Is Stephen Hawking more machine than man? The author makes an apt comparison between Hawking and other high profile people with assistants. That comparison should show (contrary to the emphasis the author makes elsewhere) that it’s not so much man/machine, so much as distributed cognition (is that the right term?). And understood as such, this phenomenon is one that we all engage in, and increasingly so in the modern world of mass literacy, peaceful coexistence, pens, paper, and smart phones.
Hawking is the focal point of his network. It’s interesting to note that his output is largely the output of his network, but it’s still directed by him. We should be no more disappointed that he doesn’t do his own calculations than we should be that we don’t wash our own laundry by hand. Hawking can’t do the mechanical, he can only do the thinking. Having assistance surely improves the quality of his thinking, but it is still his mind that we are concerned with. Are his assistants getting short shrift? They aren’t getting the sort of celebrity that Hawking gets, but in their own networks they will certainly do well to be part of his team; his students will have valuable letters of recommendation.
It’s an interesting article that provides insight into how Stephen Hawking works, but it ends on an odd note:
Because, surrounded as we are by our world of technology and digital information, aren’t we all disabled? We, like Hawking, like Obama and his brain trust, are unable to think and complete the results of our thoughts without being attached to a network of people, instruments, machines – and the living laboratories through which it is all distributed.
We are all (Hawking included) able to think without assistance. Yes, our thinking is enhanced by cooperation with others (in conversation and debate, consultation, etc.). Yes, we all require some interface between our thoughts and our audience, whether that’s a pen and paper or a computer, but I think the way to think of it is that we are enabled. Enhancing our thinking isn’t cheating.