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

I've got no religious beliefs at all.

Science is the one culture that's truly global - protons, proteins and Pythagoras's Theorem are the same from China to Peru. It should transcend all barriers of nationality. It should straddle all faiths, too.

Manned spaceflight has lost its glamour - understandably so, because it hardly seems inspiring, 40 years after Apollo, for astronauts merely to circle the Earth in the space shuttle and the International Space Station.

Science isn't just for scientists - it's not just a training for careers.

Manufacturing doesn't just mean building cars and metal-bashing; it includes making pharmaceuticals and hi-tech electronics. A crucial part of the process is the research and development that allows better and greener products to come to market. Britain has traditionally had a strong science and engineering base.

Maybe the search for life shouldn't restrict attention to planets like Earth. Science fiction writers have other ideas: balloon-like creatures floating in the dense atmospheres of planets such as Jupiter, swarms of intelligent insects, nano-scale robots and more.

Ironically, it is only when disaster strikes that the shuttle makes the headlines. Its routine flights attracted less media interest than unmanned probes to the planets or the images from the Hubble Telescope. The fate of Columbia (like that of Challenger in 1986) reminded us that space is still a hazardous environment.

Issues relating to global health and sustainability must stay high on the agenda if we are to cope with an ageing and ever-increasing population, with growing pressure on resources, and with rising global temperatures. The risks and dangers need to be assessed and then confronted.

If we ever established contact with intelligent life on another world, there would be barriers to communication. First, they would be many light years away, so signals would take many years to reach them: there would be no scope for quick repartee. There might be an IQ gap.

It is astonishing that human brains, which evolved to cope with the everyday world, have been able to grasp the counterintuitive mysteries of the cosmos and the quantum.

If you are teaching Muslim sixth formers in a school, and you tell them they can't have their God and Darwin, there is a risk they will choose their God and be lost to science.

It is foolish to claim, as some do, that emigration into space offers a long-term escape from Earth's problems. Nowhere in our solar system offers an environment even as clement as the Antarctic or the top of Everest.

If you represent the Earth's lifetime by a single year, say from January when it was made to December, the 21st-century would be a quarter of a second in June - a tiny fraction of the year. But even in this concertinaed cosmic perspective, our century is very, very special: the first when humans can change themselves and their home planet.

It is mistaken to claim that global problems will be solved more quickly if only researchers would abandon their quest to understand the universe and knuckle down to work on an agenda of public or political concerns. These are not 'either/or' options - indeed, there is a positive symbiosis between them.

If you take 10,000 people at random, 9,999 have something in common: their interests in business lie on or near the Earth's surface. The odd one out is an astronomer, and I am one of that strange breed.

It is the rapid advances of science and technology that have allowed human beings to actually change the global environment, and to have such a tremendous multiplier effect that they can affect whole societies. So it?s these rapid advances that have made us vulnerable and also have opened up new possibilities of changing human nature, controlling the way the future evolves, and even spreading beyond the earth. What happens this century is crucial, even viewed in a time span of billions of years. It is the very first time in which human beings can change their planet. In fact, in the book I give this concept of an alien civilization looking at the earth. They would have seen very slow changes over several billion years and then this sudden spasm of activity?in one hundredth of one millionth of the age of the earth?and they would wonder what?s going to happen; would we survive this spasm or not?

I'm a technological optimist in that I do believe that technology will provide solutions that will allow the world in 2050 to support 9 billion people at an acceptable standard of living. But I'm a political pessimist in that I am concerned about whether the science will be appropriately applied.

I'm not myself religious but have no wish to insult or denigrate those who are.

In future, children won't perceive the stars as mere twinkling points of light: they'll learn that each is a 'Sun', orbited by planets fully as interesting as those in our Solar system.

In our interconnected world, novel technology could empower just one fanatic, or some weirdo with a mindset of those who now design computer viruses, to trigger some kind of disaster. Indeed, catastrophe could arise simply from technical misadventure - error rather than terror.

In the beginning there were only probabilities. The universe could only come into existence if someone observed it. It does not matter that the observers turned up several billion years later. The universe exists because we are aware of it.

In the case of climate change, the threat is long-term and diffuse and requires broad international action for the benefit of people decades in the future. And in politics, the urgent always trumps the important, and that is what makes it a very difficult and challenging issue.

In this century, not only has science changed the world faster than ever, but in new and different ways. Targeted drugs, genetic modification, artificial intelligence, perhaps even implants into our brains ? may change human beings themselves.

Indeed, evolutionists don't agree on how divergently our own biosphere could have developed if such contingencies as ice ages and meteorite impacts had happened differently.

Indeed, our everyday world presents intellectual challenges just as daunting as those of the cosmos and the quantum, and that is where 99 per cent of scientists focus their efforts. Even the smallest insect, with its intricate structure, is far more complex than either an atom or a star.

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