Changes: Brian Cox
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:02] Welcome to Changes. My name is Annie Macmanus. This is a podcast all about change. How are you? I hope you're doing good. I'm delighted to bring you an episode this week that is really stimulating for your brain. It's going to make you think. It's going to make you ask questions. It may even make you change your mind. On this podcast, we cover all aspects of change, of course, from the personal changes in our guests lives to ideological or societal changes. But change, of course, can be bigger. It can be universal. And something which we know is constantly changing is our understanding and perspective of earth. How we affect the planet just by existing as a species.
Brian [00:00:49] If you think about what we are, that's you and me and everybody is listening, we're collections of atoms that can think. Now that just- you have to stop at that point and say, that sentence is astonishing. That somehow, out of these atoms as old as time most of them, or made in the hearts of stars have come together in patterns that can make music and art and science and in a very real sense, bring meaning to the universe. Then that tells you that we're astonishingly special.
Annie [00:01:24] It's good to be reminded about what we're actually made of, right? Brian is very good at making us all remember just the value of our existence and also to make us think about the world and how we change it. He's a bit of an icon, Professor Brian Cox, a former rock star turned physicist. You'll probably know the band D:Ream, which had a UK number one hit with Things Can Only Get Better in 1994. Well, he played keys in that band. He then had quite the U-turn and became known as a physicist for presenting documentaries for the BBC, particularly the Wonders of series, including Wonders of the Solar System. His most recent documentary was Universe, which you can still watch on BBC iPlayer. He's previously been compared to David Attenborough in the science world and has co-written eight books including Human Universe, Forces of Nature, and Universal: A Guide to the Cosmos. His latest, Black Holes: The Key to Understanding the Universe, is out in October. He's now busy selling out arenas around the world, sharing his wisdom about the cosmos, with seven sold out nights at the Royal Albert Hall on his current tour alone - still a rock star. The show is called Horizons: The 21st Century Space Odyssey, which is designed to take audiences on a cinematic journey with the help of comedian Robin Ince. But it's not just about informing the general public as well as entertaining them. Brian speaks here about a time when he had the opportunity to address all the world leaders, to make them consider what knowing more about the universe can do for our lives and democracy in general. It's so wonderful what he says. So I spoke to Brian to learn more about where it all started for him and how his own life has changed, but also to ask, how can knowing more about the universe change your life? Let's hear it. Welcome to Changes, Professor Brian Cox. Brian, can you tell me about your relationship to the word change, please?
Brian [00:03:26] Change, from a scientist perspective. One of the character traits you need is to be delighted about not knowing. So the unknown is something that you have to face with delight and wonder and not fear. And that's difficult, which is why I call it a character trait. Maybe it's kind of, there are different kinds of people, and there's some people that like the unknown and some people that don't. If you're the kind of person who likes the unknown, then change constantly happens because what you're trying to do is understand more deeply. In the case of science, questions such as: How did our universe begin? What is the nature of space and time? All these things are unknown right. So I tend to think of change as something that I not only like but delight in, because change in the amount of knowledge that we have about the way the world works is what I sort of enjoy the most. It's almost what you live for as a scientist, is to have a changing view of our place in the universe, for example. The constantly changing view of the way our reality is and what our place is within it.
Annie [00:04:36] You speak of Oldham in this wonderful book, Human Universe, which I've been reading, and you say that Oldham looks how Joy Division sounds, and you like how Joy Division sounds. Can you elaborate on that a little bit for us? Tell us a bit what it was like growing up in Oldham for you.
Brian [00:04:53] So I grew up at that time when Factory Records was just beginning and so Joy Division, New Order, later The Smiths were kind of my soundtrack. And erm, I grew up loving the moors. So Oldham is a town in the country, it's often described as and it's an old mill town. And so there's a darkness about it and there's also this real majestic nature. It's quite challenging naturally. The Yorkshire Moors are bleak in a very beautiful way, and I think that Joy Division and New Order, those bands captured that romantic bleakness of the moors. And especially when you're 13, 14, 15, you know, that really appealed to me. I was basically a goth. I basically still am actually in sensibility. So that was the music that, I think it sounds best if you're in a little, as it was then, a Ford Fiesta. Sat on top of the moors with these dark threatening clouds and the sun going down and the rain sort of cascading across the moors with the twinkling lights of Manchester in the distance. That kind of bleak beauty is part of the way that I grew up.
