I'm Brian Cox, Professor of Physics, Author, Host of BBC Documentaries and Podcasts. Ask Me Anything!
I’m Brian Cox, Professor of Physics at The University of Manchester and The Royal Society in London. I’ll be touring the world in 2019 with an arena-scale show, talking about the origin of the Universe, the origin of life, our place in the Universe and maybe even the meaning of it all!
Graphical sequences created by DNEG, the company behind the movie Interstellar. Music by Orbital. Tickets for the USA and Canada are available here: https://www.profbriancoxlive.com
I'm going to sign off now - thank you for all your questions - I'm sorry I couldn't answer them all. I will do this again very soon - really enjoyed it!
It has to be Flat Earth!
If someone knows a flat earther, how would you recommend engaging them, or is it a completely lost cause?
I honestly think it's a lost cause. There is no logical pattern to it, so you can't argue with it! It's like arguing with a random number generator.
I see you posting about politics sometimes on social media, and its always a shame to see you get frustrated with the wave of idiotic backlash you get, particularly on facebook. My question is have you ever considered getting more involved in politics? We really could use some intellectuals running things.
I have actually. It's a difficult call , because professional politics is a very difficult job and I have quite a few jobs at the moment, all of which I like. But in any case politics must be for everyone - we live in democracies and if there is one thing on which I'm sure we all agree, politics shouldn't be left to politicians! I agree with the sentiment, though. It would be good to have more scientists and academics in general getting involved in helping to run the world.
I think I'm going to have to sign off now - there have been so many superb questions that I'll certainly do this again. Sorry if I couldn't answer, but at the last count I think there are nearly 400 questions waiting!
Why has seemingly everyone in Manchester met you in a lift at some point?
I have a part time job as a lift attendant.
What’s something you’re absolutely horrible at but still spend a good amount of time on because you genuinely enjoy doing it?
Hey Brian. Any plans to go back on Joe Rogan? Enjoyed the last one immensely.
Yes. I hope to get back on in January when I'm next in the US
What one fact or aspect of our universe continues to amaze you every time you think of it?
The size of the Universe. I cannot really picture the size of a single galaxy, never mind the observable Universe. Perhaps another answer might be that the Universe exists at all! We don't even know if the Universe had a beginning or whether it's eternal - in which case the event we call the hot big band would be an event in a pre-existing Universe.
It seems like recently there is more and more evidence coming to light about how we as a species are destroying the environment, for instance today: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46046067
What is your personal take about how bleak the future looks for the planet, and humanity over the rest of the century? Are you optimistic we can find the political will, alongside the technological advances needed to avert a climate catastrophe?
I'm optimistic that we'll eventually react and recover, but I am not optimistic that we'll act fast enough to prevent significant damage. The political process is certainly failing at the moment, primarily because there are enough members of the voting public who simply don't trust science. Obviously this is causing wider problems beyond climate change - there are serious immediate problems surrounding governance and the structures that stabilise interactions between nations. Ultimately my view is that we are reaping the "rewards" of investing far to little in education over many decades. This has led to significant number of people who have not been taught to think - and we all had to be taught to think remember! It's not that people are stupid, it's that society has failed them.
In terms of science and technology, what are you most excited for throughout the next few years/decades?
Cheap access to Earth Orbit with reusable rockets.
What was the best scientific theory have you heard from someone that does not have a doctorate in the sciences?
A great example would have been de Broglie's PhD thesis - which by definition was written before he had his PhD! in which he revolutionised 20th century physics by suggesting that electrons and other particles have a wavelength inversely proportional to their momentum.
If you could get a PHD in any other field of science, what would you get it in?
If I could work in another field, I'd go for biology, in particular trying to understand the origin of life.
What is the most important scientific discovery that most people don't know about?
I don't know what people don't know ! But the discovery of the Higgs Boson was tremendously important - it means that we understand particle physics very well and has opened up a vast new area to be explored - what we might call precision Higgs physics at the LHC. The gravitational wave discovery and the observation of colliding black holes is also extremely important for testing General Relativity to its limits (and hopefully beyond). But perhaps everyone has heard of those! Science is newsworthy at the moment so the big discoveries do get reported.
How has what you have learned over the years about the universe changed and influenced how you view yourself and your place in it?
Good question. I think once you appreciate that we are on one planet around one star amongst 200 billion inside one galaxy amongst 2 trillion in the observable Universe you have to conclude that we are physically insignificant. However, I think intelligent life is probably quite rare in the universe - I am sympathetic to the argument that there may be very few civilisations per galaxy on average at any given time, so that I think makes us valuable. It's the biology I worry about - there are plenty of habitable planets but I wouldn't be surprised if most were populated only by microbes.
Were you bullied for your last name?
Not really. There's not much you can do other than to say "you're a cock, coxy" and that wears thin after a short time :-)
Is questioning about before the big bang useful in any way? Is that even a thing ("before" the big bang)?
Do you think life is something that will be found to be common in the universe?
