Paul Hewitt

Taking Care of the Garden

Recorded: October 16, 2012

How well do we tend to our garden? Best selling author and physicist Paul Hewitt explains how his interest in physics motivates him to care for our beautiful garden here on Earth.

Paul G. Hewitt is an American physicist, former boxer, uranium prospector, author, and cartoonist who lives in both Hilo, Hawaii and St. Petersburg, Florida with his wife Lillian.

In 1964, Mr. Hewitt began his teaching career at the City College of San Francisco. Professor Hewitt left both the Berkeley and Santa Cruz campuses of the University of California, choosing instead to move to Hawaii to teach at the University of Hawaii at their Hilo and Manoa campuses.

In 1987, Professor Hewitt began writing a high-school version of ‘Conceptual Physics,’ which was published by Addison–Wesley. Professor Hewitt taught classes on his return to the City College of San Francisco that were videotaped and distributed in a 12-lecture set. ‘Conceptual Physics’ at the high-school level is now on its third edition and has transferred its publication to Prentice Hall. At the college level, it’s now on its tenth edition and is published by Pearson Education.

Paul Hewitt: When I went through school as an undergraduate, I found out physics was exceedingly difficult. And my interest is, is when I found out it’s not so difficult, my interest is making it as easy as I found it to be for others without having to struggle like I did, so that’s my thing.

Huey Johnson: I understand you’ve written a book about the subject.

Paul Hewitt: Yeah.

Huey Johnson: How many copies of the book have been sold?

Paul Hewitt: Copies? Oh I have no idea, but it’s in its 11th edition, translated around the world I think 11 languages, so it’s been – it’s been popular.

Huey: It’s been several copies.

Paul Hewitt: Yes, yes. And the thing about it, it just explains things in a simple way rather than making everything complicated. My very first book when I published it was called Conceptual Physics: A New Introduction To Your Environment and If It Doesn’t Pertain To The Environment Why Study It? This was at the time when they were rebelling over at Berkeley and they were saying courses must be relevant and I could think of nothing more relevant than to understand the rules by which the environment is as we have it.

Huey Johnson: Yep.

Paul Hewitt: Why the sky is blue, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. These are very, very important, they’re central. And so you and I are both environmentalists in that sense. I look at it from a physics point of view and you look at it from more of a sociological point of view but we’re both on the same track.

Huey Johnson: I have enjoyed many times watching you at dinner or something explain. I can say “Explain a light bulb. How does that light occur?”

Paul Hewitt: You hit that switch like this, then it goes on, you go like this and it goes off and it’s magic.

Huey Johnson: Yep.

Paul Hewitt: By the way, what’s going on today is almost magic with these iPads and iPhones and all that. The technology has just overwhelmed us quite wonderfully, quite wonderfully. I never expected it to go this far this fast.

Huey Johnson: In our lifetimes.

Paul Hewitt: In our lifetime.

Huey Johnson: My views of a person passionate about preservation is that as far as technology is concerned just because we have it, isn’t always a sign we need to use it. Nuclear bombs and other things but we always feel we must if its there.

Paul Hewitt: Well there are – there are elements of you know there’s a, every coin has two sides I mean but there are people who are going to abuse whatever and there are people who are going to revere, the other side whatever.

Huey Johnson: Yep.

Paul Hewitt: And most of the environmentalists are on the right side of the coin as far as I’m concerned, the side of the coin that I’ve been on and I even view my discipline, physics as study of you know of understanding more about the rules of the world that of course make up the environment.

Huey Johnson: Uh huh.

Paul Hewitt: So how can you be – how can you not be an environmentalist and be enlightened? They go together.

Huey Johnson: Do physicists actually generally feel that way to a degree do you think?

Paul Hewitt: Oh I think they do. I think they do. I think when the astronauts were up there and looked down at this world and they see this great big ball, this beautiful blue ball in the middle of all this nothing and they said “My god, what are they doing down there?” And course when they look at it, they don’t see all the lines and that dividing one culture from the other and see people all fighting over, what are they fighting for, that little garden? It’s just to be born as the highest prize there is. You could have been a bluegill or a [unintelligible] that we have to catch in Utah or a snail at the Frenchie. I mean it’s nice to be a human. It’s the highest prize and what are we doing? Squabbling with one another in the short time that we’re alive. We should be taking care of that beautiful garden. The garden will always be there, it won’t be habitable.
 All our policy should be such as to sustain, not the garden, the civilization that’s on the garden because the cockroaches will end up, you know reigning. But until then, we go to take care of the garden that we call earth. And that’s why I take my hat off to you and other of my environmentalist friends whose focus is that, maintaining and sustaining that garden. And that’s what it is; it’s a garden and a space that’s cold, bleak and very dangerous.

Huey Johnson: Yeah.

Paul Hewitt: And we’ve got this little beautiful earth here, my god, we should revere it.