September 10, 2010
Posted: 06:02 AM ET
By Michael Watts
I’ve been a producer on “Larry King Live” for almost 12 years, and I’m frequently asked, “what’s your coolest experience?” The stock answer: producing Stephen Hawking.
I journeyed to Cambridge when he was our guest in December 1999, and have been lucky enough to come back for his latest appearance on “Larry King Live.” This experience, while just as rewarding, has been a little different.
Hawking’s ALS has clearly progressed in the last decade. Even so, I continue to be amazed at how well he manages to communicate. The hand clicker he used in 1999 to command his communication system has been replaced by a sensor that monitors subtle cheek movements. But the software he uses looks very similar. It also says a great deal about Prof. Hawking that among the easiest words for him to pull up and speak is “thanks.”
Hawking is almost completely paralyzed. Unfortunately, his endearing smile is no longer possible, but his sense of humor is still very much in tact. Just read a few pages of “The Grand Design” if you doubt that.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Hawking is aided by an incredibly capable and kind group of people. Judith Croasdell and Sam Blackburn were extraordinary. It is through their efforts, and those of our great London staff, we are able to bring you our interview.
But doing an interview with Hawking is more than putting him in front of the camera and cueing Larry. The questions have to be provided well in advance so he can prepare his answers. The answers themselves are sometimes very brief, which is understandable since he can only enter text at about 1 to 2 words a minute. Actually, some might find the brief answers a refreshing change.
Now about that book….
I have no intention of weighing in on the creation controversy, nor would anyone care what I had to say about it anyway. But I do find some things in “The Grand Design” worthy of comment.
First, I continue to be amazed at how Hawking can take such complex principles and questions, like “why do we exist?” and make them understandable. Not easy to understand mind you. I’ve been reading the book for several days and am only half way through it. It’s not that long, 181 pages to be exact, but to grasp the book you have to read, stop, think, think again, then sometimes reread. But I have found it well worth the effort. The theories he puts forth, whether you agree with them or not, are fascinating, and the most fascinating is M-theory.
When we talked to him in 1999, Hawking said he thought we were tantalizingly close to a unified theory, or “ultimate theory of everything” as he calls it in “The Grand Design.” He now believes we have one, and it’s M-theory. M-theory is actually not one theory, but a collection of overlapping ones, each complimenting the other. He compares it to layers of maps – you have street maps, topographical maps, even traffic maps. They all enhance the other while working on the same foundation.
The great controversy surrounding “The Grand Design” really boils down to this statement: “According to M-theory, ours is not the only universe. Instead, M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law.”
As stated earlier, I’m not touching that. But one thing the book spends a lot of time explaining is in science, you don’t have to observe something to know it’s true if the preponderance of evidence points to it being so. While reading the book, it struck me, can something similar not be said about religion. Maybe science and religion aren’t so different after all.
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