Nobel Prize for Literature
I don’t want for a moment to claim that I deserve the Nobel Prize for Literature. But I do think that it is obvious why the Nobel Prize for Literature should always go to a novelist or a poet or a playwright. Science really is a proper vehicle for great literature. And so not me, but one day a scientist ought to get the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’ve been listening to half the talks this evening. And the other half I think I got the important word, veterans scarp. Science is the poetry of reality. I’m should be talking about the magic of reality, which is another way of putting the poetry of reality. It’s gone. But I was going to call attention to the field of stars that there it is, again, It is a truly astonishing thing when I was when I was young, I used to go to church, and we had a hymn that went, it is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be after that it rather went off the rails. But when you look at a picture like that, which is just a small fragment of the universe, and you reflect that, possibly on only one, but certainly on one of the stars in the universe, there is a planet in which the laws of physics have been transmuted through a very strange process, to give rise to objects of quite staggering complexity and beauty to give rise to us and our brains, which eventually proved capable of coming on Close to understanding the entire process that gave rise to us. And that process, which was discovered by Charles Darwin had the effect of taking the ordinary laws of physics which are extremely simple and causing them to give rise to objects of ever increasing complexity. Until finally, as I say, they turned upon the universe and understood it or came close to understanding it.
I love poetry
I have twice visited the CERN establishment that we heard about earlier. And I have to confess I am a sentimental person I know I’m supposed to be a sort of heartless robot. But I am a sentimental person and I love poetry. And I was moved almost literally to tears by the experience. Seeing sun I tried to convey something of my poetic feeling my sentimental feeling. In my book, I forget which book it was, and I think it might have been the greatest show on earth. And I referred to having visited the Large Hadron Collider and how immensely moved I was. Unfortunately, there was a misprint in the book. And the Large Hadron Collider was rendered as you getting there, the Large Hadron Collider.
All my poetry was shot to pieces by this. Nevertheless, I was sufficiently amused by it. Unfortunately, the the publishers, proofreader discovered the error and corrected it. I begged her to Look it but she said it was more than her job was worth. I told this story once when I was lecturing in America and you know in America that very politically correct not quite as politically correct as here but anyway and and they had a woman on the side of the stage signaling in in sign language for the benefit of deaf people. And when I told this story of the Large Hadron Collider I couldn’t resist glancing over.
I’m hoping my computer hasn’t run out of electricity during all he may have done I may have to add live without without my slides. Nevermind
Yes, it looks like there’s run out of electricity. I don’t know if there’s a technical person here who’d like to have a goat resuscitating it while I go on talking.
should come on us do that.
The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True
While it’s firing up, I’ll just go on talking. I was very intrigued listening to, as I say, half the talks. And, in particular, listening to lona Frank talking about the brain. And that is one thing which unfortunately, I left out of the magic of reality. The magic of reality is a book about science for children of young people, and for old people and all in between as well. And it each chapter in the book has the same form. Each chapter in the book has a question at the beginning. Like What is the sun? What is a rainbow? What is an earthquake? And then the chapter goes on to myths in answer to the question, and then it finally goes on to the real answer, the scientific answer. And I chose arbitrarily about a dozen questions in order to do this give this this treatment of question, myth, reality. And one that I didn’t do was the brain. And I think maybe if there ever was a second edition, I would probably have to do that. Also, genomics, which you mentioned, I didn’t really go much into genomics.
She’s stressed that genetic determinism is wrong, which of course is true.
That doesn’t mean however, that the central message of my first book, The Selfish Gene is wrong. The central message of The Selfish Gene was quite frequently misunderstood. as being a message of genetic determinism, a message that genes are everything that we are controlled by our genes that we are at the mercy of our genes. That wasn’t the message at all. That would have been a message of embryology and embryology is quite a different thing from evolution, The Selfish Gene is about evolution. So it doesn’t actually matter how deterministic or non deterministic. I know just type in the password, I hope you can’t read it on the screen.
The message of a Selfish Gene is all about evolution. It is that the unit of natural selection is the gene or more generally, the replicator. In order for the process of Darwinian natural selection to work. There have to be coded information. coded information which is potentially immortal. And that’s a remarkable thing about DNA, that the information in DNA. Okay, thank you. I think it may be all right, actually. Yeah, it’s fine. The information in DNA is potentially immortal. The individual DNA molecule is not immortal that only lasts for a few weeks. But the information which is faithfully copied, like Old Testament scribes copying the book of Deuteronomy, whatever it is, every 80 years, the the information in DNA is faithfully copied. And potentially the identical information can still be there hundreds of millions of years later. Of course, not all of it is, and one of the reasons why not all of it is is that some of it survives better than others. And why does it survive better than others? it survives better than others. It’s better at building bodies better at contributing together with other genes to the current collective, joint cooperative enterprise of building a body. And because the genes live inside the bodies that they build, or most of them do. If the body dies, the genes die. If the body fails to reproduce, the genes die. And so on average over many generations, those genes that are good at it, where it means building bodies that assist them to survive and reproduce, will be the ones that we see millions of years later. So the world is full of self replicating information, which is good at surviving, obviously, and the world is full of the machines built by that self replicating information The world is full of bodies, which are good at surviving and reproducing. Sing in their different ways, which in the case of birds is flying, in the case of fishes, swimming dolphins and swimming. In the case of moles, it’s digging, and, and so on. And in the case of humans, it’s what shall we say thinking?