Annie [00:06:04] And what about early childhood then? What are your memories of growing up in the house with your parents? And you have a sister, right? A little sister.
Brian [00:06:11] Yeah. I mean, I remember this typical seventies childhood, which at the time it was exciting because we had things like power cuts. Those are some of my first memories actually, having to get candles out and light them because there was no electricity. Some of the first things I vividly remember are things like the Silver Jubilee, 1977 wasn't it? Street parties and things like that, where everyone was out in the street. And we used to go on holiday to Wales basically, that's where everybody went. So we went to Colwyn Bay and Llandudno, and then later on graduated all the way to Cornwall. So that was very exotic to go to Cornwall on the train.
Annie [00:06:54] So you must have been a very curious kid. Can you remember that being kind of nurtured, that curiosity in you or?
Brian [00:07:01] I was into astronomy actually from a young age.
Annie [00:07:05] And what got you into it?
Brian [00:07:07] I don't know. I've thought about it a few times and I wonder whether it was just- I associate it, definitely still do with the passing of the seasons. It's one of the things I particularly like is the way the sky changes, as you go into the autumn and winter and then spring and summer. And so I associated Orion coming up when I was walking home from school within October, November and the darkening nights and then Christmas, I suppose. We made a film about it. I wrote about it in the book called Forces of Nature, that kind of almost imperceptible shift in the way that, you know, the temperature changes and the leaves fall off the trees and all these things that we remember we grew up with. When you grow up in somewhere like England right, in Britain, it's such a central part of your life. And the actual idea that that's actually telling you about the motion of the planet around the star, the more you pull up the thread, the more wonderful this gentle passing of the seasons becomes. And so I got interested in- you know, this is, you know, this is a remarkable thing why the leaves fall off the trees and why does Orian come up? It's because the earth's spinning. That's interesting. And it's going around the star and that's interesting and it tilting and that's interesting.
Annie [00:08:18] And how old were you when you were making these kind of journeys of discovery?
Brian [00:08:22] I know that I was interested way before the age of ten because I got a telescope for Christmas, a little telescope, and I wanted binoculars. And I was very interested when Carl Sagan's Cosmos came on TV, which was 1980 I think it was, because I was 12. But I think definitely before the age of ten I was really into astronomy and loved it.
Annie [00:08:44] And then you got the telescope. So your family were kind of assisting this curiosity in their way.
Brian [00:08:49] Yeah. I mean, I suppose they'd said to me, what do you want for Christmas? And I said, a little telescope. So in that sense, I mean, like, you know, my mum and dad weren't interested in science at all.
Annie [00:09:01] Right, so all this natural curiosity you had, did that translate into school?
Brian [00:09:06] Yes and no. It's interesting, I mean I met my old physics teacher recently, actually, and then you know, I thought he's going to say, well, yeah, you were great in physics. But I think he said to me, 'yeah, you were quite unusual' *laughs* 'as a student'.
Annie [00:09:21] How so?
Brian [00:09:22] I think I probably was. I mean, I was kind of more- I was into music as well at the time, so I did okay at school, but I never really tried very hard. I mean, I joined a band before I did my A-levels and I left school and went straight into music, so I didn't go straight to university. I was much more interested in being a musician at that time.
Annie [00:09:44] Interesting now that you are basically, you're still touring. You know, you're taking what you do on tour as a band would, as a rock band would, you know, you're doing it your way.
Brian [00:09:53] Yeah but my, you know, fortunately now I can do miles bigger venues than I used to be able to do with my bands.
Annie [00:09:58] Exactly, enourmous, like arena vibes.
Brian [00:09:58] Yeah it's from even even, you know, I mean the first band I was in was erm, Dare, a rock band, which came out of Thin Lizzy and then went to university and joined D:Ream and even D:Ream at their height, we toured with Take That so we played some big venues, but not actually the O2 size. So now it's quite amusing to me that I've got five trucks and two crew buses and *laughs* you know, this is what I dreamt of when I was 10 or 15. I was that, you know, so I still like it.
