Friday, November 18, 2005

The show goes on for Stephen Hawking

"When you're recounting the drama of cosmic origins, the show must go on -- even if you're a quadriplegic recovering from a medical crisis.

Wednesday's appearance at the Paramount Theatre — presented by the Oregon-based Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy, or ISEPP — was the last of three scheduled stops on the Cambridge professor's U.S. lecture tour. Hawking, who suffers from a progressive neurodegenerative disease that has almost completely paralyzed him, was due to travel to Seattle from San Francisco. But when he was taken off his respirator Monday morning, "he basically flat-lined," said Terry Bristol, ISEPP's president and executive director.

"They had to resuscitate, and that panicked a few people," Bristol told the audience. "But he's been there before."

Once the crisis had passed, Hawking wanted to go ahead with the Seattle leg of the trip, but his medical caretakers — including his wife, Elaine — thought he should stay put awhile longer, Bristol said. So Hawking and his aides worked with Intel, ISEPP and the Paramount to set up a Web-based teleconferencing link from a Bay Area hotel.

Despite the teleconferenced video and the flat tone of Hawking's synthesized computer voice, his outspokenness and humor shone through as lively as ever. The highlight was a recap of Hawking's favorite answers to frequently asked questions — some of which drew so much applause from the Seattle crowd that Bristol, the master of ceremonies, occasionally had to repeat the answers. Some examples:

What did he think of "The Simpsons" TV show, which has had Hawking as an animated guest star? "It's the best thing on American TV."

What was his view of the Bush administration's limits on human embryonic stem-cell research: "America will be left behind if it doesn't change policy."

What did he think of the program to send American astronauts back to the moon? "Stupid," he answered. "Sending politicians would be much cheaper, because you don't have to bring them back."

How high is Hawking's IQ? The physicist replied that he didn't know. "People who boast about their IQ are losers," he said.
Which late personage would he rather meet, Isaac Newton or Marilyn Monroe? "Marilyn," Hawking said. "Newton seems to have been an unpleasant character.'"

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