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EPISODE # 132

Leonard Mlodinow — Stephen Hawking: A Memoir of Friendship and Physics

One of the most influential physicists of our time, Stephen Hawking touched the lives of millions. Recalling his nearly two decades as Hawking’s collaborator and friend, Leonard Mlodinow brings this complex man into focus in a unique and deeply personal portrayal. We meet Hawking the genius, who employed his mind to uncover the mysteries of the universe — ultimately formulating a pathbreaking theory of black holes that reignited the discipline of cosmology and paved the way for physicists to investigate the origins of the universe in completely new ways. We meet Hawking the colleague, a man whose illness leaves him able to communicate at only six words per minute but who expends the effort to punctuate his conversations with humor. And we meet Hawking the friend, who could convey volumes with a frown, a smile, or simply a raised eyebrow. Modinow puts us in the room as Hawking indulges his passion for wine and curry; shares his feelings on love, death, and disability; and grapples with deep questions of philosophy and physics. This deeply affecting account of a friendship teaches us not just about the nature and practice of physics but also about life and the human capacity to overcome daunting obstacles. Shermer and Mlodinow discuss:

  • what it was like working with Stephen Hawking,
  • what Stephen Hawking was like as a person and personality,
  • Hawking’s place in the pantheon of great physicists in the history of science,
  • Hawking’s major contributions to physics,
  • What is grand about the grand design of the universe?
  • model dependent realism and the philosophy of science,
  • Can we ever know reality?
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • What caused the Big Bang to bang?
  • What there was before time began?
  • Why does the universe look fine-tuned and designed?
  • Is the universe itself a giant black hole?
  • Did the universe begin in a singularity?
  • Hawking’s beliefs about God and why the concept isn’t necessary to explain the universe.

Leonard Mlodinow received his PhD in theoretical physics from the University of California, Berkeley, was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute, and was on the faculty of the California Institute of Technology. His previous books include the best sellers The Grand Design and A Briefer History of Time (coauthored with Stephen Hawking), Subliminal (winner of the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award), and War of the Worldviews (with Deepak Chopra), as well as Elastic, Euclid’s Window, Feynman’s Rainbow, and The Upright Thinkers.

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This episode was released on September 8, 2020.

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