[00:10:29] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:10:39] Tell me about then, you're kind of hijacked by pop music for a good few years and you did end up in university. How was your experience of university as a student?
Brian [00:10:49] It was very unusual, I would say, because I was, how old was I, 23 or 24 when I got there. So at University of Manchester. So I really wanted to do it. So the first thing is I made the choice because we toured a lot. I mean, Dare made two albums. My first professional gig actually was supporting Jimmy Page believe it or not.
Annie [00:11:10] Wow. So thrown into the deep end.
Brian [00:11:12] Yeah and he watched the show every night and that was a wonderful experience. And then we toured with- a huge tour with Europe, you know the band Europe.
Annie [00:11:20] Yeah, Final Countdown.
Brian [00:11:22] Yeah, so we toured and toured and toured. So I got sick of it really and I, you know, as I said, I was into astronomy, I went to do physics, so I got in. So I'd already been in a rock band for five years.
Annie [00:11:33] But that's a massive identity change though, leaving that life and that band to go and be a student. That must've been quite a shift.
Brian [00:11:40] Yeah, it was. But then in the summers, I was going there, I needed a job to get some money and a friend rang me up and said, I've got this band and I don't like the music really. I don't think they're going anywhere but can you just do sound for them because I don't want to do it. And that was D:Ream *laughs*. So, before they had a deal, and that was 1992 I think or '93. So, you know, it's just at the time when they were putting white label music out. So I ended up accidentally joining D:Ream and then D:Ream got massive.
Annie [00:12:07] Yes, they were on Top of the Pops doing Things Can Only Get Better in '94 I think, would that be right?
Brian [00:12:12] Yeah. So I was then on Top of the Pops. *Laughing* right, so I'm still a student, still an undergraduate.
Annie [00:12:19] Bizarre.
Brian [00:12:19] And also doing things like that, you know. So I had a really unusual time *laughs*. So not this typical student, really.
Annie [00:12:28] But what did your learning's kind of afford you in that time? Did it help you know yourself better in that time which is so chaotic?
Brian [00:12:36] Yeah, because very few people are naturally good at mathematics and I'm not one of them. So it was the first time I think in my life that I actually had to do real work, like really work at something because I loved physics. So I found out how to be very tenacious with ideas and to go, I'm going to understand this. It's not easy, I'm going to understand it. And it's still to this day, that's what I do. So the only thing that I realised, I say this to students, the thing that made the difference for me was that actually, often, usually understanding things is hard. I worked out that I can understand stuff and I think this goes for most people, it is possible to understand even the deepest and most complex ideas if you're prepared to sit there day after day, week after week, and just keep going until you get it. And what's bizarre is that once you understand something, and this is the same now, I've been writing a book on black holes which are tremendously difficult to understand, and I probably spent about six months trying to understand some stuff about black holes. Once you get it, it's so simple that you think that's just obvious, isn't it? And it isn't, of course. What you've done is you've found a way of you personally understanding it and picturing it, and you almost rewire your brain. You probably do actually, literally in the process. And that's what I learnt. So I learnt that some things are not easy and actually that then there's a great, a tremendous joy when it drops. You know that saying 'the penny drops', but it does. It's almost like that, when you really go at something there's almost a eureka moment. But it's of course, it's not a eureka moment. It's the fact that you sat there for six months *laughs*. Mathematicians, great mathematicians, will often describe mathematics as beautiful. There's a very, very wonderful- I actually quote it in my live shows, there's a great Indian mathematical physicist, Chandrasekhar. He did loads of work on collapsing stars. So a lot of the pioneering work in stars collapsing and --- black holes. And he wrote a book called Truth and Beauty in the 1980s and he said about this mathematical solution to Einstein's equations that describes spinning black holes and spinning stars. He said that this shuddering before the beautiful, right, shuderring before- this incredible fact, the quest for the beauty in mathematics is a guide to nature. It tells me that the thing that attracts the human mind is beauty at the most profound level. You hear mathematicians talk like that and you see it and you say, there's more to this mathematics than just doing sums, right? There's something in here. Einstein said the same thing and he was famously not a great mathematician. You know, he had this wonderful thing. I also talk about this in live shows actually, that it was an experience he had when he was a little boy and his dad gave him a compass, and he said 'this is where it points north' and so he thought, well, there's something, there an invisible thing that's influencing it, making it point. And he said- it was like an example of something deeply hidden. That's what he said. So the world, nature, if you look at it really carefully, and it doesn't have to be a compass needle it can be a rainbow or whatever, you just want to explain it. And if you look really carefully, you can catch a glimpse of something deeply hidden, which is this beauty underlying nature. It's the same experience.
