There's something very comforting when a scientist as well regarded as Stephen Hawking admits to keeping quiet for fear of "being labeled a crank."
Thankfully, he seems to have conquered his fears in a new documentary series for the Discovery Channel, in which he has already considered how man might truly conquer space. Or, indeed, how spacemen might come down to our meager Earth and dismember us as so much fast food.
Hawkingthat we should be very wary about making contact with beings from out there. "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans," he said in "Stephen Hawking's Universe."
But, as he presented his latest ideas about what travel in the future might resemble, he reportedly admitted that he had kept quiet on the subject for fear of being labeled a heretic by the scientific community.
Thrusting off his heretical shackles, he reportedly suggested that spaceships will one day be so fast that we won't know whether we've come or gone. Hawking suggests that Einstein's theories of relativity will become as relatively obsolete as, who knows, the home phone. He posits that, at some point when we're all long gone, a day on a spaceship traveling at 650 million miles per hour would be akin to one year on Earth.
Please don't expect me to check his math. I can barely total up my savings at Safeway. However, somehow one can imagine that technology will follow an inevitable path toward the unimaginable, a path that will change humanity even more profoundly than the laptop has changed love lives.
He does reportedly stress, however, that time travel will only be performed in a forward motion. Which, sadly, excludes a sudden reality show re-enactment of Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."
Naturally, there is something stunningly attractive about the very idea of being able to skip generations by, well, flying through them. Imagine if some lucky humans had managed to avoid acid, platform boots, or the entire works of the Captain and Tennille. How might this have affected contemporary culture and the way it is promulgated onward by those who seem to know no better?
There is surely nothing remotely cranky or heretical about Hawking's prognostications. The only sadness is that so many of us will not be able to benefit from such exalted science.