A while back, the BBC sent me a questionnaire that I had some fun with, and I was disappointed when they published only excerpts. But now that I have a blog, I get to post anything I want in its entirety! So here’s the whole thing. Do use the comments to suggest better answers.
What was the last popular science book you bought?
I haven’t the foggiest notion, because it’s my habit to buy books, put them on shelves and immediately forget about them. But the last popular science book I read was Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, which I managed to love, though the analysis seemed to teeter back and forth between brilliant insight and sheer illogic.
What’s your secret read?
That’s a secret.
What’s the most important book of all time?
Newton’s Principia of course. Is there another candidate?
What was your first spoken word?
What’s your favourite–and least favourite–word?
The great Cambridge economist Joan Robinson was famously delighted by her discovery of the word mumpsimus, for a person who clings stubbornly to an idea that has been thoroughly debunked. That’s a good one, and I have frequent occasion to use it, but in the end I’m rather partial to the word ambisinistrous, meaning left-handed with both hands. My least favourite word is No.
Bookmarks or corner turning?
Corner turning is vandalism and bookmarks are for the weak. It’s actually not that hard to simply remember where you were. I find it helps to factor the page number. If I’m on page 432, I just remember 16 times 27. (Added later: I filled out this questionnaire over a year ago, in the now seemingly ancient days when I was still reading books. Today I don’t need page numbers; my Kindle knows exactly where I left off.)
Skim or read every word?
Every word. Obsessively.
Paper or hardback?
Paper to carry on the plane; hardback to store on the shelf.
Will digital books replace the book?
I’m rather surprised this hasn’t already happened.
Which law of physics would you change and why?
Racism and xenophobia are products of psychology, which is a product of biology, which is a product of chemistry, which is a product of physics. That’s the part of physics I’d change. Also, I’d eliminate scarcity.
Are we alone in the Universe?
I’m not. Are you?
What’s the greatest threat to humanity?
Who would you clone?
I’d clone people at random, raise the offspring in entirely different ways, and settle some of these “Nature versus Nurture” questions once for all.
Who’s your science hero?
Isaac Newton. André Weil. Jean-Pierre Serre. Alexandre Grothendieck. The unveilers of Beauty Bare.
Who would you banish to a parallel universe?
Who do you prefer–Stephen King or Stephen Hawking?
I always go for the creative types, so Hawking of course.
Would you have yourself cryogenically frozen? If so, when would you like to be thawed?
Yes and as soon as they can keep me alive forever. My great fear is that medicine will eventually cure everything, and I will be the last person in history ever to die.
Who would you be reincarnated as?
What’s the use of being reincarnated if not as yourself?
Which fictional character do you most identify with?
What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Mark Twain said it was a matter of good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience. That sounds about right.
What’s your most treasured possession?
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
Don’t use plastic chain.
What would your epitaph say?
He took more vitamins than anyone else in history, but still not enough.
If you weren’t talking to us, what would you be doing?
Reading my secret read. Which is still a secret.