[00:16:19] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:16:28] When did you realise, or maybe someone else helped you realise that you had this kind of innate talent of being able to communicate what is this kind of vast, overwhelming reality into something that is palatable and accessible and understandable? It's quite unique how you do that.
Brian [00:16:45] Well, thank you. I mean, it's good of you to say so. I mean, it was an accident. I was working, I was actually at CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Physics, as it was. And so that's the- it was a remarkable laboratory. It was set up in the 1950s as part of the unification of Europe after the war. So, you know, when we first realised that the route peace is for nations to collaborate together and work together rather than separate and work selfishly. And then so remarkably, and this is the 1950s, so you talk about, you know, arguments we have today as being divisive because we get fed up with various things that different countries do in Europe. I mean, then it was ten years after the war and Europe came together in peace to explore the world, explore nature, because it's interesting for no other reason. And it was one of the great projects that would bring Europe together and indeed it did. And it's still there, and it's in Switzerland and France. And that's where we build these remarkable machines to explore nature. And by the way, one of the offshoots of that was the World Wide Web, famously. So it does turn out to be useful quite often. And so I was working there and people got interested in this giant machine and the BBC came and wanted to talk to people and it was kind of, it was part of that and they just thought that they like the way that I spoke about things, and so I got a little TV show which is called The Big Bang Machine, I think it was called, and that was on BBC four as it was. And it came from there, really. So it's an accident. And again, part of it's practice as well. It's really good practice because it's the same with teaching, actually. When you have to explain something, you find out very often that you didn't understand it. And so again, it's tenacity. It goes back to tenacity. It's like, do I really understand what I'm saying? So it fits in with my general view that if I can't understand something, it's my fault first, and therefore it's my job to fix it.
Annie [00:19:05] I watched you on Jonathan Ross, a clip. And I wondered in the moment, like, does it ever get frustrating for you being this guy who has to be dumbed down a lot of the time when you go on these things?
Brian [00:19:17] No. I mean, it's more frustrating when you make documentaries and there's pressure to dumb them down, actually. Pressure is the wrong word but I always tend to think that more information can be taken. Because live shows are so interesting, because then it's just me and an audience, and I think audiences can take a lot more than we give them credit for, actually. But in that case, actually, Jonathan, it's interesting because Jonathan's a very intelligent person. He's really interested in this stuff. And we just made Infinite Monkey Cage, which is a radio show that I do on radio 4. We just made one in the US actually for the -- Lab at NASA and Conan O'Brien did it with us. And I've known Conan for a while as well. And he said to me, you know, one of the things that I like about podcasting which he does now, rather than the late night TV, is late night TV is just brain numbingly *laughs*. You know, you get people who don't want to be there or they need to be there to promote a movie and they've got nothing to say at all and it's just awful. And he said, you know, he did it for years and he's very good at it. But he said, you know, that's the pressure, it's Saturday night TV. And that's what Jonathan does very well, right? He makes the TV that is appropriate for Saturday night. And to his credit, you know, and Conan, I've been on Conan's show as well, they fight to have people on who will talk about something other than the latest movie, and you've got to fit in with that. But the thing is, though, what am I trying to do? What are we in science trying to do? We're trying to democratise it. And we're trying to make people aware of these wonderful things that people who wouldn't normally be interested or tune in, but will be interested. I genuinely believe that everybody, not even almost, everybody is interested in these questions. Where's the next civilisation out there? Are we alone? The thousands of light years in every direction. Is there life on Mars? You know, how did the universe begin? Everybody's interested in those questions, but a lot of people are frightened by them or think they don't have the ability, the intellectual ability to grasp them. And that's all nonsense. As I said it, you know, there's nothing really special about the majority of scientists. They're just people who've decided that they're going to keep going and try to understand difficult things. And so I think it's really important for people like me and lots of other people, actually, as many scientists as you can get to get on those programmes and it's really hard. Because you probably know it's, you know it's a skill in itself actually.
