Professor Brian Cox introduces Human Universe
Professor Brian Cox attempts to understand the greatest wonder of them all – humankind.
In Human Universe, Professor Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen try to answer the fundamental questions we all face in life: "where are we?", "are we alone?", "who are we?", "why are we here?" and finally "what is our future?" Sadly for us, none of these answers
In the extract below, Professor Cox explains the beginnings of his own adventure following the spark of human curiosity; from its ignition in the distant past to a journey into the future. He does not use the phrase 'things can only get better'.
Everyone has an Oakbank Avenue; a place in space at the beginning of our time, central to an expanding personal Universe. For our distant ancestors in the East African Rift, the expansion was one of physical experience alone, but for a human being fortunate to be born in the latter half of the 20th century in a country like mine, education powers the mind beyond direct experience, onwards and outwards and, in the case of this little boy, towards the stars. As England stomped its way through the 1970s, I learned my place amongst the continents and oceans of our blue planet. I could tell you about polar bears on arctic ice floes at the top of the world or gazelle grazing on plains around the middle, long before I left the shores of the UK. I discovered that our Earth is one planet amongst nine, now redefined as eight, tracing out an elliptical orbit around an average star with Mercury and Venus on the inside and Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune further out. The Sun is one star amongst 400 billion in the Milky Way galaxy, itself one galaxy amongst 350 billion in the observable universe. And when I got to university, I discovered that physical reality extends way beyond the 90-billion light year visible sphere into, if I had to take a guess based on my 46-year immersion in the combined knowledge of human civilisation, infinity.
This is my ascent into insignificance, a road travelled by many and yet intensely personal. The routes each of us follow through the ever-growing landscape of human knowledge are chaotic; the delayed turn of a page in a stumbled-upon book can lead to a lifetime of exploration. But there are common themes amongst our disparate intellectual journeys, and the relentless relegation from
Human life is a staggeringly strange thing. On the surface of a ball of rock falling around a nuclear fireball in the blackness of a vacuum the laws of nature conspired to create a naked ape that can look up at the stars and wonder where it came from.