How Long It Takes Stephen Hawking to Answer a Question

Given the answer, you'll look with fresh amazement upon his productivity

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The New York Times' Claudia Dreifus sat down with Stephen Hawking for an interview this week. Dreifus sent the scientist, who has lived with Lou Gehrig's disease for 48 years, ten questions ahead of time so he could compose his answers to be played through his "computerized voice simulator." After hearing the prepared answers to all ten of her questions, Dreifus delivered an impromptu question for Hawking:

Q. I don’t want to tire you out, especially if doing answers is so difficult. But I’m wondering: The speech you gave the other night here in Tempe, “My Brief History,” was very personal. Were you trying to make a statement on the record so that people would know who you are?

A. (After five minutes.) I hope my experience will help other people.

That's a 44-character response that took five minutes to compose. A paperback copy of Hawking's best seller, "A Brief History of Time," is 212 pages long, while the hardcover edition of "The Universe in a Nutshell" is 224 pages, according to Amazon. Thinking of his nearly seven-seconds-per-character rate in this Times interview, one appreciates the effort involved in his lengthy books even more.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.