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Stephen Hawking has made a career out of studying and reveling in his imaginative journey of the cosmos, using his curiosity as a means to overcome the "seeming reality" of his wheelchair-bound days. I am pleased that such a proof driven scientist helps me to make my point about self created illusion. Stephen is devoid of self-pity and knows he is grander than he might seem. He once said to me, "Those who think I don't believe in God don't know me." He looked up as if to show me he was seeing the "all there is," and I could imagine him thinking, "It's much more awe inspiring than our human definitions of God." I thought to myself, "What if he sees so much more than any other human being because he isn't terribly concerned with his physical condition?" Is that the message of his living so long without earthbound priorities?

Did he "create" the disease that has crippled him in order to learn to be dependent on caregivers and the kindness of strangers so that he could free his entire mind to the pursuit of knowledge? What if he inadvertently chose to set an example of himself to show the rest of us that cosmic travel and universal understanding are available, regardless of one's physical condition or circumstance? If Jesus chose to die in a state of martyrdom, then Stephen Hawking could just as readily have chosen to live in a dual state of being: visible physical weakness and unseen knowledge and power.

What if all reality is an illusion?

In any case, it's a good Good Friday whether Jesus died on the Cross or not. He made us believe he died for our sins, and maybe he did. I wonder how he would define our "sins" today. Would he sound like a lefty hippie with New Age beliefs? He certainly was "New Age" in his time. Everything old is new again.

In the pages that follow, I explore the "what if" way of thinking. I've discovered that it has opened up my mind to all sorts of fascinating possibilities. I took events that I believed to be a given and asked myself, "What if...?" I found myself making a whole sequence of subsequent imaginative responses to things I'd taken for granted for years. I changed one historical "fact" and thought about the repercussions that that single difference would have made on all the events that followed.

I let my mind and imagination run free with the "what if" of it all.

My father's favorite speculation was "What if a frog had wings?" His answer: "He wouldn't bump his ass so much."

Excerpted from What If...: A Lifetime of Questions, Speculations, Reasonable Guesses, and a Few Things I Know for Sure by Shirley MacLaine. Copyright (c) 2013 by Shirley MacLaine. By permission of Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Available wherever books are sold.