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

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

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

Author Quotes

The scientific community should work as hard as possible to address major issues that affect our everyday lives such as climate change, infectious diseases and counterterrorism; in particular, 'clean energy' research deserves far higher priority. And science and technology are the prime routes to tackling these issues.

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.

The first arrival of earthly life on another celestial body ranks as an epochal event not only for our generation, but in the history of our planet. Neil Armstrong was at the cusp of the Apollo program. This was a collective technological effort of epic scale, but his is the one name sure to be remembered centuries hence.

The first voyagers to the stars will be creatures whose life cycle is matched to the voyage: the aeons involved in traversing the galaxy are not daunting to immortal beings. By the end of the third millennium, travel to other stars could be technically feasible. But would there be sufficient motive?

The images of Earth's delicate biosphere, contrasting with the sterile moonscape where the astronauts left their footsteps, have become iconic for environmentalists: these may indeed be the Apollo program's most enduring legacy.

The kind of science I do is part of our culture and I think it's intellectual impoverishment not to have some feel for Darwinism and what modern cosmology tells us. But since we're in a world ever more molded by science and where decisions on how science is applied shouldn't be made just by scientists, then that's a reason why one hopes the public will at least have enough feel for science for debates to get beyond just slogans.

The lives of those such as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein are plainly of interest in their own right, as well as for the light they shed on the way these great scientists worked. But are 'routine' scientists as fascinating as their science? Here I have my doubts.

The most important advances, the qualitative leaps, are the least predictable. Not even the best scientists predicted the impact of nuclear physics, and everyday consumer items such as the iPhone would have seemed magic back in the 1950s.

The next humans to walk on the moon may be Chinese. Only China seems to have the resources, the dirigiste government, and the willingness to undertake a risky Apollo-style program. If Americans or Europeans venture to the moon and beyond, this will have to be in a very different style and with different motives.

The other naturally occurring viruses, like ebola, are not durable enough to generate a runaway epidemic.

The best science fiction, from H G Wells onwards, can nourish everyone?s imagination. It can widen the perspective of astronomers too ? that strange breed of which I?m a member. Many of us are avid consumers of the genre ? though I think we?d expect aliens, if they exist, to be far stranger, and far less humanoid, than those portrayed in Star Trek. Indeed, possibilities once in the realms of science fiction have shifted into serious scientific debate ? ?cyborgs? and ?post-humans?, alien life, and even parallel universes.

The Blair government perhaps ranks as the best the U.K. has had for 50 years. It cannot match the scale of Attlee's reforms, but has a fine record of constitutional reform and economic competence. In my own areas - science and innovation - there have been well-judged and effective changes.

The CERN Laboratory in Geneva was set up in 1955 to bring together European scientists who wished to pursue research into the nuclear and sub-nuclear world. Physicists then had greater clout than other scientists because the memory of their role in the Second World War was fresh in people's minds.

The challenge of global warming should stimulate a whole raft of manifestly benign innovations - for conserving energy and generating it by 'clean' means (biofuels, innovative renewables, carbon sequestration, and nuclear fusion).

The bedrock nature of space and time and the unification of cosmos and quantum are surely among science's great 'open frontiers.' These are parts of the intellectual map where we're still groping for the truth - where, in the fashion of ancient cartographers, we must still inscribe 'here be dragons.'

The atmospheric CO2 concentration is rising - mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels. It's agreed that this build-up will, in itself, induce a long-term warming trend, superimposed on all the other complicated effects that make climate fluctuate.

Science shouldn't be just for scientists, and there are encouraging signs that it is becoming more pervasive in culture and the media.

Scientific forecasters have a dismal record. One of my predecessors as Astronomer Royal said, as late as the Fifties, that space travel was ?utter bilge?. Few in the mid-20th century envisaged the transformative impact of the silicon chip or the double helix. The iPhone would have seemed magical even 20 years ago. So, looking even a century ahead, we must keep our minds open, or at least ajar, to what may now seem science fiction. Some proponents of the ?singularity? ? the takeover of humanity by intelligent machines ? claim this transition could happen within 50 years.

Scientists habitually moan that the public doesn't understand them. But they complain too much: public ignorance isn't peculiar to science. It's sad if some citizens can't tell a proton from a protein. But it's equally sad if they're ignorant of their nation's history, can't speak a second language, or can't find Venezuela or Syria on a map.

Scientists surely have a special responsibility. It is their ideas that form the basis of new technology. They should not be indifferent to the fruits of their ideas. They should forgo experiments that are risky or unethical.

Society will evolve so that the number of people who are disaffected is diminished. I think scientists themselves can?t make these decisions alone, but they have an obligation to engage in dialogue with the wider public to make people aware of what the opportunities are, what the risks are, and how best to achieve the benefits and reduce the risks.

Some claim that computers will, by 2050, achieve human capabilities. Of course, in some respects they already have.

Some global hazards are insidious. They stem from pressure on energy supplies, food, water and other natural resources. And they will be aggravated as the population rises to a projected nine billion by mid-century, and by the effects of climate change. An 'ecological shock' could irreversibly degrade our environment.

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Rees, fully Sir Martin John Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow
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British Cosmologist, Astrophysicist and Author, Fellow of Trinity College and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge