was given only a short time to live, but he survived for decades and stayed mobile with use of a wheelchair.

Hawking never stopped working, writing about the nature of the universe and traveling from country to country to lecture enthralled audiences.

"Although there was a cloud hanging over my future," Hawking said of his diagnosis,"I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research."

In 1988, Hawking published "A Brief History of Time," which accomplished, as The Independent notes, the "impossible" tasks of not only taking the entire history of time and space and relating it all in just one volume but also making it easy to read and understand for everyone — not just fellow scientists.

"However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists," Hawking wrote at the end of the book. "Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God."

Hawking's influence exceeded the field of science. He was a pop culture phenomenon and an arbiter of great advice — not just on the nature of the universe, but on life itself.

(After all, he was on "The Simpsons." And who didn't love him dropping an epic burn on Jon Oliver.)

“My goal is simple," Hawking once said of his work. "It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

Hawking was an inspiration for us all.

He will be deeply missed. And as the celebration of his life flows on social media — who could forget the time he threw a party for time travelers and no one showed up — we're celebrating Hawking's contributions to this world with some of his most inspirational quotes, the ones that remind us to look forward, look upward, and never forget the common humanity we all share.

Photo by elhombredenegro/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

On moving forward in the face of adversity:

"Be curious. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don't just give up."

On the importance of a sense of humor:

"Life would be tragic if it weren't funny."

On the universe:

"It would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love."

On what makes humans unique:

"We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special."

On the power of communication:

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind's greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn't have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

On the true meaning of intelligence:

"Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change."

On creating your own fate:

"I have noticed that even people who claim everything is predetermined and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road."

On knowledge:

"The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge."

On the power of possibility:

"Time travel used to be thought of as just science fiction, but Einstein’s general theory of relativity allows for the possibility that we could warp space-time so much that you could go off in a rocket and return before you set out.”

On living your best life:

"Here are the most important pieces of advice that I've passed on to my children. One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don't throw it away."

This article originally appeared on 03.14.18


The Earth has survived some serious catastrophes. Here are the 4 worst.

Our planet's had a bit of a rough past. But the Earth is nothing if not a survivor.

Here are the four worst things the Earth has survived so far:

1. The Big Splash, aka that time the universe punched Earth in the face and may have created the moon

Imagine a young Earth. Like, super young. Only 20 million years after the solar system even formed. A little precious baby Earth.

And then imagine the universe smashing it in the face with an object the size of Mars.

Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech/Wikimedia Commons.

That's the giant impact hypothesis, also known as The Big Splash. Scientists who back this hypothesis think that about 4.5 billion years ago, just after the Earth formed, another proto-planet called Theia may have slammed into it, ejecting rocks and magma out into space. Ouch.

It's not all bad, though. Some of that rock and magma may have coalesced out there in space and eventually turned in our moon. If this is true, it helps explain some of the weird things about our moon, like why Earth rocks and Moon rocks look so similar.

2. The Oxygen Catastrophe, aka that time Earth's entire atmosphere turned into poison and then turned the sky blue

After surviving The Big Splash, Earth had a nice little period of time where it got to relax and, you know, enjoy being covered in magma and stuff.

So relaxing. Image from ESO/L. Calçada/Wikimedia Commons.

Eventually, however, a combination of gas emerging from inside the Earth and meteors crashing into Earth created oceans and an atmosphere around the planet. There were even some wiggly little bacteria-like things swimming around Earth's prehistoric oceans too.

But those oceans, skies, and wiggly things would have looked totally alien to us. That's because there was pretty much no oxygen in Earth's atmosphere (which would have made the sky orange and the ocean blood-red). That was just fine for primitive life-forms, though, because if you're a little anaerobic microbe, oxygen is super poisonous.

Before oxygen, most of the Earth's atmosphere would have been methane, which would have made its surface look a lot like Saturn's moon Titan. Image from ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Wikimedia Commons.

Then, about 2.3 billion years ago, some little upstart cyanobacteria discovered photosynthesis and decided to start pooping out oxygen. After all, for them, oxygen is just waste, right?

For about 200 million years, cyanobacteria did just that. Most life on Earth kind of ignored it until suddenly oxygen was everywhere and nearly everything died. (Way to go, cyanobacteria.)

Cyanobacteria, the ultimate party poopers. Image from Doc. RNDr. Josef Reischig, CSc./Wikimedia Common.

In fact, there was so much oxygen, it broke down the methane in the atmosphere and rusted the iron right out of the oceans, which turned the ocean and sky blue.

That wasn't so bad: Earth got some nice little green life-forms, and the ocean no longer looked like something out of "The Prince of Egypt." All was well. Right?

Hahaha, no. It gets worse.

3. Snowball Earth, aka that time Earth was more frozen than a Disney movie

It turns out the Earth was totally using the methane in the atmosphere to keep the planet from from freezing — so when the cyanobacteria from The Oxygen Catastrophe broke down the methane in the atmosphere, there was nothing more to say than ... welcome to Snowball Earth.

Image from Stephen Hudson/Wikimedia Commons.

Scientists aren't sure whether this was a complete freeze or if there was a thin band of non-frozen water around the equator, but that's little consolation to the vast majority of the Earth, which was under ice sheets that could have been miles thick.

