Sun, May 22, 2011 - Page 13 News List

Hawking: Life and the cosmos, word by word

Aged 69, Stephen Hawkings confounds conventional thinking

By Claudia Dreifus  /  NY Times News Service, TEMPE, Arizona

CD: I’m wondering about your book A Brief History of Time. Were you surprised by the enormous success of it? Do you believe that most of your readers understood it? Or is it enough that they were interested and wanted to? Or, in another way: what are the implications of your popular books for science education?

SH: I had not expected A Brief History of Time to be a best-seller. It was my first popular book and aroused a great deal of interest.

Initially, many people found it difficult to understand. I therefore decided to try to write a new version that would be easier to follow. I took the opportunity to add material on new developments since the first book, and I left out some things of a more technical nature. This resulted in a follow-up entitled A Briefer History of Time, which is slightly briefer, but its main claim would be to make it more accessible.

CD: Though you avoid stating your own political beliefs too openly, you entered into the health care debate here in the US last year. Why did you do that?

SH: I entered the health care debate in response to a statement in the US press in summer 2009, which claimed the National Health Service in Great Britain would have killed me off, were I a British citizen. I felt compelled to make a statement to explain the error.

I am British. I live in Cambridge, England, and the National Health Service has taken great care of me for over 40 years. I have received excellent medical attention in Britain, and I felt it was important to set the record straight. I believe in universal health care. And I am not afraid to say so.

CD: Here on Earth, the last few months have just been devastating. What were your feelings as you read of earthquakes, revolutions, counter-revolutions and nuclear meltdowns in Japan? Have you been as personally shaken up as the rest of us?

SH: I have visited Japan several times and have always been shown wonderful hospitality. I am deeply saddened for my Japanese colleagues and friends, who have suffered such a catastrophic event. I hope there will be a global effort to help Japan recover. We, as a species, have survived many natural disasters and difficult situations, and I know that the human spirit is capable of enduring terrible hardships.

CD: If it is possible to time-travel, as some physicists claim, at least theoretically, is possible, what is the single moment in your life you would like to return to? This is another way of asking, what has been the most joyful moment you’ve known?

SH: I would go back to 1967, and the birth of my first child, Robert. My three children have brought me great joy.

CD: Scientists at Fermilab recently announced something that one of our reporters described as “a suspicious bump in their data that could be evidence of a new elementary particle or even, some say, a new force of nature.” What did you think when you heard about it?

SH: It is too early to be sure. If it helps us to understand the universe, that will surely be a good thing. But first, the result needs to be confirmed by other particle accelerators.

CD: I don’t want to tire you out, especially if doing answers is so difficult. But I’m wondering: The speech you gave the other night here in Tempe, titled My Brief History, was very personal. Were you trying to make a statement on the record so that people would know who you are?

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