WMU Home > WMU News

WMU News

Professor to be seen by millions of TV viewers

Dec. 11, 2008

KALAMAZOO--It seems television producers just can't get enough of Dr. Quentin Smith, who is becoming Western Michigan University's most visible face on the "small screen."

Millions of television viewers will see the WMU professor of philosophy share his thoughts about the cosmos on a new program called "Closer to Truth," which recently debuted on the PBS World network.

Now Smith has been interviewed by a Scottish television crew, which this week flew into Kalamazoo to shoot footage of Smith in his home for a future broadcasts. The one-hour program, called "The Search for Truth," will air in late summer 2009 on the BBC and a number of other channels in Great Britain.

For the PBS World network program, Smith was interviewed at a studio in Washington, D.C., with portions of the marathon, eight-hour interview to be heavily featured in 14 different episodes.

"Closer to Truth" is described as a global television quest exploring the fundamental issues of the universe, brain and mind, religion, meaning and purpose through intimate, candid conversations with leading scientists, philosophers, scholars, theologians and creative thinkers of all kinds.

Smith, an authority on the philosophy of time, was interviewed by the show's producer, Dr. Robert Kuhn. Segments of the interview will be featured in two programs this fall and six programs in early 2009, as well as six additional shows in 2010. Of the first 39 programs, Smith is featured in three: "Does Evil Disprove God?," "Arguing God from First Cause?" and "Why is there Something Rather than Nothing?"

"I became so interested in the ideas we were discussing that time passed quickly and it did not feel like it was a long interview," Smith says.

The interview was conducted by an entire television crew that included a make-up artist and a hair stylist, who trimmed Smith's hair. In addition, there were a half-dozen lighting and audio technicians working behind the scenes.

"Before one sits down, one has the sense that one is entering another universe," Smith says. "This 'new universe' turns out, in reality, to be bright searchlights a few inches from your nose, all focused directly on your face, and a television camera intently studying you like HAL, the onboard computer from Stanley Kubricks' film '2001.'"

"Closer to Truth" began broadcasting on the PBS World network on Nov. 6. According to the "Closer to Truth" Web site, the show airs on WGVU and WGVK at 5:30 a.m. on Saturdays.

PBS World is a 24-hour digital channel showing PBS documentaries, primarily science, current affairs and history programs. It debuted in New York and Boston before launching nationally in 2007.

Smith is no stranger to sharing his views on a larger stage far beyond WMU classrooms. Recognized as one of the world's most respected philosophers, he has previously been filmed for two PBS series, "Today's Life Choices: Science and Religion" in 1997 and "The Examined Life" in 1998. And he's on the radar screens for the likes of Stephen Hawking, the Chicago Tribune and New York Times.

But the "Closer to Truth" sessions were special. In fact, Smith became so engrossed in the interview that on a number of occasions he began gesturing excitedly and hit the camera.

"One becomes oblivious of the external physical world," Smith says. "It feels like one is living in a land consisting only of ideas. This impression was heightened by the surreal atmosphere and by the intense interest of the producer. He became excited as well, and our mutual intellectual interest fed off of each other's, making the atmosphere even more electric and charged. This enabled us to go eight hours straight, no breaks."

The essential question at hand couldn't have been weightier: Why does the universe exist? But Smith is accustomed to wrestling with theories about the origin of the universe lying some15 billion years ago and what sort of process could have led to the "big bang" that served as the beginning of its explosive expansion.

Smith says "Closer to Truth" and the Scottish program, "The Search for Truth," were similar in nature as well as in name. They wanted Smith's views on science in general, the big bang theory and whether cosmology supported or was inconsistent with atheism or theism. Other guests on the show are noted physicists Steven Weinberg and Alexander Vilenkin.

Regardless of the uncertainty surrounding the universe's creation, Smith is sure about one thing. It was a privilege to share his views.

"But I think the real honor goes to the producers, directors and programming directors whose joint efforts enable us all to have a chance to think about these larger questions," Smith says. "They are bringing a discussion of the profound questions to millions of people, and what I do is rather small-scale compared to that."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400