Annie [00:21:48] It's a real process, yeah.
Brian [00:21:49] You have to, you know, when you're confronted with someone like Jonathan who's brilliant and doing his thing, then to stand up to it and to get your message across which is what he wants and they want, is a skill, actually. It's just something that you learn to do.
Annie [00:22:07] I read in your book, you talk about the ascent into insignificance. So this idea of an awareness of the bigger picture, making you feel smaller, which is a really positive thing, this idea of feeling small in a huge universe. Can you talk to me a bit about that?
Brian [00:22:23] Yeah, it's central actually to my live show. It's quite a personal show. And one of the central ideas is that there are two almost things that seem mutually exclusive, right? Two ideas. One is that we are physically insignificant, there's no doubt about that. I mean we now know that the Earth is one planet around one star amongst 400 billion stars, in one galaxy amongst 2 trillion galaxies in a patch of the universe that is possibly a small patch of an infinite universe. And now even there are multiverse ideas where there might be an infinite number of universes, right? So first of all, we're physically insignificant *Annie laughs* there's no doubt, right. But also, there's another idea that I explore, which is that if you think about what we are, that's you and me and everybody that's listening, we're collections of atoms that can think. Now that just you have to stop at that point and say, that sentence is astonishing. That somehow out of these atoms as old as time most of them, or made in the hearts of stars, have come together in patterns that can make music and art and science and in a very real sense, bring meaning to the universe. Then that tells you that we're astonishingly special. And we're also probably, almost certainly, well each of us definitely is finite in time. We only have a few years. And the civilisation, who knows how long it's got. It might have a few centuries. If we are sensible, it might go off into the indefinite future, a long way anyway. We're incredibly valuable, rare and remarkable structures. It's possible that in a galaxy like the Milky Way, there's only one planet where this happened. It's actually, most biologists I speak to. I think that's right, most would say that they think microbes are everywhere, but things like us are just basically nowhere. And so, the conclusion I reach in that interesting no man's land as it were between these two ideas that don't seem to fit together, is that we're unbelievably valuable. Unbelievably fortunate to be here. And actually, the finite nature of our lives and the fragility of our lives actually adds more to that value. So out of those two ideas emerges something, I think a much deeper insight into our value. I was asked to give the intro, I did an intro video for the COP26, the Climate Summit, and basically the brief was - all the world leaders are going to watch this so what do you want to say to them? And of course we have a list of things I'd like to say to the world leaders. The one thing I said, I just explained that, I said that given what we know, we're the only island of meaning in a sea of 400 billion suns, given what we know. And so let's assume that. And then from there, why don't you think about the way that you've behaved together, given that you're in charge of it all. Like you lot, listening to this video, you are, that it right. It's all you. You're not only in charge of your country. You know, it's so easy to think in terms of countries. I've seen astronauts, many astronauts, I can't remember which astronaut it was that said that the first orbit or two you look for your country, in the next orbit you look for your continent and in the next orbit you see Earth, right? So I said that to them. You know, why don't you think- consider the fact that your actions may determine the future of life and therefore meaning forever in an island of 400 billion suns, 150,000 light years across. Just think about that and then go away and behave yourself.
Annie [00:26:22] *Laughing* you left all the world leaders being like, *mic drop*.
Brian [00:26:24] Yeah, who knows what they thought. But I think that comes from perspective and the perspective comes from doing things that seem useless. Right, so astronomy, you could argue in some definition, by some definition of the word is useless. My careers teacher certainly said that when I was little and I thought, I want to be an astronomer and they said no, you should be an electrical engineer or something. Get a trade, you know. And it's a good thing to do by the way, if you're an electrical engineer and you're watching. But you know, the point that astronomy might be the most useful thing we've ever done, because it might be the thing that tips us over into thinking this way, which means that we take more care of this place and don't spend all our money launching missiles at each other, and in that sense we might end up preserving life and consciousness and civilisation and the galaxy of 400 billion suns. So that might be useful.