Right, let’s see if this now works. Good.
As I said, this is a book for young people of all ages. The English edition had a subtitle, how we know what’s really true. I’m very delighted, actually that the Swedish edition doesn’t have that I think it’s not necessary. I think that American publishers especially are obsessed with subtitles. You can’t look at an American book without seeing the subtitle, they usually don’t actually meet needed. It’s nice to have certain amount of enigmatic curiosity as to what the title itself means. That’s a set of 12 chapters what is reality? What is magic that just sets up the meeting of the of the title? Who was the first person and I spend a certain amount of time on that chapter. Why are there so many different kinds of animals? What are things made of? Why do we have night and day? Why do we have winter and summer? Most people know why we have night and day. As for why we have winter and summer. You’d be surprised at the number of people who think that we have winter and summer because in winter The earth is furthest from the sun. And in summer, the Earth is closest to the sun. What many Australians here?
- What is the sun?
- What is the rainbow?
- why and when and how did everything begin?
- Are we alone?
That’s an interesting one. That’s a very speculative one. wondering whether life on this planet is unique or Whether there’s life all over the universe, and I may have some have time to talk about that as well.
- What is the earthquake?
- Why do bad things happen? That’s a rather strange chapter.
I mean, it really is just why does anything happen but you’d be amazed at the number of people who sort of think that believe in a kind of sods law, if a thing can go wrong, it will. If you drop a piece of toast and marmalade, it always falls marmalade side down, that kind of thing. And finally,
- what is a miracle? Which is, in a way, reverting to the theme of magic again? So the first chapter defining the terms what is reality?
- What is magic? And I distinguish three different meanings of the word magic.
There’s supernatural magic, the magic of childhood fairy tales, the magic of spells and Sleeping Beauty is being awakened by frogs kissing women.
Is that get that wrong anyway um and Cinderella’s coach and things I don’t know whether you have the same with whether it’s Cinderella known Yeah, okay. Maybe even originated here, I don’t know. Then there’s conjuring magic that this sort we saw spellbinding
Lee at the very first at this evening. And then finally the magic of reality, which is veterans scarp fairy tale spells, frogs turning into princes, pumpkins turning into coaches. Nobody really believes in magic spells of this kind, except for the special kind of magic spells which goes by the name of miracles, and which religious people believe. And I’ll come to that at the end of if I have time.
And then, conjuring tricks.
I find them intriguing
because there are a lot of people who will believe in something miraculous having happened simply because they don’t understand it. That is the well known charlatan whom I shall not name because he’s notoriously litigious. He even Sue’s people for saying that. A well known spoon bender is the charlatan. You don’t even have to mention his name, which I just haven’t, but I did just say he was a well known spoon bender. There are charlatans who are actually no more than ordinary conjures, but they make a much richer living than ordinary consumers do because they pretend that they actually have supernatural, paranormal or psychic powers. And they are pernicious and evil. And it’s one of the good things that that honest culture is do is to replicate that But tell the audience that they are actually new tricks.
Unfortunately, this hardly ever works. The problem is that a genuine honest conjurer will do exactly the same trick as one of these charlatans and people say, Oh, yes, well, all right. Well, that’s a trick, but I bet that one isn’t. The lesson from culturas, like the one we saw this evening, and unlike the other ones that we’ve all seen, is that any ordinary person will assume that what they’ve seen is something supernatural, unless they’re really really critically minded. And it’s a very useful lesson to have honest culturas showing us what can be done showing us how easy it is to fool ourselves. And finally, the poetic magic of science itself. The one that I need in my title were moved to tears by the beautiful piece of music we describe the performance has magical. We gaze up at the stars, as we have all evening on the on the screen. And we say the site is pure magic or we might use the phrase for a gorgeous sunset. A lovely Alpine landscape a rainbow against a dark sky. Magical in this sense means deeply moving, exhilarating, something that gives us goosebumps, something that makes us feel more fully alive.
And my mission in this book is to show young people all people that reality as interpreted critically by science has that magical, poetic, good to be alive. Quality. supernatural magic spells frogs turning into princes, pumpkins, turning into coaches. It’s not just that such things never happened. It’s not just that Such things have never been observed to happen. It’s important to understand that such things cannot happen or rather, if they did happen, they would be, they would violate the laws of probability. If you imagine the task of putting together of changing say, a pumpkin into a coach or a frog into a prince in one fell swoop. The problem is that both frogs and princes are very complicated things and complicated in different ways. And the number of ways in which you could recombine the bits of a frog and get something other than a prince is is is obviously huge.
So otter take the, the pumpkin turning into a coach make it a little bit easier for the fairy godmother by giving her not a pumpkin, but a sort of IKEA kit for Making a coach. So we’ve got a packing case full of bits to make a coach and you open it up and instead of following the instructions and sticking them together in the right order, you just shake them around other great big bag and out will fall you hope a coach, will you go on doing that for a billion trillion years and you’re never going to get a coach. This is why this is the deep, fundamental reason why supernatural magic of all kinds must be discounted. In some cases, of course, you can actually count the odds. If you playing bridge for people, and you pick up your hand and it turns out to be a perfect hand in space. So you you lay down your cars with utter wonderment of incredulity, and they were obviously on one this this this hand, and then one by one the other three players lay down their cards, and one has got perfect hearts one’s got nothing but diamond one’s got nothing but clubs.
would that be supernatural magic?
