May 23, 2021

THE DOCTOR IS IN: Dr.* Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple) explores: A theory of something.

The title of this book is so extremely clever that one suspects that someone would have felt obliged to write an accompanying book once apprised of it. Whoever thought of it had a small stroke of genius.

Nevertheless, it is a slightly misleading title because it promises rather more material to provoke the reader’s moral outrage than it delivers. It is true that publishers in particular took advantage of Stephen Hawking’s tragic situation as the victim of a progressive neurological condition—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known in England as motor neurone disease and in America as Lou Gehrig’s disease—to publicize his books and promote his persona. But if this was exploitation, it was the exploitation of someone who was only too willing to be exploited.

The story of Hawking’s life is remarkable, indeed one of the most remarkable that could well be imagined. Like many a brilliantly gifted person, he was not stretched intellectually at school or even as an undergraduate, hiding his boredom and his brilliance with moderately insouciant behavior; it was only when he started original research that his brilliance as a physicist began to manifest itself. At the same time, however, he suffered from the first symptoms of als, which carried a prognosis of death within three years. Remarkably, he outlived his prognosis—which was statistically correct—by half a century, marrying (twice), fathering three children, making important contributions to the science of cosmology, being appointed to the chair in Cambridge that the great Newton held, writing a best-selling book, and becoming by far the most famous scientist in the world—despite the fact that for much of that time he could not walk or talk or look after himself in the most minimal way. He was a public communicator who lacked the normal human means of communication that most of us take so much for granted.

Who would not be moved by this story? What defects of character, such as we all possess, could seriously detract from this example of the triumph of the human spirit over extreme adversity? Hawking himself never gave way to self-pity or complaint; he always insisted that he was not being brave, but merely dealing as best he could with circumstances as they had arisen. He was not being self-deprecatory in such a way as to attract even more praise to himself; he wanted above all to be known as a scientist rather than as a man who had made something of his life despite a handicap that would have defeated most people. Occasionally, he would even claim that his chronic progressive illness had even been an advantage to him, since it had freed him from the obligation to perform extraneous time-consuming tasks such as teaching and allowed him to concentrate on his beloved physics. But his inability to write anything down severely handicapped his capacity to perform complex mathematical calculations, and his phenomenal memory was no substitute for a pencil and a few pages of paper. On one occasion, he let his guard drop: asked if he would exchange his exceptional intellectual prowess for the ability to walk and talk normally, he replied “Yes.” There is a wealth of tragedy in that monosyllable.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Even Stephen Hawking makes mistakes – he’s wrong about the Israel boycott.

* Former prison physician and psychiatrist, in case “Dr.” Jill Biden is reading.

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