Renowned — indeed, iconic — physicist Stephen Hawking died at age 76, having played a crucial role in popularizing and explaining his esoteric subject. Hawking had a way with words and wit — and a large gift for encapsulating extremely complex ideas and making then accessible for less gifted thinkers. Famous physicist and media personality Neil deGrasse Tyson enjoys the same gift for making difficult subject matter like quarks and black holes accessible. But in eulogizing Hawking on Twitter, deGrasse Tyson chose not to work his simplifying magic. Tyson wrote of Hawking’s passing:
“His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure.”
Um, okay. With his grand description, Professor deGrasse Tyson gives the impression that Hawking’s effect was greater — or just more inscrutable — than the Big Bang or string theory. (Those deGrasse Tyson can explain!) Maybe Hawking was finally a subject too complex for even deGrasse Tyson to summarize. Still, he tried. Even the dullest layman understands, reading his encomium, that deGrasse Tyson thinks Stephen Hawking was pretty terrific. But does the spacetime defy measure, or does the vacuum energy defy it? Wait — Hawking’s departed intellect left an unempty vacuum? (That is so quantum!) Still, everybody intuits that “permeating the fabric of spacetime” is really great and rare, even if it sounds like it’s straight out of Marvel Comics. Then again, if Stephen Hawking isn’t a superhero, who is? Thanks to Neil deGrasse Tyson for making that distinction perfectly clear. And RIP, magisterial Stephen Hawking. What an incredible life.
His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018. pic.twitter.com/nAanMySqkt
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 14, 2018