We can calculate the odds against it happening by chance, as you will all have worked out in your head by now. It’s one in 536 octillion 447 septillion 737 6,000,765 quintillion 488 quadrillion 792,839,000,000,200 237,440,000. I also stole a look at the the sign language woman while I was doing that, by the way. If you sat down and played cards for a trillion years, you might on one occasion get a perfect deal,
But of course, the interesting thing is that that particular deal, the perfect deal is no more improbable than every other dealer cards that has ever been made. It’s only the The others don’t strike us as unusual.
where does that leave life then because frogs content into princes, but nevertheless frogs have evolved and princes have evolved. And so have a says everything else. So, what’s the answer? The answer obviously cannot be challenged. We’ve just proved that it cannot be chance. And so the the main cannot, that is uttered by creationists that evolution is the theory of Charles is just nonsense. The whole point about Darwin’s theory of evolution is that it is the very opposite of a chance process. Natural selection is a non random process, each step of the way each step of the evolutionary way, each generation could be seen as a chance step in the sense that the mutation that is offered for selection is random, random only in the sense that it’s not directed towards any particular end towards any particular improvement. Natural Selection favors those that do well of course, and at the end of, say 100 generations of this non random selection of random variation, this cumulative process inching its way up a slowly, a slow and gradual ramp of improvement can give rise to such prodigies of apparent design as the vertebral di or the vertibird heart or whatever it is.
I said I’d spend a little time on chapter two, which is who was the first person and like the other chapters, it begins with myths. I begin with a Tasmanian Aboriginal myth of who was the first person Go on to the Hebrew Genesis myth which is too well known to recount. And then for good measure, and all Smith.
Most myth actives, sorry to say is a slightly boring one throws I can make out.
It seems that Odin was one day walking along the seashore with his brothers who also gods and they came upon two tree trunks. One of these tree trunks they turned into the first man whom they called Ask the other they turned into the first woman called imbler. And they then gave them the breath, breath of life or by consciousness faces and the gift of speech. Well, that’s one of many, many, many origin myths. And we turn with some relief to the scientific answer to the question, who was the first person which is rather surprising that never was the first person because every person had to have parents and those parents had to be people. They have to have parents and they had to have parents and so on. And they all had to be members of the same species as their children and as their parents. Same with rabbits. Same with crocodiles. Same with dragonflies. There never was a first rhinoceros, never a first elephant, never first, Panda, and so on.
Every creature ever born
maybe with negligible exceptions, belonged to the same species as its parents. So that must mean that every creature ever born belong to the same species as his grandparents and his great grandparents and his great great grandparents, and so on. Forever. Not forever.
It’s not as simple as that.
And to explain this to the my child readers, I use a thought experiment thought experiment. A good Dan can experiment done in your image You find a picture of yourself and put it on the table. And then you find a picture of your father and put that on the table, and then a picture of his father and so on and so on. And you build up a tower of pictures going back and back and back one generation at a time.
And you go on piling them and piling them and piling them up.
And let’s sort of arbitrarily make a stop to how high we make the tower. How many cards do we how many photographs should we place on top of each other? Well, I’ve arbitrarily chosen the figure of 185 million hundred and 85 million postcards on top of each other. That would be about 220,000 feet high, that would be 180 New York skyscrapers standing on top of each other. Obviously, it will topple over. So let’s tip it over, put it on a bookshelf, bookshelf 40 miles long. And you start at this end of the bookshelf, which is your own photograph, and you walk slowly and slowly and slowly along the bookshelf, pulling out pictures every now and again to examine them. When you get to the far end, you pull out the picture of your hundred and 85 million greats grandfather.
That’s true, even though it’s also true that every one of those photographs belongs to the same species as its neighbors. I’m going to walk along pick out a few as we go. Well, I guess I should say that in case anybody had meant that there are people who have trouble with with reconciling that particular apparent paradox, they can’t understand how it can be that every child ever born is the same species as his parents. And yet, if you go back 185 million, it turns out to be a fish. It’s not actually that difficult to understand, because we already have plenty of other examples of gradual change. You were once a baby. And then you became a toddler, and then you became a child, and then you became a teenager, and then you became a young adult, and then you became middle aged and so on, and you became old, if you are old. And yet, there never was a day when you said to yourself, last night, I went to bed, middle aged, and this morning, I seem to be old. It doesn’t happen like that. There never was a moment when you cease to be a child became adult. For legal purposes. We define whatever is the 18th birthday. The 21st birthday is different in different countries, as the as the age at which you’re allowed to vote, the age at which you may be sent to war, that kind of thing. But we know that that’s just a legal convenience. There’s nothing magical about the 18th birthday. So we’re actually quite used to the idea that things change gradually. And all you have to do is transpose that idea, from the development of an individual to the sort of cinematic
change that you get as you go from generation to generation.
So every photograph along that series is the same species as its neighbors, and you would have to go maybe 10,000, maybe 100,000 generations before you got an appreciable difference. By appreciable, I mean, more than just the ordinary difference that all of us have anyway from each other.