Yes. Certainly. Cosmologists often refer to the Big Bang as the Hot Big Bang, which is the time when the Universe was very hot and very dense. We might claim that this phase in the history of the Universe happened at the end of inflation, and in that sense inflation comes before the hot big bang. This is perhaps a matter of semantics - but its worth noting that we don't even know whether or not the Universe has a beginning, although we do know that our observable universe had a hot dense phase 13.8 billon years ago. Even if the Universe did have a beginning, then saying "what happened before?" might not make sense, because we are then talking about things that happened before time - and that's not the right way to think of course!
Are you working on a new TV series? If so can you tell us when it might come out and what it’s going to be about?
Yes. It's called The Planets and will be released around the world next year sometime.
50 years from now where do you see space travel ?
I think we will have permanent bases on the Moon and Mars, and we will have fully industrialised Earth orbit.
If a Minecraft world is infinite and flat, how do it's sun and moon go round it?
A better question would be "are they still there in the simulation when you can't see them?"
If a photon is blue-shifted then it has higher energy. Where did the energy come from?
The short answer is that the energy of a photon is not an invariant quantity in relativity. When you say blue-shifted, you're choosing a reference frame to observe the photon and comparing its observed wavelength to its wavelength in the rest frame of the emitter. Have a look for the energy-momentum 4-vector on-line!
What are your thoughts on whether we are/could be living in a simulated reality?
We could be certainly. I don't see any fundamental reason why not. I wrote about it actually in the Infinite Monkey Cage book. In fact, if there isn't any fundamental reason why not then some people (Nick Bostrom for example) would argue the logic pushes you towards the likelihood that we are ! I would be misrepresenting Nick if I said he actually thinks that we are - but it's interesting to follow the logic carefully, which is what his papers do.
What are your thoughts on Philomena Cunk? I believe Charlie Brooker and co took a lot of inspiration from your presenting style
I've been interviewed by her, she's superb. And she's been on The Infinite Money cage.
What scientific fact or piece of information has been the most amazing thing to learn?
Probably General Relativity. The more you learn (and I still have a great deal to learn) the more beautiful the theory becomes.
Were you randomly generated in this simulation or hard coded in?
Randomly generated within a framework if the Universe really is a Monte Carlo simulation like a particle physics event generator (I wrote one - https://inspirehep.net/search?p=find+eprint+hep-ph/0010303 )
What is your favourite documentary about space flight, full of nerdy glory?
My favourite science fiction film is probably Alien. Recently, I think Interstellar was superb - not surprisingly because Kip Thorne had a lot to do with it. I worked on the film Sunshine years ago, which I enjoyed immensely, although one could argue that the science is a bit dodgy :-)
What advice would you have for early career researchers such as myself who want to help get young people engaged in physics and the wonders of science?
I started by giving talks at schools events - which I found incredibly nerve-wracking actually. It makes a huge impact on students to have a professional scientist talk to them
For me as a budding science enthusiast, it truly vexes me that in my lifetime there will be so many questions unanswered about the universe, and I will die without knowing the answers to some of the greatest questions posed by mankind. If I feel this way, and I just watch your shows and read things on the net, how does someone like yourself, whose entire life is dedicated to science, cope with the thought of never knowing? Is it as punishing as I think it would be?
It's the opposite actually. I think the job of a research scientist is based on the joy of not knowing - and then trying to learn a little bit more about Nature. The unknown is the exciting part!
Do you belive that, by beliveing in time travel you have to belive all our future is pre set?
That's one solution to the problem of maintaining a consistent Universe IF time travel into the past through wormholes is possible. My 'guess', following most experts I think, is that stable wormholes aren't allowed, and so you can't travel into the past. But the future may be predetermined anyway!
Dear Professor Cox
If you was not a scientist what would you be doing for a living?
I'd probably still be in the music industry, which is what I did before I went to University.
Do you believe in the multi-verse theory?
Believe isn't the right word, but I do think that the inflationary multiverse is a possibility and has many appealing features. Not least that, when coupled with strong theory, if provides a natural mechanism to generate many universes with different values of the physical constants. If you're talking about the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, then that's my personal favourite interpretation.
If you were in a position to decide on funding for science, what’s the big-ticket research/mission/endeavour you’d choose to back?
I'd try to back many projects both large and small. Although I'd love to see a very large space-based gravitational wave detectors. Also higher precision measurements of the CMB are necessary. And we may want to look more carefully at neutrinos.
Hi Brian, do you believe LiFi (Light Fidelity) which is using LED's to communicate, could be the ultimate solution to radio spectrum congestion? Would we be able to tell if aliens were using this technology for communication?
I don't know much about that to be honest. I suppose it's limited because unless there is a fibre then it would be line of sight. I suppose you could imagine very long distance communication with lasers; if they were designed by some super-intelligent civilisation to transmit data over interstellar distances, then we'd see them. We don't, though!
What was your favourite documentary to work on?
My favourite series is Human Universe. The most fun to make was Wonders of the Solar System, because it was the first one and, to be honest, we had quite a party making it, probably because we thought they'd never let us make another one !!
Do you think we should send a probe through a black hole?
It wouldn't help because we could never get the information back!
In all your years as a professor, what is the most ridiculous, random and nonsensical scientific theory you've heard about?
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