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Restarting Civilisation Episode 5


Richard Feynman once said: ‘If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms-little particles that that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.’

So, we asked the people featured in this app what scientific idea they would like in their back pocket in the event we had to restart civilisation.

The most exciting part of any mystery is getting to the starting point in the first place.

Well, it’s a good question.  For me, um, I think the one thing that really characterises the universe is the fact that it’s expanding.  If you had one number that you had to know about the universe, it’s the rate of expansion.  Because from that, you can not only determine the age of the universe but ultimately you can determine many of the general properties of the universe and work backwards and again it leads you to the kind of questions that are going to produce knowledge.

For me, the one characterisation of the universe that probably describes it is not an atomic scale quantity, um, necessarily – I mean Feynman picked the atomic scale quantity so I don’t want to reproduce that – so if I had to pick another one it’d be the expansion rate of the universe because from that it tells you, roughly, the age of the universe and the density of the universe and it gives you the general parameters of the universe in which we live and often, as I say, often, the most exciting part of any mystery is getting to the starting point in the first place.  And that gets you to the starting point.