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

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 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 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.'

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.

Space and time may have a structure as intricate as the fauna of a rich ecosystem, but on a scale far larger than the horizon of our observations.

Space doesn't offer an escape from Earth's problems. And even with nuclear fuel, the transit time to nearby stars exceeds a human lifetime. Interstellar travel is therefore, in my view, an enterprise for post-humans, evolved from our species not via natural selection, but by design.

Stars that become supernovae start off at least eight times heavier than our sun. They're so short-lived that, even if they have planets, there is unlikely to be time for life to get started. The surface is 40,000C and, as a result, the coloring will be extremely blue.

The advance of science spares us from irrational dread.

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