On Thursday, May 9th, the world news reported that world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking would not attend the high profile Israeli Presidential Conference “Facing Tomorrow 2013.” Mr. Hawking explained that his decision to withdraw from the conference, which will take place in the State of Israel on June 18-20, 2013, comes from an endorsement of a boycott on Israel “based on advice from Palestinian academics.”
This is my open letter to Mr. Hawking.
To the genius and iconic leader Mr. Stephen Hawking,
I write this letter to you out of deep respect and awe for you and your outstanding contributions to science. However, I would like to express my extreme disappointment in your recent action and, what I consider, a missed opportunity.
Let me explain.
I am a 16-year-old math and science obsessed high school student living in New York. Scientific theories flood my thoughts and numbers course through my veins. I’ve attended countless science and mathematics programs, participated and won a myriad of competitions, read science blogs for entertainment and must have watched 1 million Youtube videos about the Big Bang (1 million and one if you count 5 minutes ago).
I follow great scientists and mathematicians the way most kids my age follow top athletes and celebrities. But no one has inspired and influenced me more than you have. You have taught me to love science for all of its enormous potential to understand and change the world around us. For that, you have always been my idol.
When I got wind of your recent announcement to pull out of an international science symposium as a protest to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians I was shocked. I ask you, what practical purpose does this action serve?
Mr. Hawking, I want to tell you a story about an unlikely friendship.
I met Arbab two years ago. At the time, he was a 15-year-old devout Muslim from Palestine, and I, William Bryk, was a 15-year-old modern orthodox Jew from New York City. Yet, somehow over the course of a single summer the two of us – kids from completely opposite and sometimes warring backgrounds – worked together for the sake of math.
I spent the summer of 2011 in a California Math Camp for gifted students from all over the world who are interested in learning and strengthening their mathematics skills over summer break. One of my teachers, Dr. G, would end each class with a very difficult problem that tested the class to see who could solve it first. It was this competitive environment that first introduced me to Arbab. Each day Arbab and I raced each other for the first place spot. Some days I would win and others he would win. After several classes, Arbab and I met up before class and made a deal that the loser each day would buy the winner a soda. The days passed and the both of us purchased many sodas. The shared beverage evolved into talking about typical teenage interests and Arbab and I quickly realized we shared many similar hobbies. In addition to our love for math, we both enjoyed playing American basketball with our friends, eating fruit roll ups and watching Youtube videos about the Big Bang. Not even for a single second did it cross our minds to think about our conflicting religions and cultures.
Dr. G changed the nature of the competition a few weeks in. Now, we would work in teams to solve an even more difficult question. Naturally, Arbab and I united to put our two brains together to dominate whatever problem Dr. G threw our way. Without fail, we beat out every other team for the rest of the summer semester. The summer came and went, and Arbab and I left for our respective homes. But we kept in touch during the school year. Arbab filled me in on school, friends and family and I shared stories with him on the same.
For Summer 2012, I planned on returning to the math program. I emailed Arbab to find out if he would be returning as well. He would be. He signed the email with “Bro, want to room together?” I emailed back, “Course.” It was in that moment that I realized how triumphant our friendship was. Our connection could have been fraught with anger and even contempt because of the world’s we both come from. Instead, we ignored our differences and used the open-minded and universal language of mathematics to forge an unshakable bond.
Perhaps, the friendship I share with Arbab can be an example to others that people from diverse and even clashing backgrounds don’t need to shun one another. Rather, we can actually make significant progress toward peace by committing to an alliance based on a nonpartisan language – scientific innovation. Because when it comes down to it, the world really is just like Arbab and I – just a bunch of kids who have every reason to seem so different but as mathematicians and scientists, we can nearly be all the same.
You see, math and science entail more than just manipulating numbers and producing results because they change the way we can understand and interact with each other. These subjects challenge our preconceived ideas and foster our creativity. Most importantly, these topics should inspire us to continually seek to discover the unknown and cure the seemingly incurable of our world. In a world with so many seemingly unsolvable man versus man conflicts, these topics give me hope that scientific and mathematic breakthroughs can change the course of humanity by uniting us for the common goal of knowledge.
And so Mr. Hawking, I beseech you, I implore you, I beg you, I call on you, and I plead with you to not waste your position as an icon of great genius, knowledge and scientific innovation. Add to your list of great accomplishments that you are not just an example to the world, but that you are also an example to every 16-year-old high school student like myself that scientists can use their powers for good to bring the men and women of our great planet together for peace.
I will end with a theory that I always call upon to help me make the right and good decisions in my life. The Many Worlds Theory of Quantum Mechanics formulated by Hugh Everett describes the concept that there exist infinite alternate realities, each containing separate and unique versions of the same characters. Because wave function never collapses, there are parallel universes in space where every potential outcome of events in our lives happens to another version of ourselves. Therefore, there are versions of us right now making the alternate choices and taking the alternate paths than those we make and take in our world.
So Mr. Hawking, you see, there is a ‘you’ that is attending the Facing Tomorrow 2013 conference. Why not make that ‘you’ a reality in our reality?