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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Fly me to the Moon

He's spoken so it's true! I've been saying the same for ages. Stop trying to attract the attention of aliens! The chances are they're not nice!

Stephen Hawkins, general good egg and big brain, worries that aliens will stop off on our planet only to plunder its goodies, including us. However, he goes on to say that most life elsewhere in the universe is likely to consist of microbes. Phew!! For a moment I had a "Independence Day" moment; big ships with zappy guns, unsmiling faces and Jeff Goldblum playing a good looking Stephen Hawkins solving, in the nick of time, that puzzle no one else knew existed.

I'm currently reading "Parallel Worlds" by Michio Kaku. The strap line is "The Science of Alternative Universes and Our Future in the Cosmos". I have to say I'm not gripped by it; so I must be missing something 'cause the extracts of reviews are glowing. According to the Financial Times Michio is "One of the gurus of modern physics." Although that's not exactly a comment on the book.

He writes like he appears on TV; overly enthusiastic. I thought Carl Sagan  was over dramatic but Michio is mega times more effusive. Or is he less confident? Every new discovery, theory he introduces is accompanied by a folksy saying by some scientist or other. Everything is astounding, amazing, stupendous; which to my mind drowns out the very difficult ideas he's wanting to get across and I'm wanting to understand.

I put it down to my arthritic mental state. I'm just not supple enough to grasp the ideas that cascade out of the page. And that makes me feel uncomfortable. I have to read a couple of pages; try to digest the ideas and spend the next few days suffering severe mental indigestion as a result.

At university I wanted to study astronomy; my first choice was University College, London and I remember the interview for a place on their 3 year B Sc (Astronomy) degree course. The interview took place at the College's observatory at Mill Hill, a sort of suburb of London and I was interviewed by a Dr McNally. I found him extremely intimidating - just what I'd expected of a scientist. I remember only one question during the interview. "What can we tell from the night sky being dark?" I know the answer now, but it took much leading by the good doctor for me to stumble into any sort of a  reasonable answer.

I just accepted that it was dark, without thinking how that fitted in with ideas about an infinite universe, red shift or the many other questions that should have been sparked by that simple observation. My thinking was lazy; I didn't question and even worse my imagination was earth bound.

So  when I was, surprisingly, offered a place I didn't accept it. A little more effort and use of my imagination and who knows I might have been sitting with  Professor Colin Pillinger explaining why we'd lost our space ship on Mars.


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