If you were to go back, say 100,000 years Or 4000 greats grandfather, you would pretty much be seeing a more modern human there might be a very, very slight difference. If you were to walk back a million years to your 50,000 great grandfather, that would be different enough to count as a different species Homo erectus and probably wouldn’t be able to, to interbreed with it with them. I’ve in the book, I made this little fantasy of time machine as the time machine. And the idea is that you go back in time and 10,000, Dr. hops, and each 10,000 Dr. Hop, you take on board a new passenger from the people or whatever they are that you meet. Well first of all, you try to meet with them.
See if you can breed a child And, but 10,000 years ago, no problem, you breed perfectly well. So you pick up Sunday from 10,000 years ago from the time machine, hop back another 10,000 years, and so on and so on and so on. And what you would find is that in each 10,000 year hop, the most recently picked up passenger could happily made with the new people that you meet when you when you land. But after a sufficiently large number of hops, that’s no longer possible. So we could no longer interbreed with Homo erectus. Probably we don’t know that, of course, but probably. But every intermediate step of the way could interbreed with each other. Looking at a few others, your 250,000 greats grandfather, about 6 million years ago, that was the common ancestor between ourselves and chimpanzees. It’s not a chimpanzee. It’s the common ancestor that we share with chimpanzees. chimpanzees have had just as long to evolve since that common ancestor. As we have one of the commonest fallacies you’ll find when talking to creationist is they think we’re descended from chimpanzees and they’re mystified or they think we ought to be mystified by why there is still chimpanzees. Your 1,500,000 greats grandfather 25 million years ago, would have looked like a monkey and would have been the common ancestor of ourselves and Old World monkeys. Your 7 million greats grandfather 63 million years ago, would have been something like Tasya or Loris or bush baby or something like that. The common ancestor of modern bush babies you’re 45 million greats grandfather. hundred and five million years ago. There’s a lot of true like creature, your hundred and 70 million greats grandmother 310 million years ago, a sort of ancestor sort of reptilian like ancestor sort of lizard like creature, hundred and 75 million greats, sort of salamander a creature. And then finally we returned to the hundred 85 million greats grandfather, which is a fish and of course, the line of photographs goes wending its way on into the past, back to the mists of time, where we no longer have fossils, and I can only guess as to what our more remote ancestors were like.
Why are there so many different kinds of animals? And this is the other sort of main aspect of evolution, the faculty branches, and I discussed this white White happens, it probably the most interesting way in which it happens is that it starts with a geographical isolation. And a population of animals gets a continent and an offshore Island. And once they’re separated, they’re then free to evolve in different directions until they’re separated. Sexual mixing sexual reproduction, change them together, makes it impossible for them to diverge, because sexual mixing keeps, keeps them keeps them together. I was just speculating in the car coming from the airport today about the analogy between biological evolution and language. And the fact that language to as Darwin noted, diverges in very much the same kind of way and you couldn’t draw a family trees of, of languages and the difference as far as I can see is that with languages is possible for them having diverged to come together again, as English, for example, is clearly a mixture of Germanic and romance languages. But there must come an intermediate stage as languages diverged when we call them something like dialects, and they haven’t yet quite become languages. And I was speculating to the the two charming women who met me at the airport and we’re driving me to the hotel, that the definition of when a dialect has diverged sufficiently far to become a language would be an operational definition of the following form. If you meet somebody who’s the other side of a fairly recent divide, such that they speak the same language but say, with a rather different accent. If you tried to talk to them imitating their accent, they would probably hit you. Because they would think that you’re insulting them by by mimicking by by taking the Mickey. Whereas, an and that would be the case for example, if I were to go to Scotland and start going hoots them on the new and things like that I would be i would i would be thumped especially in a Glasgow pub. Whereas if I were to go to Germany and and or Sweden and and and speak Swedish My guess is that you’d probably be rather pleased and how badly I did it you’ll probably be welcome the fact that I was that I was trying. So at some point, as the divergence goes on. it ceases from a from an interaction of hostility when you try to communicate using the other one to becoming an exact opposite of hostility and I was asking them in the car. Whether the Scandinavian languages possibly are on the cusp of somewhere between where you get thumped if you try to talk the other other language, and where it’s treated as flattery is where it’s treated as a compliment, so I leave that thought with you. Why do we have night and day? Why do we have winter and summer I mentioned that already. What is the sun? Plenty of lovely myths about the sun, of course sun worshipers and things like that. And then the real truth about what the sun is the star, a relatively ordinary star. Yes, this is a little animation of moving away from the sun. You see the sun is now disappeared. We’re moving away. We’re getting a picture for the size of the universe here. All these other stars. And as we move further away, we stopped to see galaxies As the Milky Way galaxy as we move away from that, we stopped the other galaxies coming into the picture. These are now all galaxies.
What is the rainbow?
When and how did everything begin?
Are we alone?
Well, I said I would spend a little more time on this one of are we alone? It’s a chapter that I had difficulty finding myths for. Because the very idea that we live in a larger universe where the question could even arise, whether this planet is the only one that has life simply didn’t occur to people. So for this chapter alone, I had to resort to modern myths and there are any number of modern myths on the subject of are we alone Some astonishing the high proportion of the population of the United States of America. Believe I absolutely convinced that they personally have been abducted by aliens in flying saucers, who have subjected them to the most horrific sexual experiments, and then brought them back
and their grounds for believing this.
