Daily Archives: May 24, 2011

Giving and Sharing and Hawking

It was a fantastic long weekend, filled with all things good: beautiful weather, gardening, food and drink, and family. But there turned out to be no rapture. Or at the very least, as someone on one of my listservs helpfully pointed out, none of us was deemed rapture-worthy. (I beg to differ. You’re all kind, affectionate people. I’d rapture you in a second if it were up to me.)

So it seems we’re stuck here on earth. What’s a mere mortal to do? One fellow who spends a lot of time stargazing is renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. His theories about the origins of the universe have made him a bestselling author, with millions of fans reading his science-heavy books – or at least owning them. It stands to reason that a lot of people would be interested in what Stephen Hawking has to say about the meaning of life.

Recently he spoke to a science reporter from The Guardian in an exclusive interview. (As it happens, I too had the pleasure of exclusively interviewing Stephen Hawking, back in the day. To be precise, it was 1993, I was still cutting my teeth as a journalist at Abilities magazine, and the fax machine was the technology of the moment. How exciting it was to hold a thermal-paper printout filled with Hawking’s genius answers to my questions. I don’t know if I was more impressed to be communicating with one of modern science’s most brilliant brains, or because he’d just made a guest appearance on my fave TV show of the time, Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

In The Guardian article, the Q & A with Hawking is necessarily short (mine was longer, she said, gloating), because he answers the reporter not with rambling speech, but by inputting commands one at a time into a computer. I imagine Hawking gives more thoughtful responses than your average interviewee.

Thus it’s meaningful to me that when the reporter refers to the existence of humans and asks: “So here we are. What should we do?”, Hawking proclaims: “We should seek the greatest value of our action.”

Interpret that how you want. But I take it to mean that we should be the kindest, most generous and most productive versions of ourselves that we can be. In other words: Live a fulfilling life by doing good.

You heard it here first. Exclusively.

Stephen Hawking on the cover of Abilities magazine

In 1993 I asked Hawking what it was like to appear in a TV sci-fi. Perhaps channeling Dr. McCoy, he replied: "I am a scientist, not an actor. Appearing on Star Trek was fun but I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it.” Yes, he also answered important questions about sciencey stuff.