Tuesday, May 1, 2012


The questions I'd like to ask someone about life and death things -- the huge questions that are complicated, too complex for me to understand -- Stephen Hawking can probably answer.

He's a "Cosmologist." Distracted by the word looking like "cosmetic," I checked the dictionary. His specialty is his knowledge about the cosmos -- i.e., the entire universe.

(Stephen Hawking is 70 now. He has three children, Robert, Lucy, and Tim, from his marriage to first wife Jane. He has two grandchildren, and also a second ex-wife, Elaine. There are vague rumblings about his second wife abusing him physically, and current rumblings about him attending sex clubs.)

(Daughter Lucy, a writer, has published three "young- adult" books. Son Robert is married and lives in the U.S. Son Tim likes automobile racing. Except for these facts, no other details about his family seem to be available.)

(Re the "abuse" -- his second wife was a nurse, and during the years that she cared for him, he was apparently injured, either by her or because of accidents that happened while he was being moved, treated, and cared for.
I think, with Hawking's ability to communicate clearly and precisely exactly what he wants, Hawking is letting us know that his personal story is a distraction. There are no more details because Hawking does not want his private life getting in the way of him doing his work.)

Recently, he was interviewed by Jeffrey Kluger, a senior editor for Time, who reports on science and technology for the magazine.

The questions that Kluger asked were questions that other people asked. Their questions were submitted to Hawking three weeks before his synthesized voice answered some of the questions in a video.

Someone asked: If God doesn't exist, why did the concept of his existence become almost universal?

Hawking's synthesized voice said, "I don't claim that God doesn't exist. God is the name people give to the reason we are here. But I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God."

(Hmm. The question seemed awkward, but H's answer was wonderfully direct, and clear.)

An Englishman asked: Does the universe end? If so, what is beyond it?

Hawking replied, "Observations indicate that the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate. It will expand forever, getting emptier and darker. Although the universe doesn't have an end, it had a beginning in the Big Bang. One might ask what is before that, but the answer is that there is nowhere before the Big Bang, just as there is nowhere south of the South Pole."

(I wished more had been said -- "emptier and darker," and "there is nowhere south of the South Pole" seemed to say, chillingly, that the end of the world was inevitable.)

An American asked: Do you think our civilization will survive long enough to make the leap to deeper space?

Hawking said, "I think we have a good chance of surviving long enough to colonize the solar system. However, there is nowhere else in the solar system as suitable as the Earth, so it is not clear if we would survive if the Earth was made unfit for habitation. To ensure our long-term survival, we need to reach the stars. That will take much longer. Let's hope we can last until then."

Another question: If you could talk to Albert Einstein, what would you say?

Hawking's reply -- "I would ask him why he didn't believe in black holes. The field equations of his theory of relativity imply that a large star or cloud of gas would collapse in on itself and form a black hole. Einstein was aware of this, but somehow he managed to convince himself that something like an explosion would always occur to throw off mass and prevent the formation of a black hole. What if there was no explosion?"

This next question and Hawking's answer fascinated me: Which scientific discovery or advance would you like to see in your lifetime?

Hawking said, "I would like nuclear fusion to become a practical power source. It would provide an inexhaustible supply of energy, without pollution or global warming."

(Wow -- with what happened, is still happening in Japan after the earthquake March 2011, I would think Hawking's opinion may affect the future of nuclear power in our country.)

A man from Seattle asked: What do you believe happens to our consciousness after death?

Hawking replied, "I think the brain is essentially a computer and consciousness is like a computer program. It will cease to run when the computer is turned off. Theoretically, it could be re-created on a neural network, but that would be very difficult, as it would require all one's memories."

Someone finally asked a personal question: Given your reputation as a brilliant physicist, what ordinary interests do you have that might surprise people?

(What fun, to hear Hawking say, "I enjoy all forms of music -- pop, classical and opera. I also share an interest in Formula One racing with my son Tim.")

