Visiting Physicist Stephen Hawking Tells PM: Mideast Situation Now Much Worse

Tamara Traubmann
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Physicist Stephen Hawking told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday that he has noticed a marked deterioration in the situation in the Middle East since he last visited the region in 1990. During most of their hour-long meeting in Jerusalem, Hawking posed questions to Olmert about the situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the chances for a durable cease-fire and the possibility of resuming negotiations. The two agreed on the importance of strengthening the moderate Palestinian side.

Hawking, who arrived Thursday night for a nine-day visit to Israel and the PA, will go to the British Council in East Jerusalem this afternoon and hold a video conference with science students from the PA. Tonight he will dine with representatives of the National Academy of Sciences.

Yesterday Hawking met with gifted high school science students from several cities at the Bloomfield Museum of Science in the capital.

Hawking, who has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease), communicates and operates his wheelchair using an infra-red "blink switch" attached to his eyeglasses. He told the students about his career in science using a lecture prepared in advance.

"Cosmology and gravitation were neglected fields" in 1962, when he began his research, not long before he was diagnosed with ALS. "[I was] given to expect that I didn't have long enough to finish my PhD," he told the students. "Then suddenly, it was the end of my second year of research, things picked up. My disease wasn't progressing much and my work all fell into place, and I began to get somewhere." The research that earned Hawking dozens of awards in the decades that followed has focused on black holes, gravitational force and the theory of relativity.

A 17-year-old student from Tel Aviv's Lady Davis School asked Hawking how he adopted a new theory that required discounting his own previous theory, referring to a 2004 reversal of his views on black holes. "Scientists don't admit often enough that they are wrong, but more often than politicians [do]," Hawking answered.

Hawking ended his lecture by describing the pleasure of the scientific endeavor to the high-schoolers. "There is nothing like the 'Eureka moment' of discovering something that no one knew before. I won't compare it to sex, but it lasts longer."