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.
What would Stephen Hawking do with his life if he had to do it all over again? Hawking, as you know, was 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 a physical universe. Although we don’t yet have the 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 now be explained by the theory of evolution.
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?
HAWKING: If I were starting research now, I might study 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 boys did math and physics, the less bright did physics and chemistry and the least bright did biology. I wanted to do math and physics but my father made me do chemistry because he thought there would be no jobs for mathematicians.
FLATOW: And finally we asked him what scientific question outside of physics most intrigues you?
HAWKING: The biggest unsolved problem in science, outside physics, is the origin of life. Did it arrive spontaneously on Earth, and if so how, or did it come from another planet on a meteorite?