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Stephen Hawking Talkasia Transcript

HR: Hugh Riminton
SH: Stephen Hawking


HR: Welcome to Talk Asia. I'm Hugh Riminton.

Stephen Hawking is the most famous scientist alive today. He's also one of the world's instantly recognizable figures. As due in part to the affliction that has put his body and his speech into the arms of machines.

His was an active, English childhood, but at Oxford University, aged just 20 he first noticed a clumsiness that was the first indication of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis -- Lou Gehrig's disease -- a progressive motor neurone failure that left him increasingly physically incapacitated.

21 years ago, in a bout of pneumonia, doctors advised his family to turn off life support. They didn't, he fought back, but the treatment claimed his voice.

The world listens to him now through a voice synthesizer, which "speaks" the words, he painstakingly chooses through facial movements picked up by computer.

Through everything, he has worked on nothing less than the fundamental nature of the universe. Some of his most important work has been in black holes -- particularly the discovery that they are not utterly black but emit radiation -- now known as Hawking radiation -- through particles that travel above the speed of light.

He himself has travelled vast distances intellectually -- but also physically -- meeting people, visiting even Antarctica.

And he's written books -- among them "The Brief History of Time" -- the best-selling science work ever.

He's three times a father, twice a grandfather, and is part of popular culture -- appearing in a Star Trek movie, even in The Simpsons!

Now 64 years old, he is Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton. He is recently urged the colonization of the Moon and Mars for he says the very survival of the human race.

HR: Professor Hawking, welcome to Talk Asia. Do we now know how the universe began? And do we know why it began in the first place?

SH: We are fairly sure the universe began with a period of accelerating expansion. This is called inflation, because the size of the universe grows in the way prices go up in some countries. The inflation in the early universe, is much more rapid than our financial inflation, the universe expanded by a factor of a million trillion trillion, in a tiny fraction of a second. Inflation in the size of the universe, is a good thing, unlike inflation in prices. It would produce a very large and very smooth universe, with just the right amount of irregularity to account for the formation of galaxies, stars, and ultimately, human beings.

How did this inflation start? How can one describe the universe at the beginning of time. I now think I can show how the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science. The universe exists, because general relativity and quantum theory allow and require it to exist. If I'm right, the universe is self contained, and governed by science alone. In time, we can hope to understand it completely. We have long enough, as the universe should last for ever. Eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end, as Woody Allen said.

HR: In that eternity, can things, can matter move backwards and forwards in time?

SH: An elementary particle, like an electron, can move backwards and forwards in time. When it is travelling forwards in time, it appears to be an electron, but when it is going backwards, it is a positron, a particle of the opposite electric charge, which is the anti particle of the electron.

HR: Could a human being ever move backwards or forwards in time?

SH: In the same way, you might imagine that there could be anti people, composed of anti particles, or particles travelling backwards in time. But if you meet your anti self, don't shake hands. You would both vanish in a great flash of annihilation radiation.

HR: We'll try to remember that one. A question which everyone, I suppose from almost childhood wants to ask -- is there any other alternative intelligent life in the universe?

SH: We believe life developed spontaneously on Earth, so it must be possible for it to develop independently else where in the universe. It might be different from the humanoid forms we depict in our science fiction.

HR: Do you believe we'll ever meet... any other alternative intelligence, intelligent life form?

SH: We don't know how likely it is for life to develop on a suitable planet. If the probability is very low, the distance between different life forms would be very large. Even if there is a reasonable probability for primitive life to develop, it is only at the last tiny fraction of the history of the Earth that life has developed intelligence. I doubt there is any intelligent life within range of Earth. If there were, why haven't they visited Earth?

HR: If we ever did meet any other intelligent alternative life form -- do you think it would be a benign and friendly encounter?

SH: The history of colonization on Earth, does not encourage me to think that aliens would be friendly. It would be more like the film, Independence Day, than ET.

HR: It is a scary prospect. You're with Talk Asia, our special guest - Professor Stephen Hawking. When we return, more on time travel, alternative universes and UFOs!


HR: Welcome back to Talk Asia, our special guest Professor Stephen Hawking. Now we spoke a little bit earlier on about time travel. You spoke of particles travelling backwards in time. Could people ever travel through time using the so called, "wormholes" a system of which there could be short-cuts in space and time... in the great science fiction tradition?

SH: If we could travel through wormholes, we could use them to travel back in time. We haven't seen anyone from the future, so I don't believe that either time travel, or wormhole travel, will ever be possible.

