Curiosity that killed the unknown

The dictionary defines curiosity as 'the desire to learn or know about anything/inquisitiveness'. Curiosity has been the driving force behind the progress of man from a hunter-gatherer to the technological being he is today. The urge to find out what lies inside the earth, below the oceans and out in the skies has seen mankind making astounding discoveries, inventing undreamt of machines and gadgets and quite literally going where no man has ever set foot before.

The Nasa has aptly named its Mars mission rover as 'Curiosity'. As poet Shelly wrote, "...the abyss of heaven with all its planets" has stirred the curiosity and imagination of humans since the dawn of time. Talking of time, Einstein's Space-Time theory has been the bedrock of physical sciences for long. Physicists, mathematicians and scientists of all disciplines have been taking forward work on this theory which has validated Einstein's concepts. In this continuum comes the famed mathematician, physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking.

The recent report that the earth had a new interstellar visitor, one of unusual shape and size made scientists involved in Hawking's ambitious project 'Breakthrough Listen' sit up and study this uninvited guest for signs of extraterrestrial life like radio signals or other indications of an alien civilisation's presence in some form. That there have been none is another matter.

But, Hawking's question, "Are we alone in this universe?" is significant. This curiosity to unravel the mysteries of the universe has for long driven Hawking on his magnificent journey into the unknown. As he has said "I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these 'how' and 'why' questions. Occasionally, I find an answer." It would be an understatement to say that these answers have illuminated and continue to illumine the path of knowledge and will do so in the future too. This septuagenarian evangelist of science and cosmology continues to ask questions like, "I want to know why the universe exists, why are we here, where do we come from, what is the nature of time, what is the ultimate fate of the universe" among so many others.

Reading his perspicacious writings on these topics, surprisingly not pedantic, one gets glimpses of an intellect that is surely 'extraterrestrial' but is firmly grounded in terrestrial reality. There are voices that brand him as alarmist, unrealistic and so on, but none of these detract from the sheer brilliance of this diminutive man who refuses to be cowed down by a crippling physical infirmity.

One cannot but smile when he says, "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet." As he asserts, the universe is expanding at an increasingly higher rate. As we literally hurtle into the boundless darkness of time, we can only look towards minds like Hawking for answers!

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