Some one wanted to know: Do you feel that your physical limitations have helped or hindered your study? And another question was: Does it feel like a huge responsibility to have people expecting you to have all the answers to life's mysteries?

Hawking said, "I certainly don't have the answers to all life's problems. While physics and mathematics may tell us how the universe began, they are not much use in predicting human behavior because there are far too many equations to solve. I'm no better than anyone else at understanding what makes people tick, particularly women."

I wished someone had figured out a way to phrase a very direct "when" question about the world ending, about aliens already here on earth, about where we are heading in terms of the environmental issues such as pollution, over-crowding, running out of water, icebergs melting, all those scary things. And golly -- I wonder if he's following our massive, daily, pre-election news ? Where does Hawking stand politically?

No -- I've told myself -- the "keeper of the cosmos" is not really concerned about the small aspect of the world called the United States of America.

But I've been asking him questions in my mind for a long time. I wrote about him in 2009, STEPHEN HAWKING, HERO.'

Writing about aliens, IS OR ISN'T ANYBODY THERE?, I wrote and quoted Stephen Hawking.

My questions belong, maybe, on a list, along with yours. I really would like to know what would YOU ask Stephen Hawking

Here's the Kluger video.


Maureen Jacobs said...

Mr. Hawking is quite the intriguing enigma. He has a disease that most people would die from within years. He has a genius brain, he is comical, forward thinking. Despite his 'handicap', he has something that most people lack enough of, Hope. For a better tomorrow and the scientific way to a longer existence.

Kudos to an awesome blog Em.

Maureen Shields Jacobs

Carola said...

I don't have any questions for him, but I like and agree with what he says. I see us as tiny, tiny specks in a giant and unknowable universe. There is no way for us to know what is out there or what will happen, any more than an amoeba can know anything about man and the earth.

Unknown said...

EM, you know I adore everything you write, but you have a particular affinity for writing about really 'brainy' good stuff!
* * *
I read your blog and I indeed did watch the video, it gave me the full on shivers. My three favs ~ asking Einstein, the answer that had developing nuclear fusion into a safe and unlimited energy producer; and his favorite memory sharing of Antartica.
* * *
Always from you, Ms. Emily Frankel, high quality output. Thanks for sharing this with us. Much love to you all & your family! I'm @grammakaye on twitter.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Hawking is a very interesting man with a gifted mind beyond understanding. I enjoyed hearing his answers and about his life. Fascinating info he talks about with the universe etc. Thanks for sharing Em! kam

Poet_Carl_Watts said...

His answer on living off earth is pretty accurate. The rest of his answers I disagree with almost entirely. Einstein advanced theories which many people consider laws. They are not and I believe Einstein was off to some degree. The speed of light is NOT absolute as is being proven by some studies today. Einstein theories of space are simply wrong. Apparently he never looked!

FREE Cash App Money said...

I would ask him: "If u were "God", would u destroy the world?

MikesFilmTalk said...

Stephen Hawking is living proof that the brain is the most powerful organ in the body. This man's cerebral powers are (pardon the pun) astronomical. I especially enjoyed his musings on the possibility of alien life. His view was that if they do exist (and he believes that it is a statistical probability that they do) we probably do not want them to visit us. The reason is historical in nature. Superior technologically advanced civilisations (in this case the aliens) always take over less technologically advanced civilisations (us).

Of course Hawking's sense of humour is well documented. I saw recently where he was doing a cameo on a comedy program. One character sees Hawking, says his name and faints. Hawking then says, "Great, another fainter." Brilliant.

As usual Ms Em a great and thoughtful topic for consideration.

Ameer S. Washington said...

Stephen Hawking is brilliant. I've read about him and seen specials about him and his work on TV.

I wouldn't ask him anything that pertained to science because the only two questions I need answered, he cannot answer. He stated that clearly in his response to these series of questions. We are the masters of our own universe.

He is truly intriguing though. Maybe you can ask him for me. What's better ice cream, butter pecan or cookies and cream? Who's going to win the Super Bowl next year?