Well, they might convince some people in one case, a man was convinced of this because he was subject to rather frequent nosebleeds. And the only possible explanation for that he’s had a device implanted in his nose to beam back information to the to the flying saucer. And other one was convinced of it. were convinced that he was born of alien parents because he was a different color, slightly different color from either of his parents that kind of thing. Well, the scientific question, are we alone This is a curious one because it’s one to which we have really no idea at all how to answer, or we can’t answer it, we do have an idea how to answer it, we do have an idea of the kind of things we would need to know, in order to answer the question of the likelihood that we are alone.
The number of planets on which life might possibly have a written the number of planets in the universe, you have to begin by counting the number of stars in the universe. That’s one estimate 10 to the 22. There are other estimates, but it’s anyway it’s a very, very large number. Until recently, we didn’t know whether other stars that are some had planets. And it was only a matter of sort of the principle of mediocrity, as it’s called the principle that is unlikely that we are unique on this. This particular Solar System. So the chances are that other stars do have planets. But it’s only recently that we’ve actually found evidence that there are other stars which have planets. And it’s now looking as though probably the majority of stars have planets. So the number of planets around in the universe is exceedingly large. Now, obviously, many of them are not going to be suitable for life, but nevertheless, they’re very, very large. Now, there are people who have an almost visceral reaction to the idea that we might not be alone and there are people who, who may have a scientific object and there are people who think that life is such a fantastically improbable thing to arise that we are alone in the universe. And if you meet such people, it’s worth pointing out something like this
In order to sustain your belief that we are unique in the universe. You would have To be committed to the view that life was so vanishingly staggeringly, stupefyingly improbable, that is only a reason once intend to the 22 solar systems. In order to believe that you would have to say that the origin of life on this planet, whatever chemical events took place in the primeval soup wherever it was that gave rise to the first life, the origin of life was a ludicrously improbable event. So improbable that any chemist who spends his life in the lab trying to work out how it happened trying to develop a theory trying to reproduce the conditions in the early primeval soup and see whether he could get the conduct get life or life or rising would be not just wasting his time but but ridiculously wasting his time. Because if it only happened once in 10, to the 22 opportunities, then what we’re looking for in our theory of the origin of life is not a plausible theory, not even a slightly plausible theory. It’s a theory so implausible as to be judged pretty much impossible. Happening only once in 10 for 22 opportunities. So that’s still that’s still could be true, because it really could be the case that the origin of life is a staggeringly improbable event subsided only happened once. And then the anthropic principle kicks in, where you say well if it did only happen once, then that place where it happened had to be here. Because here here we are talking about it. I don’t for a moment believe it’s that improbable. It’s a difficult problem. It hasn’t been solved chemist haven’t Yet managed to work out exactly what did happen in the origin of life. But there are some very promising ideas floating around. We know the kind of thing that it had to be the origin of life had to be the origin of the first gene. In the general sense of gene, you’d have to be the origin of the first self replicating code.
And the reason for that is that you can’t have evolution without self replicating information. I suppose I’m making an additional assumption that which I ought to complain about and be explicit about. I’m making the assumption that life depends upon some kind of Darwinian process. I have conjecture that this must be the case i could be wrong. But I’ve given I think, what a cogent reasons for believing that however, strange and weird and as And different life elsewhere in the universe might be, there is one thing that we already know about it, it will be Darwinian life, it will have come about through something like something analogous to the same process of gradual step by step change due to some form of natural selection. And that depends upon some kind of genetics. I would conjecture further, that it probably depends upon digital genetics. One of the things that Lola Frank didn’t mention when she’s talking about the nature of genes is that their digital and their digital not just in the men delian sense that you any particular gene you either get or you don’t get, but also within each gene. The DNA code itself is so digital is so almost exactly like a complete tape that it’s possible now that nowadays to say that the genetics has become a branch of, of information technology. So my conjecture is that that life depends upon Darwinian evolution. And my further conjecture would be that you can’t have Darwinian evolution without, without genetics, and pretty much I think has to be digital genetics because only digital codes have sufficiently high fidelity to have this property of potentially lasting for millions of generations. So the origin of life then had to be the origin of the first digital code, some random event in chemistry, a molecule by sheer luck, was put together, which had the property of making copies of itself.
