BRITAIN’S most eminent scientist Stephen Hawking said that he did not learn to read until he was eight years old and was academically idle until he was diagnosed with a form of motor neuron disease.
Hawking, who gave a rare public lecture yesterday at the Royal Albert Hall in London, said, “My sister Philippa could read by the age of four … but then, she was definitely brighter than me.”
He added that he was never more than about halfway up the class at school.
“My classwork was very untidy, and my handwriting was the despair of my teachers,” he said.
“But my classmates gave me the nickname Einstein, so presumably they saw signs of something better.”
Learning he was facing the possibility of an early death was the catalyst for his most prolific period as a scientist, which led to his discoveries on the big bang and black holes.
“When you are faced with the possibility of an early death, it makes you realize that life is worth living, and that there are lots of things you want to do,” he said.
Although he gained a first-class degree at Oxford University, he said that he scraped that result and worked for an average of only an hour a day during his time there.
“You were supposed to be brilliant without effort or to accept your limitations and get a fourth-class degree. I’m not proud of this lack of work. I’m just describing my attitude at the time, which I shared with most of my fellow students: an attitude of complete boredom and feeling that nothing was worth making an effort for,” he said.
However, being told at the age of 21 that he would not live for more than a few years galvanised him into intense productivity.