Professor Stephen Hawking, 68, is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist. He studied physics at Oxford, went on to do research at Cambridge and was the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge for 30 years. His books include A Brief History Of Time (1988), The Universe In A Nutshell (2001) and The Grand Design, published this month. Professor Brian Cox, 42, is a physicist and broadcaster. While studying at Manchester University, where he is now a research fellow, he joined the pop group D:Ream, best known for the Labour 1997 election anthem Things Can Only Get Better. He is a researcher on the Large Hadron Collider and this March presented Wonders Of The Solar System on BBC2. The accompanying book is out next month. What is the one bit of science from your field that you think everyone should know? Stephen Hawking: Science can explain the universe without the need for a Creator. Brian Cox: That's a wonderfully provocative sentence, actually. A beautiful answer. It's interesting, because you have previously used the word God in a similar way, in my view, to Einstein. I am thinking of phrases like "knowing the mind of God", which you used in A Brief History Of Time. In my opinion, Einstein was using the word God as a shorthand to convey the majesty and beauty of the laws of physics, and did not intend this to be taken as a sign that he subscribed to a particular religious doctrine. Is this the sense in which you have used the term before, and are you trying to clear up any misunderstandings caused by your previous use of the word "God", or have I read too much into your answer? SH: In A Brief History Of Time I used the word "God" like Einstein did as a shorthand for the laws of physics. However, this is not what most people mean by God, so I have decided not to use the term. The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a God. BC: As for my answer, I think everyone should know a few basic facts about the universe. It began 13.7 billion years ago; our sun and solar system formed just under five billion years ago; there are 200 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, and 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. These are wonderful discoveries, and it's quite astonishing we've been able to find these things out from our vantage point on our tiny Earth. Where and when do you do your best thinking?
SH: It can be anywhere I have time to think. I'm never any good in the morning. It is only after four in the afternoon that I get going. BC: I say that actually, and my wife thinks it's an affectation, I just don't want to get out of bed. I don't think at any particular time of day or night, or in any particular place. If I have the time and I'm not totally overwhelmed with things to do, then my mind constantly and gently chews over problems and often an answer or idea will pop into my head almost at random. Having the space to think is a genuine luxury, and vitally important if we want people to be creative in any job. What distracts you?
SH: People asking me questions. I can concentrate and ignore everything else. BC: For me, it's TV. If I had more willpower, I would limit the amount I watch. When I was studying for my PhD in Hamburg, I only had German channels, and watched them very little. This was probably the most productive time of my life. What problem do you hope scientists will have solved by the end of the century? SH: Nuclear fusion. It would provide an inexhaustible supply of energy without pollution or global warming. BC: I share that view, that the provision of clean energy is of overwhelming importance. What frustrates me is that we know how to do it as physicists, how it works. It is an engineering solution that is within our grasp. I don't understand why we don't seem to want it enough at the moment. As a society, do you think we invest enough in scientific education and research? SH: I don't think we invest enough. They are why we are not still in the Middle Ages. Many badly needed...
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