Copies of more than one kind, say that you get variety, capable of mutating, capable of Copying inaccurately and those inaccurate copies themselves being replicated as being capable of, of being of being copied. That’s a pretty tall order. It happened here. And unless you want to believe that life is unique here, it must have happened in many other places, and it cannot be all that improbable an event. But notice, it’s still allowed to be a very improbable event and still happen a billion times in the universe. If there are a billion different life forms dotted around the universe, because the universe is a prodigiously large life is still hugely rare. The islands of life that they would be if there are just a billion of them would be so spaced out. That is quite likely that none of them ever has the chance to meet any of the other ones, which is rather sad. Next chapter, what is an earthquake? That of course gets us into the whole fascinating subject of plate tectonics, geology, subject of geology has been revolutionized, really in in my lifetime. And when I was an undergraduate, the subject of plate tectonics let me just just beginning and it was possible for Charles Elton, the great Oxford ecologist who was definitely a met I don’t know. Yes. was possible when lecturing when he was lecturing to us to take a vote. That’s not how you do science. But nevertheless, that’s what Charles Elton did. And I think we split about 5050 Well, now nowadays, there’s no question about it. Plate tectonics is true. And we know in great detail, what what what has happened and to predict what will happen, and that’s what earthquakes are. Why do bad things happen? Well, as I said, this is just an aspect of why two things happen, but It was an opportunity for me to try to dispel the rather frequent tendency for people to superstitiously think that the world is somehow out to get them. Some people think that they are inherently lucky or inherently unlucky that that jinxed there are well known gamblers fallacies. People in Las Vegas casinos, who think that because black has been coming up a lot is red turn, that kind of thing. And these various sort of Gamblers ruin fallacies. So it’s an opportunity to, to teach the young people who have read the book about probability theory and about the, the mistakes the arrows, that the concrete in, in the game of cricket, for example, it’s Very important who wins the toss at the beginning of a game of cricket the captain’s toss a penny to see who bats first. And it makes a big difference to strategy. So it’s important to win the toss if you can. And there are many, many people who think that certain individual captains are better at winning the toss. Then when others or there are others who think that because so and so has won the toss consistently for a long time, it’s time he is tiny lost, and so they would bet against him winning the toss again. So I discuss all that kind of thing in that chapter. And then finally, in chapter 12, what is a miracle? I returned to the idea of supernatural magic, but with the particular examples of religious miracles magic that people believe in because the magic spells have been cast by great prophets or, or whatever. And I must say that in in having various Bates and things with religious people of all persuasions. I’ve been accused of going after easy targets of nutcases who believe in creationism and things. And so I’ve taken to having debates with sophisticated theologians, Archbishop’s and people like that. And what’s astonished me is that is how many of the sophisticated theologians also believe in these naive miracles like water turning into wine. So this is a really serious problem that we’re the people who are ordinarily intelligent and who are skeptical and critical them can can drive a car and can tie their own shoelaces and things like that. Nevertheless, are completely susceptible to total nonsense because it happens to be written down in an ancient book.
I’m not going to switch to the next last page of the book, and I’m going to read out from the last page, which is my kind of credo about science. There are things that not even the best scientists of today can explain. But that doesn’t mean we should block off all investigation by resorting to phony explanations invoking magic, or the supernatural, which don’t actually explain at all. Just imagine how a medieval man even the most educated man of his era would have reacted if you’ve seen a jet plane, a laptop computer, a mobile telephone, a Sat Nav device, he would certainly have called them supernatural, miraculous, but these devices that are commonplace we know how they work. We know that people have built them following scientific principles. The distinguished science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke some the point OPERS. Clarke’s third law sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. If a time machine would carry us forward a century or so we would see, surely without a doubt wonders that today we might think impossible miracles. They’re not be supernatural, there’ll be natural. It’s just that our conception of the natural will have broadened out, and will be far more amazing than anything that theologians have ever managed to imagine. The more you think about it, the more you realize that the very idea of a supernatural miracle is nonsense. If something happens that appears to be inexplicable by science, you can safely conclude one of two things. Either it didn’t really happen. The Observer was mistaken or was lying or was tricked. Or we have exposed a shortcoming in present De science. If present day science encounters an observation or an experimental result that it cannot explain, then we should not rest until we have improved our science so that it can provide an explanation. If it requires a radically new kind of science, a revolutionary science those strange that old scientists scarcely recognize it as science at all. That’s fine, too. It’s happened before. But don’t ever be lazy enough, defeatist enough, cowardly enough to say, I don’t understand it. So it must be supernatural. It must be a miracle. Say instead, it’s a puzzle. It’s strange. It’s a challenge that we should rise to whether we rise to the challenge by questioning the truth of the observation, or by expanding our science in new and exciting directions. The proper and brave response to any such challenge is to tackle it head on and until we have found a proper Such as the mystery. It’s perfectly okay simply to say, this is something we don’t yet understand. But we’re working on it. It’s the only honest thing to do. Miracles, magic myths, they can be fun, and I have fun with them throughout this book. Everybody likes a good story and myths, the fun as long as you don’t confuse them with the truth. The real truth has a magic of its own. The truth is more magical in the best and most exciting sense of the word than any myth, or made up mystery or miracle. Science has its own magic. The magic of reality.
Thank you so much for that. Professor Dawkins will have a few questions and I actually like to ask the speakers to come up on stage. Stefan lunan yonko, Niels assata to have a little discussion with you. Well, I’ll move over here so they can stand there and maybe you want some water. Okay. And while they come up on stage, I can start with the first question. Sometimes when I talk to people in Sweden, we have a few religious schools in Sweden about 70. So it’s not very much but still, and I’ve talked to teachers there who say that no, no, we we do teach evolution. We just teach them creation also, and we’re let them choose. And that is their idea of unbiased the teaching and what? How do you respond to that fundamental view of knowledge which is very strange to me,
so long as they give equal time to the myth of Odin and his brothers and the Tasmanian Aboriginal myth and every myth from every tribe in West Africa and East Africa and the Far East, and the Polynesian islands, there are thousands of origin myths, and none of them some of them are very beautiful. Some of them are very poetic. None of them has any reason to believe it any more than any of the others. The scientific one, which is not a myth is the only one that does. So that is, I think one thing that I would say it’s, of course, a pure historical accident that in Sweden and in Britain, the myth that we happen to have been brought up with is the Judeo Christian myth, which has absolutely no reason to be preferred than any other myth.