[00:27:19] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:27:31] What about from the perspective of an average person with no power? This heightened awareness and this perception, what does that do, do you think, in your experience of having taught people?
Brian [00:27:42] First of all, it's a very beautiful thing to experience individually. The more you know- Carl Sagan said it, he said when you look at those lights in the sky and you just see lights in the sky, you're missing alot. When you know that there are other stars you get something additional, you know, that they're suns these things, but a long way away. And then when you know that there are planets around them, you get another thing. And so every point of --- you look in the sky, there's a solar system and there are planets that might be earth like planets and they might have water and off you go. So it's a wonderful experience to expand your appreciation of the night sky. But also, I think, as you said, an ordinary person or someone who feels powerless. We're not powerless, actually, because we live in a democracy. And so each of us have the same say, actually. I mean, okay we can be cynical about it and say, well, it doesn't seem to be that way, but we live in democracies. And so ultimately, the people you vote for, that does ultimately determine the direction of the country. It really is genuinely true. In a democratic system, your votes matter. And if we, whoever we are it doesn't have to be, you know- you can say, well yeah I've got a voice, I didn't used to have by the way. You know, I grew up in Oldham and I had the same- I've got a bit more of a voice now because I've been fortunate and lucky and ended up on television things. But, you know, we all have voices because these people, we choose the people that control our destiny and direction, the sort of people that go into politics ultimately, it depends on the atmosphere we create for them. So, I mean, I would say something that's probably unpopular to say at the moment, but you think about politicians, they have a tremendously hard time as well because we as a society are not particularly civilised in the way we treat them. A couple of things I'd really strongly recommend, related to this, there's two of my scientific heroes and one of them he's been a hero for a long time is Richard Feynman, who's every physicists hero. Massively charismatic character, Nobel Prize, played bongo drums.
Annie [00:29:48] Richard Feynman.
Brian [00:29:49] Feynman. He wrote an essay in 1955 called The Value of Science, which is available online. Richard Feynman, The Value of Science. And in it, he reflects on what's the value of not only the knowledge that we acquire, but also the process that we go through. And it's very similar to something Robert Oppenheimer wrote, who I've recently become really interested in. Oppenheimer's most famous for the Atom Bomb. Right, The Manhattan Project. They do a lot of work on black holes actually before the war, and both of them are searching for, is there anything that we can do to try and make this world safer? Because they were writing in the fifties and they were just- they both worked on the Manhattan project and both thought that they had given our society tools that we didn't have the wisdom to control. So they thought we'd destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons. We're not out of the woods yet. And that was before the Cuban Missile Crisis when they were getting worried, so they were right to be worried. And they both came to the conclusion that humility is something that nature teaches you. When when you try and explore nature, you're almost always wrong. Scientists are always wrong all the time. And it's occasionally you come up with some theory like Peter Higgs, where we started, where it turns out to be right. Wow. You know, then you get the Nobel prize, right? It's astonishing, I'm right for once. And they said that that humility, the idea that we don't know how to run a society, it's too hard. Nobody knows how to do it. Don't let anybody tell you that they know how to run a society as complex as ours. That what you need is people who say, I've got some ideas and let's try those ideas out and we'll be careful because these ideas have real impacts, and if it turns out they don't work, we'll change our mind and we'll try something else. That's science. Scientific method. That's what democracy is, Feynman said it, democracy is the idea that we don't know how to do this, and so we'll change things every four or five years. That's built into democracy. Interestingly, and Oppenheimer said the same thing, what that means is that no matter how passionately we hold our views, whichever party we identify with or vote for, whatever it is, understand that the pendulum will swing. Sometimes it will go towards your viewpoint and sometimes it'll go away from it and as long as it doesn't go too extreme, because we don't want the thing to go to extremes as it has often done in the 20th century of course, obviously. But as long as you got a functioning democracy, a relatively stable, liberal democracy, then sometimes you'll get a government you don't like. And sometimes you get a government you like. If you always like it, if you always get the government that you like, you better ask yourself the question, which is that do I live in a free society anymore? This idea that we don't really know how to do things because it's too complicated, which is true, has gone away. Because the same people are running it all the time.
Annie [00:32:50] This is the power of doubt. It's the power of-
Brian [00:32:53] Yeah, so that's it.
