"Venereal" Musings on The Theory of Everything

"Is it venereal?" 


That was the question posed to Stephen Hawking in the movie The Theory of Everything  by his roommate after Hawking states he has been diagnosed with a disease as portrayed in the movie  As is common knowledge, Professor Hawking has waged an odds-defying battle with the debilitating Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS)--something definitely not venereal--while at the same time building an astonishingly productive career devoted to contemplating the widest of possible abstractions.

But, in a weird coincidence (or maybe I'm just stretching this) Hawking's work has something in common with venereal matters. The concept venereal derives from the Roman term for the goddess of love and beauty, Venus, whose name was given to the brightest object in the sky (excluding the sun and the moon): the 2nd planet from the sun. Diseases that arose while pursuing "love" were, therefore, named for the patron goddess of love.

My favorite fact about Professor Hawking that isn't widely known is that his father Dr. Frank Hawking was an expert in parasitic infectious diseases such as malaria, trypanosomiasis, and filariasis and headed the parasitology branch of the UK's National Institute for Medical Research. I think it must've been incredible to hear dinner conversations in which one person is talking about microscopic organisms and the other massive black holes and stars.

I found the movie was in many ways inspirational as it explicitly endorsed the idea that there is no limit to human endeavor and did not shy away from Professor Hawking's atheism.

One quote in particular I found very illuminating was: "A physicist can't allow his calculations to be muddled by belief in a supernatural creator." I think it is a broadly applicable piece of advice that applies to all endeavors and instructs us that reality, the knowledge of which is pursued through the faculty of reason, is the ultimate arbiter of the veracity of our work. Any consideration that undercuts that standard will muddle one's thinking because it involves placing something above one's reasoning mind.

With a poetic license of sorts, I take venereal to be reaching for the brightest stars in the skies--a goal we all should strive for.