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

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.

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.

Most educated people are aware that we are the outcome of nearly 4 billion years of Darwinian selection, but many tend to think that humans are still some how the culmination of that, our sun however is less than half way through its life span, it will not be humans who watch that suns demise six billion years from now, any creatures that then do exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoeba.

Most practicing scientists focus on 'bite-sized' problems that are timely and tractable. The occupational risk is then to lose sight of the big picture.

Most theorists suspect that space has an intricate structure - that it is 'grainy' - but that this structure is on a much finer scale than any known subatomic particle. The structure could be of an exotic kind: extra dimensions, over and above the three that we are used to (up and down, backward and forward, left and right).

New kinds of targeted drugs can have stronger effects on human character than traditional drugs have done. There?s even a possibility of changing human beings over a few generations genetically. And people talk about electronic implants in our brains so we can improve some aspects of mental capacity. All these things are at the moment science fiction but may not be 50 years from now. So that lends an extra uncertainty to all our predictions.

Not even the most secular among us can fail to be uplifted by Christianity's architectural legacy - the great cathedrals. These immense and glorious buildings were erected in an era of constricted horizons, both in time and in space.

Once the threshold is crossed when there is a self-sustaining level of life in space, then life's long-range future will be secure irrespective of any of the risks on Earth (with the single exception of the catastrophic destruction of space itself). Will this happen before our technical civilization disintegrates, leaving this as a might-have-been? Will the self-sustaining space communities be established before a catastrophe sets back the prospect of any such enterprise, perhaps foreclosing it forever? We live at what could be a defining moment for the cosmos, not just for our Earth.

It might seem paradoxical that the biggest scientific instruments of all are needed in order to probe the very smallest things in nature. The micro-world is inherently 'fuzzy' - the sharper the detail we wish to study, the higher the energy that is required and the bigger the accelerator that is needed.

One of President Obama's first acts was to give a massive boost to America's scientific community.

It would be sad if the expertise built up during the 40 years of the U.S. and Russian manned programs were allowed to dissipate. But abandoning the shuttle, and committing to new launch vehicles and propulsion systems, is actually a prerequisite for a vibrant manned program.

One of the most exciting developments is the advance in studying planets around other stars and this is a fascinating subject in its own right, which I am starting to work on. But of course as to whether there is life out there, biology is a harder subject than astronomy, because it deals with more complex things and we don't understand how life began on Earth. If we understood that, we'd have a better understanding of how likely it is that it got started in these other environments. I'm certainly hopeful that in 20 years we will probably understand better how life began on Earth and perhaps have some evidence of whether there is any beyond Earth.

It?s becoming clear that in a sense the cosmos provides the only laboratory where sufficiently extreme conditions are ever achieved to test new ideas on particle physics. The energies in the Big Bang were far higher than we can ever achieve on Earth. So by looking at evidence for the Big Bang, and by studying things like neutron stars, we are in effect learning something about fundamental physics.

Over most of history, threats have come from nature - disease, earthquakes, floods, and so forth. But the worst now come from us. We've entered a geological era called the anthropocene. This started, perhaps, with the invention of thermonuclear weapons.

It's better to read first rate science fiction than second rate science?it's a lot more fun, and no more likely to be wrong.

Perhaps future space probes will be plastered in commercial logos, just as Formula One cars are now. Perhaps Robot Wars in space will be a lucrative spectator sport. If humans venture back to the moon, and even beyond, they may carry commercial insignia rather than national flags.

It's important that everyone realizes how much scientists still don't know.

Post-human intelligence will develop hyper-computers with the processing power to simulate living things - even entire worlds. Perhaps advanced beings could use hyper-computers to surpass the best 'special effects' in movies or computer games so vastly that they could simulate a world, fully, as complex as the one we perceive ourselves to be in.

It's often better to read first-rate science fiction than second-rate science - it's far more stimulating, and perhaps no more likely to be wrong.

Science is a part of culture. Indeed, it is the only truly global culture because protons and proteins are the same all over the world, and it's the one culture we can all share.

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