Stephen Hawking was one of the most important authors I ever encountered. His book 'The Grand Design' was fundamental in my de-conversion process from Protestant Christianity, and informed my search for truth. Though I am not particularly mathematically inclined, Hawking's arguments and theories about the origin of the universe and M-theory were elucidated in a style that I found accessible and extremely influential in his books. Hawking challenged my worldview, gave me the final push to move beyond lingering fundamentalism and Deistic ideology, and quite literally expanded my consciousness through his words. Stephen Hawking - along with Carl Sagan, and Richard Dawkins - was crucial in my development as a rationalist, practicing meditator, and (perhaps in what would be to the chagrin of the three authors and scientists aforementioned) as a Gnostic Thelemite.
Hawking had a particular line in 'The Grand Design' wherein he referenced a town in Italy outlawing fish-bowls for fish because it was cruel to alter their perception of reality. I'm paraphrasing, but the gist was that humans are making a basic assumption that our perception of reality is in fact correct and objective, when there really is no logical reason to believe it is. As Chinese Philosopher Zhuangzi once said: "Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness, as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man."
This caused me to question on a fundamental level my assumptions about reality, and led me to study and experience new ideologies, new practices in consciousness alteration - including yoga, mantra, and meditation. These studies ultimately led me to a better understanding of myself, and of the place of humans within the world.
I retain my skepticism, but have added experimentation with religion and philosophy to the mix - and never since reading Hawking have I taken reality for granted.
Thank you Professor Hawking, for everything.