Insight through the Mundane

My routinely voluntary work at the local theater is finally paying off: Another group saw me work and decided they wanted one of those. Their story is remarkably similar, too: Their technician bailed at the worst possible moment and left the group frantically looking for replacement. Only, by now I do have some experience and have earned the right to ask for compensation, in the form of fifteen euro per evening. It’s a three hour show, so that’s still ridiculously little, as a volunteer I shouldn’t complain.

This is nothing like I’m used to, though. Where my first group was experimental, youthful and interesting, this one is the exact opposite. For no less than nine shows, I have to sit through the most tedious three hours since boarding school. In fact, during the sixteen page stretch where I have nothing to do, I literally fall asleep.

The play is about an 80-year old winning the lottery and buying his delayed son, who can’t speak, a laptop that can speak for him.

The end. No kidding. They can make this last three hours.

Which got me thinking. The whole time, this kid (well, man) is treated like a retard, petted and talked about in his presence. At the end, he proves his wit in nothing more than a few spot-on remarks (as far as anything is spot-on in this play).

So what if he would never be able to speak?

The way in which the actor sits and the way his laptop sounds (which ironically, is my laptop speaking), reminds me a great deal of Stephen Hawking. For those who don’t know Hawking:

Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA (born 8 January 1942) is an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences,[3] and in 2009 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.


Hawking has a neuro-muscular dystrophy that is related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralysed.

Get this: The man can move one (1) single muscle in his cheek, and with that muscle, has achieved more than you and I combined will ever achieve. He uses it to trigger a voice synthesizer and form words that way, taking several minutes to form even a simple sentence.

Now imagine if you will, that nobody would bother wondering if this man had something to say, and a means to say it. What if nobody would have gone through the lengthy process of hooking him up to a voice synthesizer, continuing to treat him like the mongoloid that he resembles?

People like me can’t even grasp his intellectual capabilities, let alone what they have achieved. All trapped inside that mind with a tiny muscle to let it out. And for how long? His illness has been getting progressively worse, and in fact should have killed him back when he was twenty-three. The books and articles he has written have shocked the scientific community many times over. This man is an intellectual goldmine, with an entry shaft the size of a penny (one for the quote books, I’d say).

Could it be that he is not alone? That there are others like him, god forbid, who weren’t as lucky to be born in a world of wealth and understanding? They would most likely be dead by now, or worse, trapped in a world with nothing but their eyesight, and immeasurable intelligence but a disastrous lack of knowledge. Fed, changed and ignored by fat aunt Wilma and forever searching for a way to scream out to either be killed, or listened to.

An odd ADD case myself, I couldn’t imagine sitting still for more than three hours watching the same joke repeated and explained, let alone with the kind of mind Hawking has, which by the way I am otherwise insanely jealous of.


One response

  1. Maya

    Brain envy? ;)
    Lucky for Hawking, his condition was degenerative. Well, I say lucky in the relative sense. At least it allowed him to be walking around proving his intellect many times over, before his illness got him chained to the wheelchair and accompanying voice synthesizer.
    I’m sure you’re right in that there’s some unlucky bastards who are born with brilliant minds and no way to show it. And really, it’s everyone’s loss in the end.
    It makes me wonder (wishful thinking perhaps) if technology will soon become widespread and available enough for these folks to become recognized no matter where they should happen to be born. EEG can detect brain activity, after all..

    2 December 2010 at 14:26

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