"Among scientists, Galileo or Darwin would be good company— Newton absolutely not"by Prospect Team / September 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
What is the first news event you can recall?
It was the 1951 Festival of Britain on the South Bank, especially the “Dome of Discovery”—fascinating to a technically-inclined child. It’s shameful that the millennium celebrations were such a come-down from this inspiring achievement of the hard-pressed Attlee government.
Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with?
Among scientists, Galileo or Darwin would be good company— Newton absolutely not. But I’d actually choose an explorer: Captain Cook. No future explorers will experience the isolation of these great pioneers—nor have so little foreknowledge of the wonders or terrors they might encounter. Even voyagers into deep space will be in communication with Earth, and robotic probes will have preceded them.
What is the book you are most embarrassed you have never read?
Scientists now report their findings in barely readable technical papers, rather than books: that’s what they call “the literature.” But I’m embarrassed not to have read—or even just turn the pages of—the seminal books of pre-20th century science some of which really were “literature.” Two in particular are Darwin’s The Origin of Species and the Memoirs of William Smith, the pioneering geologist.
What is your favourite quotation?
Einstein said: “The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible.” It’s obviously a favourite for those in my line of work, and gives us…