By: Dr. Mohammad Tanha
Almost every one of us who uses smartphone are starting and ending our busy days by checking our smartphones for the latest messages and news updates. At first glance, this might look like a good sign of catchup with civilization and technological development of the modern world, but I doubt this is the case in reality.
As a non-alien member of the society, I started the π (Pi) day by checking my Facebook in a not so modern smartphone, while I was expecting to see some scientifically humorful birthday messages to Albert Einstein as every other Pi day, my eyes blinked in shock with the terrible news of the biggest loss of our century. Sir Stephan Hawking left this world darker than the black holes and the dark energy he was talking about in his book “A Brief History of Time”. He shared his Pi death day with the birthday of the Einstein whose theory of general relativity initiated his new look to the beginning of Space-Time and universe as a nutshell. Should it be considered a coincidence initiated by the God whom he rejected his presence in the first place or a fine calculation of Hawking himself?
Hawking was an exceptional individual and a role model in too many fronts. From being a hope to everyone aspiring to achieve their dreams despite an illness as severe as ALS to being a genius scientist pushing forward the boundaries of physics and cosmology, not to mention maintaining a great sense of humor.
Besides being a remarkable scientist in the field of cosmology and unification of fundamental laws in Physics, he dedicated and spent almost his entire life for engaging the general public with science and logic rather than theological beliefs. Like Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Lawrence Krauss, Hawking too was a true ambassador of Science and logic.
The physically paralyzed and mentally dynamic Hawking used his spice of humor to marinate and readymade the complicated scientific concepts for a tasty intake by the public. From time to time, he communicated about the ongoing wars launched by those who misused the good wish of Science for destruction rather than construction. He was a social life loving person, one of his prominent views over years was regarding the technological development of artificial intelligence. He believed that artificial intelligence will have the power to evolve to a power greater than what can be controlled by any man. Something that will one-day end the human race.
For those who are advocates of public understanding of science and logic rather than ideology-based way of thinking, the departure of Sir Hawking is the loss of a beloved leader of a powerful but weaponless revolution. That day was a turbulent day, I was scrolling through media outlet and social pages to read about the local and international reactions to the departure of Hawking.
The reaction of religious societies in the developing countries including Afghanistan was what can be best described by love-hate. On a positive note, it makes any patriot happy to see that there is this level of public awareness about global affairs of this sort and we are no longer the nation we used to be a decade ago; isolated from the rest of the world.
Sadly, this happiness does not last long, the reactions ranging from praising God for killing a non-believer to asking God not to burn him in hell for eternity leave you scratching your head and wonder do these people have slightest idea of what Hawking has done in science frontiers for understanding of mankind of the universe they live in?
It’s ironic to see people, enjoying the technology to communicate instantly with the world through finger tips, take the liberty to accuse Hawking of being a Godless person who will burn in hell as soon as he is left alone in his grave. The only thing these people knew about Hawking was that Hawking rejected the existence of his God. Let’s forget that people all around the world believe in almost three thousand different Gods on earth and assume that of the one of the Abrahamic religions does exist. Who are followers of the religion to judge what should God do with him? Who knows how if Hawking didn’t have a better way of communication with his creator than we do? After all it was him who spent his life studying the universe God has created.
I wondered with the little information we have from the Hawking’s work, how on earth can we judge him?
I realized that the use of smartphone by not so much smart people is not an option that developing societies should welcome. It seems customization of free flow of information through our smartphone screens can have devastating effect on what we read, listen, watch and eventually learn. This type of customized flow of information and joining only those groups with whom we have common ideological grounds ruin the diversity of thoughts and will keep us in our shells forever.
From my days at the Leibniz University of Hannover, I remember how the University authority, students and general public felt honored and lined up in a kilometer-long line to get the ticket for Hawking’s planned lecture at the University public hall. It hurts so much to witness how we in Afghan society look at scientific issues from our own ideology and religious windows. I am afraid that if Hawking was to deliver a lecture in Kabul University, he would not have been given one tenth of the attention, care and respect he was getting in the modern world and for one reason, he did not believe in your God.
Looking at reaction chronology of this single and many other events, I have the feeling that there is a severe lack of freedom, openness and dialog on topic which are still considered as a taboo for us. There is an urgent need for universities and academic institutions to take the lead in starting initiatives of public debate on taboo topics. Media should also deal with this in a professional rather than emotional way. If we don’t start practicing this, I am sure that we will never reach a stage where we can respond to anything in a logical and professional manner. It is great to have and keep our culture and beliefs as part of our identity, but we need to practice understanding and tolerance with those who do not think the way we do or share our beliefs. This is an important part of moving forward, perhaps more important than learning any formulas in Universities and academic institutions.
For the moment though, I wish there were set of rules which forbids individuals with a paralyzed mindset to use smart phones.
Pi day used to mark birth of a star, Albert Einstein, and now it marks death of another; Stephan Hawking. Just like the stars that die but their light still travels thousands of parsecs and light years, these stars will shine for centuries to come. Their light will brighten the path for hundreds of scientists and wonderers who search for the truth.
Dr. Tanha is a Physicist, columnist and Science communicator currently a research fellow in Magdeburg University of Germany. He publishes articles directed for general public as an effort to promote science, logic and Science-based way of thinking.