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 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 physicist is like someone who?s watching people playing chess and, after watching a few games, he may have worked out what the moves in the game are. But understanding the rules is just a trivial preliminary on the long route from being a novice to being a grand master. So even if we understand all the laws of physics, then exploring their consequences in the everyday world where complex structures can exist is a far more daunting task, and that?s an inexhaustible one I'm sure.

The practical case for manned space light gets ever-weaker with each advance in robots and miniaturization - indeed, as a scientist or practical man I see little purpose in sending people into space at all. But as a human being, I'm an enthusiast for manned missions.

The science done by the young Einstein will continue as long as our civilization, but for civilization to survive, we'll need the wisdom of the old Einstein -- humane, global and farseeing. And whatever happens in this uniquely crucial century will resonate into the remote future and perhaps far beyond the Earth, far beyond the Earth.

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 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 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 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.'

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.

Some innovations just don?t attract enough economic or social demand: just as supersonic flight and manned space flight stagnated after the 1970s, today (in 2002) the potentialities of broadband (G3) technology are being taken up rather slowly because few people want to surf the Internet or watch movies from their mobile phones.

Some of the 'aha' insights that scientists strive for may have to await the emergence of post-human intellects.

Some things, like the orbits of the planets, can be calculated far into the future. But that's atypical. In most contexts, there is a limit. Even the most fine-grained computation can only forecast British weather a few days ahead. There are limits to what can ever be learned about the future, however powerful computers become.

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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