HR: Hmm. Another theory then to test you by, is there only one universe?

SH: In a sense, there is every possible universe. However, we can only know one of them.

HR: To stray into matters of potential controversy, do you believe there is any such thing as "intelligent design?"

SH: There is no evidence for intelligent design. The laws of physics and chemistry, and Darwinian evolution, are sufficient to account for everything in the universe.

HR: A Newsweek poll a few years ago came up with a result that said that 48% of Americans believe in UFOs, 27% believe extra-terrestrials have actually visited earth, and 2% believe they have personally been abducted by aliens -- presumably some or all of these groups are watching us now. What do you have to say about UFOs?

SH: I know that some people believe we have been visited by aliens in UFO's, but that the US and other governments are engaged in a cover up, to keep for themselves the scientific and technical information they get from the aliens. If that were the case, the governments must be doing a pretty poor job of extracting useful information, and why would the aliens cooperate by appearing only to weirdos and freaks, (HR: laughs) that wouldn't be believed?

HR: That's always been one of the mysteries attached to UFOs, certainly. But a question, I suppose, about the end product of this search for scientific understanding, I mean, even if we were to know everything, even if we were to understood everything, would we as human beings be any wiser, personally, would we be any happier, than we were say four thousand years ago?

SH: That is a deep philosophical question. I personally could not be happy if I did not understand what was going on, and felt the victim of malicious demons and Gods. The quest for knowledge has a long and glorious history. I just hope we never reach the end of the line, with nothing left to discover.

HR: We're with Professor Stephen Hawking, on Talk Asia. When we come back, the life of the mind, celebrity, and what exactly is the place of God?


HR: Welcome back. You're watching Talk Asia, our special guest Professor Stephen Hawking.

Now Professor Hawking, you weren't born with this motor neuron disease, ALS, it struck you when you were a young man. How have you survived in there, all these years, unable to walk, unable to speak in your own voice, not able to pick a flower... let alone plant one.

SH: I didn't become disabled over night. Instead, it developed gradually over a period of years. As my disability increased, so did my scientific success and public reputation. I feel satisfied with my life, and that I have achieved a lot despite my difficulties. HR: You have become in fact, that rarest of things -- a science celebrity -- a globally recognised figure, a best-selling author. Do you like that aspect of your life?

SH: The success of my book, A Brief History of Time, has meant that more people have heard of me than many film stars. What is so nice, is that they all seem to like me, and to be pleased to see me. That is very gratifying, and it helps to show disabled people, that they need not be second rate.

HR: Does celebrity have a downside?

SH: The down side of my celebrity, is that I can not go any where in the world, without soon being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark glasses and a wig, the wheelchair gives me away. People want to be photographed with me, which is a nuisance when I'm in a hurry, but it gives them such pleasure, I usually try to comply.

HR: So what are the sorts of things you do for enjoyment, away from work?

SH: Physics is very important to me, but it is hard and cold. I need warmth and beauty in my life, as we all do. I get them from various sources, including music, literature and films. I enjoy travel, but I wouldn't go somewhere just as a tourist. I need another reason to go to the country in question.

HR: You enjoy the opera, you're a fan of the opera, you're fan of Wagner -- why?

SH: I enjoy great opera. Many operas are silly or ridiculous, but the best can reach the near sublime. Of all operatic composers, Wagner gets the nearest to this. He is often long winded, but his music has a special quality that no else's has.

HR: Music is a little like Physics in that it has a sort of a mathematical base to it. Why is it that it manages to reach parts of us that even science can't reach for most of us?

SH: In my opinion, music has a direct emotional appeal, an effect on the nervous system, that is not capable of rational analysis. Any so called laws of composition, are just an empirical guide to what people like. That is the mistake that many modern composers make. They believe they can write great music, independently of whether it appeals to anyone.

HR: Wagner's Ring Cycle is a tale of Gods. Is there, do you think, a place for God in this universe -- and if there is, what does he do?

SH: The French scientist, La Place, explained to Napoleon how the laws of science would determine the evolution of the universe. But where does God fit into his picture, ask Napoleon. I have not needed that hypothesis, was the reply.

HR: Well I suspect what was good enough for Napoleon is going to have to be good enough for us. I have many more questions I'd like to put to you, but I have some small idea of the effort it goes into answering each and every one of them. Professor Stephen Hawking, thanks very much for joining us. That is Talk Asia -- our special guest, Professor Stephen Hawking. I'm Hugh Riminton, thanks for watching.

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