This probably hasn't happen just once, either. This kind of Earth-over deep freeze has happened again and again and again. The last bout of global freezing may have taken place about 650 million years ago.

But hey! Eventually Earth broke out of its little winter wonderland (possibly thanks to volcanoes), and life suddenly began flourishing like crazy!

Look at these trilobites! Image from Heinrich Harder/Wikimedia Commons.

In fact, for a while, things were going pretty well. Earth was starting to look like, you know, the Earth we know today. Too bad there was at least one more giant setback waiting in the wings.

4. The Great Dying, aka that time everything on Earth almost died

With The Big Splash, The Oxygen Catastrophe, and Snowball Earth solidly in the planet's rearview mirror, and a bunch of plants and animals running around on land, things were looking pretty good.

Then, about 250 million years ago, The Permian Extinction, a disaster so horrible scientists sometimes call it The Great Dying, happened. It more than earned its name, too. 96% of marine species went extinct as did 70% of land vertebrates.

What caused it? Scientists still aren't sure. Some think it might have been a collision with an immense asteroid or runaway methane or maybe what we now know as Russia simply ... exploding.

Either way, we know it took millions of years for life on Earth to recover. A lot of the more popular lineages of animals, like trilobites and a lot of mammal-like reptiles, were wiped out, leaving huge vacuums in the ecosystem. A few lineages did survive, however, including the ancestors of modern mammals and dinosaurs. Dinosaurs!

OH HEY, DID SOMEONE SAY DINOSAURS? Image from Dominik Reinold/Pixabay.

Thanks to climate change, today the Earth is going through some transformations too. With the planet's history as proof, chances are the Earth will survive climate change, too. Whether that includes humans, however...

Look, here's the thing. I like the skies the color they are now, thank you very much. I don't want to live through seas of lava, mile-thick glaciers over Acapulco, or the skies changing color (unless you're talking about a beautiful sunset or the northern lights, of course).

Fighting climate change isn't really about saving the planet. It's about saving ourselves and the other creatures that call Earth home. No matter how cool an ice planet with red skies sounds.

While poking fun at astronomer Carl Sagan in a now infamous sketch, comedy duo Tim and Eric once stated you wouldn’t want to put the universe into a tube.

Why? Because "you’d end up with a very long tube probably extending twice the size of the universe."

Of course!

GIF via Tim and Eric.

So maybe the universe won’t fit in a tube. But what about cramming it into a single image?

It’s a pretty mind-blowing idea to be sure. Most of us have enough trouble mapping out our work weeks, let alone the entirety of known existence.

But that’s precisely what artist Pablo Carlos Budassi was able to do in the brilliant illustration below, which is an artist's depiction of the breadth of the observable universe.

Image by Pablo Carlos Budassi/Wikimedia Commons.

How did Budassi accomplish such an incredible, visually striking feat?

Well, first he consulted a series of logarithmic maps of the universe published by Princeton University researchers in 2005.

A logarithmic map is one that increases by an order of magnitude (a power of 10) instead of by equal increments. This type of map takes massive amounts of information and compresses it into a singular image that can be deciphered as easily as a third-grader’s "Favorite Pizza Topping" pie chart.

The visual representations of these maps, however, can be a bit hard to read for the average person.

Worst. Rorschach test. Ever. "Map of the Universe" by Gott & Juric, Princeton University, used with permission.

Not what you’d normally call easy on the eyes, amiright? It was exactly this ... let’s call it "lack of visual flair" that inspired Budassi to create the hypnotic image above.

The idea came to him while planning his son’s birthday party, according to Tech Insider.

He was creating hexaflexagons for the kids — a fancy way to describe those paper, choose-your-own-adventure origami thingies that were all the rage back in elementary school.

"When I was drawing hexaflexagons for my son's birthday souvenirs, I started drawing central views of the cosmos and the solar system," said Budassi, likely impressing anyone within earshot. "That day the idea of a logarithmic view came, and in the next days I was able to [assemble] it with Photoshop using images from NASA and some textures created [on] my own."

The image is just as impressive close up, where you can see details of different parts of the universe.

Here's a zoomed-in shot:

I swear I can see my house from here. Image by Pablo Carlos Budassi/Wikimedia Commons.

Set at the center of Budassi’s illustration of the observable universe is our solar system — Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and all the other neighbors.

Just beyond the orbit of Neptune lies the Kuiper belt — a massive, asteroid-type belt and home to dwarf planets Pluto, Haumea, and Makemake — then the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies.

Pulling back a bit, we see the cosmic web, a gargantuan, web-like structure consisting of several irregular galaxies which was first captured in an image just two years ago. At the very edges of Budassi’s map lie the cosmic microwave radiation and invisible plasma produced by the Big Bang.

Never before has the insignificance of our entire existence been so beautifully rendered.

I kid, but Budassi’s illustration kind of puts into perspective how small we are in the grand scheme of things, does it not? Makes that 15-minute traffic delay on the way to the office seem, I dunno, not worth losing one’s cool over, maybe?

After all, when you think about it, even the big things are pretty tiny from a certain vantage point.