Annie [00:32:54] of lack of certainty being a positive thing.
Brian [00:32:57] Yeah. And it is, it goes back to your original question. But the thing is that it's hard, isn't it, when you put it in those terms, it's hard. Everyone who's listening will go, yeah but surely, surely my side is better.
Annie [00:33:07] Yeah, yeah.
Brian [00:33:08] You know, and what Feynman and Oppenheimer were saying, the people who invented the atom bomb, they were saying that what that did to us, the inventors of the atom bomb, was to tell us that do not ever think that your side has a monopoly on wisdom. There's a brilliant book on Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer is talking about the discussions that went on when they had the bomb, but before they dropped it on Japan. And so there's a very small window of weeks when they tested it and then dropped it and then the scientists were saying, don't drop it. What you should do is you should tell Stalin, who's you know, Russia at the time and Churchill, get them together. They were having meetings all the time. It's 1945. Tell them that this knowledge exists and say you're going to share the knowledge because it's the weapon that should bring the world together. Because everybody needs to know that we now have the capacity to destroy the world. Not we the Americans, but we as a civilisation. And we as a civilisation, therefore have to work out a way of containing this. The one thing we don't want is to have an arms race. If we drop that bomb on Japan, put aside the horrors of dropping the bomb, just if we do it, what's going to happen is there's going to be an arms race because people are going to be scared of us and they're going to build their own bomb and it's a disastrous road. Don't do it. And of course, they did it and you know what happened, right, Cold War. So, still going on. Still. You know, so it's interesting to look at those people and see what they were thinking and what they were doing and, you know, there's many motivations for building the bomb. But it's interesting that, you know, once you get the power to destroy yourselves, the civilisation, what they were saying and it's true today, is you have to grow up. You can't be childish anymore. You can't play games, you've got the power to wipe out a civilisation.
[00:35:22] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:35:32] Brian, for those who are listening and the idea of some of what you're talking about, the vastness of it feels actually frightening to them and they'd rather stay in their material surroundings. What would you say in terms of what this awareness, this ascension into insignificance can do for you, can change you and how you look at your own life?
Brian [00:35:58] I think it's the joy that is available if you accept that you don't know a lot. Number one. So that is already a positive character trait you can develop. But once you accept that not knowing is a wonderful opportunity because then you can go and find out and then experience the joy of finding out, I think that's just a it's a wonderful thing. Being scared about infinity, being scared about you, the scale of the universe and the place within it is the correct response. It's a natural reaction. And the way out of it, there's two ways out of that. One is to stick your head in the sand. But the other one is to is to turn that into a joyous experience by saying, I'm going to face that fear, because in facing the fear, I will have taken the first step on a magical road.
Annie [00:36:57] Brian, thank you so much for this conversation today. It's been so intriguing.
Brian [00:37:02] Thank you very much.
Annie [00:37:07] Thank you so much to Brian Cox. You can buy tickets to the world tour of Horizons: A 21st Century Space Odyssey, which will be a cinematic journey with professor Brian and comedian Robin Ince using state of the art LCD screen technology to fill arenas with images of faraway galaxies, alien worlds, supermassive black holes and a time before the Big Bang. If you liked this conversation, then they will be getting deeper into those questions like, why does the universe exist? And what does it mean to live a small, finite life in a vast, eternal universe? It's touring all over the UK as well as Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Plus, you can pre-order the new book, Black Holes: The Key to Understanding the Universe. Co-written with Professor Jeffrey Forshaw, which is out on 6th of October. We'll put a link in the show notes for both of them. Let us know what you thought of Brian, obviously, hit me up on Instagram. Annie Macmanus on there. Tell your friends and family, anyone who you know who's a space nut, who's into astronomy, or just, you know, into asking questions who's curious about the world, hopefully would enjoy this episode. Do subscribe for the new season so you don't miss anything. Give us a rating where you can. Also, we have a transcript of Changes every week on my website. There's a link in the show notes. So anyone who you know, who might benefit from experiencing this in written form, it's there for them. We are going to be back next Monday with the author and journalist Shon Faye, who has written a book everyone should read called The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, having provided commentary as a trans woman for years. It's a really insightful and important listen. This episode of Changes was produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. See you later.