The Stephen Hawking Cheat Sheet

How to sound authoritative on science without knowing anything (in other words, how to be like varsity VC)

Chennai, Mar 15: The death of Stephen Hawking has robbed the world of a scientist who lucidly explained many of the deep truths of this universe, except the one whether he was actually a cosmologist or an astrophysicist.

The obituary references to Hawking have him marked as astrophysicist, physicist, cosmologist, scientist, astronomist, mathematics professor. As you can see, forget about understanding what Hawking wrote, media has no clue about who Hawking actually was. (Pssst! He was a merchant banker).

But in this competitive world, people have to have an opinion on every conceivable subject (even Amit Shah and O Panneerselvam tweeted about Stephen Hawking and his understanding of science and universe. OPS, for the record, did not even get Sudha Raghunathan’s name right even when he was reading the name straight from a piece of paper). So you cannot be seen as being unaware of Hawking.

The need of the hour is a cheat-sheet. Here is ours on Hawking. Reading which will greatly enhance your understanding of science, especially that if you bluff authoritatively people just fall for it.

Q: Okay, what  was Stephen Hawking really, cosmologist or astrophysicist?

Ans: To answer the question, you have to understand what really is astrophysics and cosmology. Astrophysicists observe and explain the inner workings of ‘astro’ objects like stars and planets. Cosmologists, on the other had, observe and explain about the inner workings of objects like stars and planets that our ‘cosmos’ abounds in. This will tell you that there is no real difference between a cosmologist and an astrophysicist. But there will be different astrophysics professor and cosmology professor in institutions proving that when it comes to pulling a fast one, academia is on a par with politicos.

Q: So you mean to say, it is okay to label Hawking as both astrophysicist and cosmologist?

Ans: No. We suggest that you stick to calling him cosmologist based on the common sense logic that it will keep others more intrigued. Whereas astrophysicist sounds like an actual job and some people may have some idea about it. So you are better off branding Hawking as an cosmologist. If someone came back at you asking what does a cosmologist do, you immediately move to your next important gambit: Black holes.

Q: What are black holes?

Ans: Black hole is that zone from which even particles and electromagnetic radiation such as light cannot escape.  A kind of astral Silk Board junction. But mercifully they are far off from where we live. Even the closest black hole is reportedly several light years away —  same as the distance between Bengaluru and its airport.  Stephen Hawking, in a sense, could as well have observed Bengaluru to come up with his findings.

Q: What was Stephen Hawking’s finding on black holes?

Ans: Black holes, from which no radiation, including light, can escape, has the theoretical possibility of emitting some radiation. The radiation is called Hawking-Zel’ dovich Radiation, which over time has come to be called just Hawking Radiation, thereby imparting to the scientific community that if you want to be remembered as a scientist, for heaven’s sake, have a name that is easily spellable.

According to Wikipedia, “Hawking’s work on (black holes) followed his visit to Moscow in 1973…” almost sounding like as if he encountered black holes in the outskirts of Moscow.

Q: Hawking’s seminal written work is A Brief History of Time. What can you tell us about it?

Ans: A Brief History of Time is indeed the most known work of his, and he himself joked that it probably was the “most-bought but least-read” of books, proving that he was the rarest of the rare scientists who was in touch with reality. In A Brief History of Time, he explains lucidly about stuff like black holes, string theory in easy understandable language, reading which you will be forced to ask the ultimate question — this is the beauty and appeal of science — why am I reading this?

But when you are trying to showoff on Hawking, you are advised to not bring up A Brief History of Time since every one, in this we include even Sellur Raju, to have heard about the book. To look a Hawking snob, you need to invoke some other book of his. We suggest The Grand Design. It is a book in which Hawking debates, among others, “Is there a God? What is the destiny of humankind? How does the multiverse work? What’s the unified M-Theory?” (This is  what we understood after reading, in depth, the blurb of the book).

No matter what he had said in the book, you can confidently assert that you don’t exactly accept Hawking’s ‘hypothesis’ (this is a word you have to employ to sound all science-cool). As a scientist, Hawking, you can be sure, would not have said that there is a God. If he had said so, people would not have accepted him as a scientist.

So, in your conversation you can casually boast, “I beg to disagree with Hawking. Okay, I may not have a doctorate from Cambridge, but Hawking’s conclusions on universe is bunkum”. As a gambit, this will impress whoever is listening to you. And at this juncture, you must slip in a Sanskrit slokam — any damn Sanskrit slokam, and if your interlocutor seems particularly gullible, you can even recite random lines from Vande Matram — and say, “our rishis had sussed out the universe far better than this chap from England”.  Nobody will dare debate you on this.

If someone does indeed challenge you, you must move on to God Created The Integers, another book from Hawking, which talks of — this should be obvious as he is a cosmologist — about mathematics.

The above information, we can say with certainty, will see you through most situations, including interviews for the VC post in Indian universities.