Okay, I’d like the previous speakers to to ask a question to meet Sarah, if you maybe could take the microphone, which is just behind you. Behind Mills.
There is a microphone there. Yes. Just bring it up. You can take it off the stand. It’s a loose microphone. And which one of you would like to start? Maybe? Yeah, sorry. Please. Do you have a question?
It’s all fantastic. Yes.
So, Christopher already mentioned, right that you want to explain everything with evolution. I got curious. And since you’re an expert in evolution, and also you’ve already mentioned the anthropic principle, I was wondering if you have any thoughts about no in my field physics, we have a theory to describe the world and their constants. features of this this theory that are impossible for us at the moment at least to explain from first principles, you know, when if you take These these constants by tiny amount, then basically you wouldn’t be able to form atoms and life would never have occurred. And then, you know, since people cannot explain it, there are quite a few people in my field. And I won’t say if I’m one of them or not, that like to now kind of explain this or make it plausible that this could happen by, you know, having multiple universes, and we just happen to live in the one where life could have formed. And I’m just curious to hear what your thoughts are on that. Yes, I’m fascinated by this.
The physical constants, I don’t know how many there are maybe half a dozen which have no explanation. Everything else has an explanation in terms of them, but the physical constants, say half a dozen of them.
It’s as though
there are half a dozen knobs that can be twiddled. And you could imagine some godlike figure twiddling these knobs to get different values of things like the gravitational constant and the strength of the strong force and with weak force, whatever it is. And as Sarah has just said, if any these knobs is to is twiddle to slightly the wrong place, then you don’t get a universe that that does keep from giving rise to us. So you’ve got a universe that fizzles out within the first picosecond of its existence or something of that sort, where you’ve got a universe in which matter doesn’t condense into stars, and you don’t therefore get chemistry, you don’t get planets, you don’t get life. Well, the anthropic principle says we are here. Clearly we have to be in the kind of universe that’s capable of giving rise to us. And so it’s no accident that the physical constants or us are conducive to giving rise to us. physicists have said it’s no accident when we look up with the stars, because we would have to be living in the kind of universe that has stars because you need stars in order to make chemistry, etc.
some physicists, I think happy without others find it rather satisfying because although it’s perfectly true that we wouldn’t be here, if the if the knobs weren’t exactly rightly tuned, nevertheless, the tuning is very fine. Somebody philosopher use the example of a firing squad that, that 10 men firing rifles at one victim, and they all fall and he’s still there alive. And he says, Oh, well, obviously, they missed because otherwise I wouldn’t be here. But you still need an explanation for why they missed, like there was a conspiracy or something of that sort. So, the explanation that I think probably most physicists now favor, which is the one I think Sarah favors, which is that there are many universities, all with their own physical constants, billions of them maybe a sort of form of universities, and only a tiny minority of those universities have the necessary qualities to give rise to stars, chemistry, and life, and then the anthropic principle kicks in and says we have to be living in one Such one such universe. There are some physicists to deny that the tuning is as fine as all that, pointing out that it’s all very well turning one knob at a time. And if you turn any one knob, then the universe collapses. But if you allow yourself to turn more than one at a time, then there may be interactive effects, such that there may be many more possible universes that emerge that have another question.
Okay, my question is more simple and less sophisticated than that’s all us.
Why did you obviously, reality is full of magic. Why biology? What was making you so fascinated by biology and not by Anna theast? Was there? Was there a special magic in biology or was that a special thing that made you’re a biologist which you basically
I’m not clever enough to Be a physicist. You’re not clever enough to be a physicist. However, be that as it may, I do think it’s true that biology has a special magic I think physics does too. But biology is the study of complexity biology is the study of how physical forces, physical entities, have somehow been brought together into prodigiously complicated engines, which have the capacity to move around feed humped to jump to fly to swim, development, nervous systems, sensory organs and to think it is a very, very, very remarkable fact that life exists at all, and well repays the hundreds of lifetimes of study. That’s not the reason many biologists go into biology. Many biologists go into biology because they’re naturalist Because they love birds or insects or plants. And that’s another perfectly respectable reason to be for being a biologist, but it wasn’t mine as it happened.
Well, Richard, as a common person, I’ve heard so many amazing things here this evening from you, from you, Sarah, and from you, Luna. And I’m thinking that I will read this book your book for my children, and you have answers to a lot of things. But one thing that they will one question but they will put to me I think the 11 years old 11 years old will be Mommy, what happens after we die? Yes. Do you have any reflection on that? Well?
