Stephen Hawking Looks Back
Stephen Hawking is known for his research into relativity, black holes, and quantum mechanics, as well as for the disease that has left him almost entirely paralyzed. But the theoretical cosmologist says that, were he to start from scratch, he wouldn’t focus on physics.
Stephen Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for 30 years. He is the author of several books, including the worldwide publishing phenomenon A Brief History of Time.
IRA FLATOW: What would Stephen Hawking do with his life if he had to do it all over again? Hawking, as you know, is one of the world’s most illustrious physicists and science author. And now he’s out with a new book, a personal memoir entitled My Brief History, out this week from Bantam. He doesn’t give many interviews, as his illness does not allow him to converse in real time. But he did agree to answer a few questions we put to him. And I think some of his responses may surprise you. Let me give you those right now. First we asked him are there any mysteries about the universe you think we may never be able to answer– questions beyond the reach of science?
STEPHEN HAWKING: I believe there are no questions that science can’t answer about the physical universe. Although we don’t yet have a full understanding of the laws of nature, I think we will eventually find a complete unified theory. Some people would claim that things like love, joy, and beauty belong to a different category from science and can’t be described in scientific terms. But I think they can all be explained by the theory of evolution.
IRA FLATOW: We asked him another question. And I think this gave us a really interesting answer. We asked him if you were to start your career over again now, starting now, what would you study and why?
STEPHEN HAWKING: If I were starting research now, I might studying molecular biology, the science of life. Crick and Watson discovered the double helix structure of DNA and the genetic code in 1953. I did not realize its significance in 1957 when I had to choose a science to specialize in.
In my school, the brightest boy did maths and physics. The less bright did physics and chemistry. And the least bright did biology. I wanted to do maths and physics, but my father made me do chemistry because he thought there would be no jobs for mathematicians.
IRA FLATOW: And finally asked him what scientific question outside of physics most intrigues you.
STEPHEN HAWKING: The biggest unsolved problem in science outside physics is the origin of life. Did it arise spontaneously on Earth? And if so, how? Or did it come from another planet on a meteorite?
IRA FLATOW: Stephen Hawking, Director of Research at the Center for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge, author of a new book, My Brief History.