Archives for posts with tag: Stephen Hawking


“We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity.” (Stephen Hawking speaking at the Cambridge University)


First of all what we call ‘history’ is not what had happened but a story comprising the subjects some of us had chosen to write about, in the manner they saw fit to do it.

Secondly, until very recently most people had a very vague – and heavily biased – idea about what had happened in their past.
Only in the last two hundred years or so a very small number of people have started to study what had happened in their past in a value neutral manner and, unfortunately, their efforts are still being disparaged by many and ignored by a vast majority.

Coming back to Hawking’s words, I must admit that we, as a species, have done indeed a lot of stupid things.
But, as a whole, the sum of our deeds is far from being negative.

After all… we’re still here, aren’t we?

And, despite the huge amount of misery that is still being experienced by a lot of us, we are doing better than our great parents used to do.

So it is hard for me to agree with Hawking on this subject.

He is right about one thing though.
We are currently doing a very stupid thing indeed.
Our ancestors had the excuse that historical information was very scarce.
This is no longer the case.
While they could have claimed ‘innocence’ when re-enacting an error that had already been committed we no longer have that luxury. We should have known better since it is a lot easier for us to learn than it was for our great-parents.
We really need to stop ignoring the lessons we have at our disposal.

And there’s something else which further complicates the situation.
We have become so powerful that our mistakes can have far worse repercussions than any of our ancestors ever had.

So while I don’t think our history is that full of ‘stupidy’ as Hawking believes it to be I share his concerns about the stupid things we may be making in the future if we don’t wake up and start learning from the stupid enough mistakes we have  already done.

As I said before, we make our own history.
We do the things that will constitute tomorrow’s history and we write the story of things that constitute our past.
Let’s not do, nor write, a ‘stupid’ one.


And this is precisely what makes us human!

What? No mention about us being the only species that is able to make rational choices?

First of all we are not the only ones, chimps and computers – among others – are also able to ‘reason’, in variable degrees.
Secondly, and way more important, reason is nothing but a tool. And tools are very, very important but not essential. Just as our hands and feet, they are extremely useful but being able to use them isn’t enough to make us human.

I was led to this understanding by the rapid succession of three events. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the book lists mania that has currently engulfed FB and the eulogy read by Barak Barfi for his friend Steven Sotloff.

The Ice Bucket Challenge shows that we care, the fact that we post lists of books on FB so that complete strangers can gouge our personalities (real, pretended or a little bit of both) means that we are aware (of our public image) and Steven Sotloff loosing his life to a bunch of criminals while doing his best “to give a voice to people in war-torn lands” demonstrates that humans dare to do what they feel is right even when confronted with mortal dangers.

Still unconvinced?

Can you spell Stephen Hawking? And do you think that being able to spell proves you are human? Are you sure… chimps can do that too, you know? (Well, to a degree and using a computer, but still!
Now, have you ever heard of the ‘obedience experiment’ carried out by Stanley Milgram? Although aware of the potentially dangerous  consequences of their actions only about 33% of the participants dared to contradict the ‘authoritative figure’ that was apparently in charge of the whole thing. And even more interesting is the fact that nowadays experiments like these would be considered illegal/unethical preciselly because of their effects on the participants. Check the first one.
Let’s go back to Stephen Hawking. He is the owner/operator of one of the finest minds ever endowed to a man. His reason is as precise as that of a computer while his imagination goes way beyond the limits of the Universe and way down into the realm of the invisible. And yet, what did he do when he found out he’ll soon loose the use of his limbs and will eventually need a machine to help him breathe? When he slowly became aware that those horrible things were actually happening to him?
Did he allow his beautiful mind to go berserk in self pity – the pinnacle of ‘caring for his own self’, the self preservation mania that is aggressively conquering more and more ground?

Or did he dare to continue with what he thought it was right for him to do?

You’ll rightly tell me that he couldn’t have survived if he wasn’t immensely lucky. That he was born in an era when technology was advanced enough, that he had already proven himself so material resources needed for his survival weren’t a problem, and that he had met the right people. True. But he did more than merely survive. He continued to create. To bring new ideas and understanding into the world.

– ‘OK’, jumps another one of you, ‘but what’s the difference between him an Hitler, lets say, or any other dictatorial sociopath that uses immense resources and top technologies to impose his understanding of the world on the rest of the people’?

Well, another excellent question!
A long time ago I had read something to the tune of: ‘Had Hitler been born in Britain he would have ended up in a loony bin, not running the show into the ground’. (I’m awfully ashamed for not being able to remember who said/wrote this nor internet savvy enough to identify the author.) The idea is that for a dictatorship to take hold you need way more than a guy, no matter how intelligent, powerful and devious. You also need a considerable number of people who dare not express dissent whenever they dislike/disagree with anything.

The point is that all three members of the triad that makes my title are equally important.
Being aware of the needs and caring for those around makes for a very good and obedient slave in the absence of daring while being a self conscious and uncaring dare-devil is meeting the first two requirements for becoming a dictator.
What happens with someone who dares and cares (mainly about himself, but not exclusively) while he is only marginally aware of the wider repercussions of his actions? Does the notion of ‘mad scientist’ ring any bells? Or ‘executioner’?

In fact if all three legs of the triad were equal the individual described by that triad would behave in a considerate and respectful manner towards all people, irrespective of social status, wealth or even age. In political terms that person would actively, persistently and politely reject any form of authoritarianism while in economic terms it would be a staunch defender of the free market. 

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