I think what happens after we die is just what exactly what happened before we were born. As as Mark Twain, I think it was said I was dead for billions of years. before I was born, and never suffered the smallest inconvenience I mean, it is there, there is something frightening about about, I think what’s frightening is actually the idea of eternity. And when you picture the scariness of eternity, it’s eternity. That’s frightening whether you’re there or not. And actually, it’s a lot more frightening if you’re there than if you’re not
the idea of actually going on existing
wouldn’t mind a couple of hundred years but but billions of years. I think for billions of years, I’d rather be put under general anesthetic and that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Can I just add a question to that because Am I understand Of course, your view of what happens after Death. But my question is, should you tell that to an 11 year old child? Or should you? Our child is three now, he won’t ask for a couple of years. But when he’s six years old, should we tell him the truth?
not a question for a scientist. I mean, that’s a sort of moral question. That’s an educational question. I’m don’t think I’m in favor of telling lies to children, because they’re comforting. I think it’s possible to to give a truthful answer without it being without it being so frightening. And perhaps, if you answer the question, honestly, as young as they are, when they first ask it, maybe it’s because it’s less frightening when rather than telling them a lie, and letting them discover later on, but that isn’t a scientific question. And that’s, that’s a question for individual parents, I think.
Yeah, true. Okay, lonely.
Finally. Thank you.
A question about Evolution when we talk about evolution, we often are many people have an image of evolution happening to human beings in the past. So we happen to evolve and become, you know, Homo sapiens. And for many people, they will say, well, evolution is stopped for us. I mean, now we have penicillin, we have, you know, cancer drugs, and we all have 1.7 children. So, there’s probably no evolution anymore. Where do you see the selection pressures working today on a population like this? and other words, where do you think homosapiens may be going? Yeah. Well,
I suppose it is true that in a medically advanced society like this one, the cutting edge of natural selection has been planted and so we’re no longer being selected for being swift of limb. kena by and good at hunting and things like that. It’s not true that everybody has this has equal number of children. I mean, what what what what is true is that it’s become rather difficult to die young. It’s rather difficult to die before you reach reproductive age. And so the historical reasons why we became good at what we do, which is things like running and jumping and thinking, have have probably been blunted. Some people today have large families and some people don’t and if you if you were to divide people up into those with with large families and those with no children at all, and then ask yourself, look at their genes and say, is there any statistical difference between this group of people have lots of children and that group of people who have none, if there is any statistical non randomness in the genetic composition of these two groups, then by definition, we have not selection. Exactly how that natural selection is working is obviously gonna be very complicated because the reason why people have large families maybe because they want large families because they’re incompetent at the use of contraceptives. Strictly speaking, we have natural selection in favor of incompetence, to the extent that people are born by mistake and many people of course. So, it would be a very, very complicated thing and in order to give rise to interesting evolutionary change subset, if you came back in 10,000 or 100,000 years you would see a systematic change, then the difference between those populations would have to be sustained consistently for 100,000 years, which is unlikely. In the case if you think of any of the reasons why in today’s society some people have big families and some people don’t The reason why we have big brains now, and Australopithecus 3 million years ago had a much smaller brain is that there must have been a sustained selection in favor of larger brains. And you’ve got to think to yourself, what would be a sustained selection pressure that would go on for the next million years? And who can say because the conditions under which we live the civilized conditions under which we live with medicine, and cars and planes and things, goodness knows what what that’s going to be like, in even 100 years, let alone 100,000 years. So I would never stick out my neck and predict the future of, of human evolution. If we realized the sort of dream of an office the clock and colonize other planets, then I suppose you might start to get speciation, I mean the divergence into into separate species.
Just the last question. So do you think that we could in fact end up like the horseshoe crab? And just stay pretty much the same for a long time?
Yes. I mean, I suppose we might have a good chance of that. I mean, given that we know that there are animals like the horseshoe crab, like lingala, which is which is an even older genus. It is possible that we would be a good candidate for that we also might be a good candidate for not going extinct. I mean, the great majority of species have gone extinct. 99% of them have gone extinct and, and if ever want to put money on a species not going extinct, I suppose it might be ours, because we might be able to, you know, next time a meteorite threatens to hit the Earth, unlike the dinosaurs, we sort of go into underground bunkers and things, taking seed banks with us, Stephen.
Okay. stuff on the last question for tonight.
Baby, beg to disagree. I don’t think that Three iron horse shoe grab candidates, so to speak, I think real budget to have much too much potential for change, so to speak. And my question really is closer related to yours, but it’s more kind of pasta dictate them predicting could you identify one particular factor that has
explanatory power why we among 260 species of privates have been so terribly successful? All the others on the red list?
we are unique in so many ways. I mean, we have we have language. And one of the consequences of language is we have very rapid cultural evolution, that which shows itself in in art and technology. And so, we have the really staggering fact That how many years of only about 60 years elapsed between the Wright brothers first flight, and Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon. That’s an astonishing rate of advance, which mimics biological advance. It isn’t biological causes. It’s the gene. The genome in this case is not DNA but engineers, plans. But it ecologically speaking, it’s it’s rather like evolution in that it enables us to conquer the world and possibly endanger the world, perhaps more than possibly. So, I think that it probably stems primarily from language, and then the things that go with language that have enabled us to initiate cultural evolution which mimics biological evolution but perhaps a million times faster.
Five more hours we could start discussing selectorized repairs, but I’m afraid we don’t
know. I’m afraid we don’t we actually have to finish now. And I just want to thank you all for coming. It’s been wonderful to have you here. I think there are some flowers coming in. And let me just say before you, give them all applaud, you can find both riches and Lunas book outside if you want. It’s been wonderful to have you all here. It’s a full house. May the Enlightenment stay with you. Thank you.