A pretty amazing thing happened in Manchester last night; 12,000 people filled the MEN Arena on a Saturday night, not to see a band, but to watch a physicist talking about astrophysics, the origins of the universe and the likelihood of life on other worlds. And I was one of them!
I missed Brian Cox’s last tour and immediately kicked myself for not bothering to grab a ticket so, last February when a new tour came around, I immediately bought a couple of tickets and began to make plans. We booked the hotel pretty sharpish and then quietly forgot all about it until just after Christmas when we both realised that it was only weeks away.
And so it was we joined an army of other geeks, physicists, and the just plain curious in filling Manchester’s premier concert arena to watch Brian Cox play his home town. And boy did he not disappoint. The night was a strange blend of lecture, comedy and pathos that had me gripped for the two plus hours Brian and Robin Ince (his co-presenter on The Infinite Monkey Cage spoke. The show was slick in its presentation and effects however Cox cut through all that, his gently spoken delivery begging for attention and understanding. The content was delivered at all levels, satisfying the keen amateur right through to the astronomer and dabbler in astrophysics I like to think I am.
We left with our heads spinning with new ideas and concepts – how likely was it that there is life on other worlds (statistically very high) and how likely is it that this life will be complex and living in civilised (sadly, a lot less likely). The message that came across strongest for me was that, empirically, there is only one civilisation in the Universe and we are it. We are fragile and, if we are to survive, we need to cut through all the crap we see in the world today in terms of greed and selfishness, and start to think of our place in the universe as a whole. We may be the only civilisation the universe will ever produce and that makes us special. It also beholds us to protect what we have before we disappear quietly into the void.