04 março 2008

What do you ask the Man who knows Everything?

When Rachel Cooke was granted an interview with Stephen Hawking, she was told that he only had time to answer six questions. So what would you ask the scientist with one of the most acute brains of his generation?

It isn't easy interviewing Stephen Hawking, and not only because his disability is now so severe that the formulation of

even a short sentence via his computer can take 20 minutes. Nor is it because the life of the author of A Brief History of Time is so forbiddingly full of myth and drama - though when you see the fat wedge of newspaper cuttings and the perilous tower of books that you really should tackle before you meet him, you do wonder, with a doomy feeling in the pit of your stomach, how you will ever scratch your way through the enamel of other people's words and get down a few of your own. No, the real difficulty lies in the stuff that you cannot understand, that you cannot... REACH. Mystery swirls about him like mist over a bottomless quarry. First, there is the physics: black holes, singularities, multiple dimensions; theories that, it is now suspected, will never be proven, and so must be admired mostly for their mathematical beauty (which is tricky if, as an O Level student, you found it hard to balance a simple equation). Then there is the more human problem of motivation, of feeling. What is he thinking? He cannot be worrying at quantum physics 24 hours a day, but of his attitudes to other things - of what lies in his heart - we know very little. So, we fall on details - his fondness for jokes, his willingness to do the voiceover for his famous cameo in The Simpsons - and turn them into the man. What a kidder!


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