Martin Rees, fully Sir Martin John Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow

Martin
Rees, fully Sir Martin John Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow
1942

British Cosmologist, Astrophysicist and Author, Fellow of Trinity College and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge

Author Quotes

We can?t assume that the present disposition of international power, with one superpower, will remain for more than a few decades. As long as we have this vast arsenal of nuclear weapons and the knowledge to make them, we will always live under this threat. On a shorter timescale, I think we should be concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons to more than the 10 countries that now have them

We do not fully understand the consequences of rising populations and increasing energy consumption on the interwoven fabric of atmosphere, water, land and life.

We know too little about how life began on Earth to lay confident odds. It may have involved a fluke so rare that it happened only once in the entire galaxy. On the other hand, it may have been almost inevitable, given the right environment.

We need to broaden our sympathies both in space and time - and perceive ourselves as part of a long heritage, and stewards for an immense future.

We should all oppose - as Darwin did - views manifestly in conflict with the evidence, such as creationism... But we shouldn't set up this debate as 'religion v science'; instead we should strive for peaceful coexistence with at least the less dogmatic strands of mainstream religions, which number many excellent scientists among their adherents.

When scientists are asked what they are working on, their response is seldom 'Finding the origin of the universe' or 'Seeking to cure cancer.' Usually, they will claim to be tackling a very specific problem - a small piece of the jigsaw that builds up the big picture.

Whether it is to reduce our carbon-dioxide emissions or to prepare for when the coal and oil run out, we have to continue to seek out new energy sources.

The scientists who attack mainstream religion, rather than striving for peaceful coexistence with it, damage science, and also weaken the fight against fundamentalism.

The Soviet Sputnik was launched in 1957. Four years later, Yuri Gagarin was the first human to go into orbit. Eight years after that, and only 66 years after the Wright brothers? first flight, Neil Armstrong made his ?one small step?. The Apollo program was a heroic episode. Yet since 1972, humans have done no more than circle the Earth in low orbit ? more recently, in the international space station. This has proved neither very useful nor very inspiring. On the other hand, space technology has burgeoned ? for communication, environmental monitoring, satnav and so forth. We depend on it every day. And unmanned probes to other planets have beamed back pictures of varied and distinctive worlds.

The stupendous time spans of the evolutionary past are now part of common culture (though maybe not in the United States Bible Belt, nor in parts of the Islamic world). Most people are at ease with the idea that our present biosphere is the outcome of four billion years of Darwinian evolution. But the even longer time-horizons that stretch ahead ? familiar to every astronomer ? haven?t permeated our culture to the same extent. Our Sun is less than halfway through its life. It formed 4.5 billion years ago, but it?s got six billion more before the fuel runs out. It will then flare up, engulfing the inner planets and vaporizing any life that might then remain on Earth. But even after the Sun?s demise, the expanding universe will continue ? perhaps forever ? destined to become ever colder, ever emptier. To quote Woody Allen, ?eternity is very long, especially towards the end.?

The Swedish engineer who invented the zip fastener made a greater intellectual leap than many scientists do in a lifetime.

The U.S., France, Germany and Canada have all responded to the financial crisis by boosting rather than cutting their science funding. The U.K. has not.

There are at least as many galaxies in our observable universe as there are stars in our galaxy.

There are lots of ideas which extend the Copernican principle one step further. We went from the solar system to the galaxy to zillions of galaxies and now to realizing even that isn't all there is.

There are strong reasons for believing that space goes on beyond the limits of our observational horizon. There are strong reasons because if you look in opposite directions, conditions are the same to within one part in 100,000. So if we are part of some finite structure then, if the gradient is so shallow, it is likely to go on much further. There are lots of theoretical reasons which suggest there is a lot more far beyond what we can see. That is just the aftermath of our Big Bang, as it were, but then there are these ideas that there may be other big bangs in various contexts and in those other domains, different laws of physics. String theory suggests this. There are lots of ideas which extend the Copernican principle one step further. We went from the solar system to the galaxy to zillions of galaxies and now to realizing even that isn't all there is. I think this is very speculative science, but it may be firmed up, in particular if we have a theory which applies to the very early stages of the Big Bang. The problem is, of course, that all these processes like quantum gravity and inflation happen under conditions far more extreme than we can simulate in the lab and therefore the physics is speculative, but if we have a physical theory which gained credibility because we could test it in other ways, and which we felt described the very early stages of the big bang, then it would be interesting to know if that theory predicted one Big Bang or many and what it predicted about the universality of nature. These are important questions. I'm not a specialist in this. I follow it and I was one of the first people to talk about such things, but most of the time I work on issues which are more directly linked to observations, like the high redshift galaxies and how we can probe how they formed. But I think this idea that goes by the name of the multiverse, its speculative science but it is science, not metaphysics.

There is an ever-widening gap between what science allows and what we should actually do. There are many doors science can open that should be kept closed, on prudential or ethical grounds.

There?s a possibility that we can have an improvement in the quality of life, even in the developing world, without consuming more resources. We can have a more energy-efficient style of life for everyone using new technologies. One can imagine a future that is sustainable and is entirely benign. But the question is whether we can achieve that and whether it is stable.

There's now, for the first time, a huge gulf between the artefacts of our everyday life and what even a single expert, let alone the average child, can comprehend. The gadgets that now pervade young people's lives, iPhones and suchlike, are baffling 'black boxes' - pure magic to most people.

To ensure continuing prosperity in the global economy, nothing is more important than the development and application of knowledge and skills.

To most people in the U.K., indeed throughout Western Europe, space exploration is primarily perceived as 'what NASA does'. This perception is - in many respects - a valid one. Superpower rivalry during the Cold War ramped up U.S. and Soviet space efforts to a scale that Western Europe had no motive to match.

We are 'nuclear waste' from the fuel that makes stars shine; indeed, each of us contains atoms whose provenance can be traced back to thousands of different stars spread through our Milky Way.

We can trace things back to the earlier stages of the Big Bang, but we still don't know what banged and why it banged. That's a challenge for 21st-century science.

The scientific issues that engage people most are the truly fundamental ones: is the universe infinite? Is life just a sideshow in the cosmos? What happened before the Big Bang? Everyone is flummoxed by such questions, so there is, in a sense, no gulf between experts and the rest.

The 'clean energy' challenge deserves a commitment akin to the Manhattan project or the Apollo moon landing.

The extreme sophistication of modern technology - wonderful though its benefits are - is, ironically, an impediment to engaging young people with basics: with learning how things work.

Author Picture
First Name
Martin
Last Name
Rees, fully Sir Martin John Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow
Birth Date
1942
Bio

British Cosmologist, Astrophysicist and Author, Fellow of Trinity College and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge