What mystifies Dr. Hawking? Women
As famed physicist Stephen Hawking turns 70, the subject that most occupies his thoughts is not how the universe arose from nothing, or how he’s been able to live with neurodegenerative disease for so long. Here’s what he thinks about most: “Women. They are a complete mystery.”
That’s the bottom line from New Scientist’s interview with Hawking, timed to coincide with this weekend’s birthday celebration at Cambridge. The theorist is almost completely paralyzed due to his decades-long struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and had to provide his answers by laboriously twitching his cheek to operate a computerized speech-translation system.
Hawking also listed what he saw as his “biggest blunder in science” (his now-repudiated insistence that information was destroyed in black holes), the most exciting development in physics during his career (the discovery of the big bang’s imprint in cosmic microwave radiation) and the potential discovery that would do the most to revolutionize our understanding of the cosmos (discovery of supersymmetric particles at the Large Hadron Collider).
But it’s his brief comment on women that attracted the most attention: How could it be that a scientist who has plumbed the deepest mysteries of the cosmos finds himself mystified by women?
Based on the view most folks have of geniuses, how could it not be?
The saga of the super-smart professor who is flummoxed by interpersonal relations, particularly with the opposite sex, is at least as old as Sigmund Freud (who famously wondered, “What does a woman want?”), Jerry Lewis’ fictional “Nutty Professor” and the stereotype we have of Albert Einstein. It’s as up to date as the TV astrophysicist on “The Big Bang Theory” who can’t say a word to women unless he’s under the influence.
Somehow, folks get a satisfying sense of karma from the idea that geniuses are socially stupid. But the stereotype doesn’t really hold true, particularly in Hawking’s case.
Like the real-life Einstein, Hawking has had an active romantic life, marked by two marriages. (Einstein’s second marriage ended with the death of his wife and cousin Elsa; Hawking’s ended in an ugly divorce.) Hawking’s disease does not affect his sexual ability or his potency, and the fact that he’s fathered three children is evidence of that.