The Brian Cox & Robin Ince Sort of Chat Show Episode 1
The Brian Cox and Robin Ince Chat Show starts here…
Robin – So what do you think is the best complaint that we’ve had on Infinite Monkey Cage?
Brian – Well, I’ll tell you the best email that I’ve had.
R – OK.
B – I got a worried email today, actually, so recently, there’s a story apparently in the Daily Mail – and I don’t know how it got in the Daily Mail – that the Higgs field might go through a phase transition and re-collapse the universe because it would essentially generate more mass. And these things have happened before, there’s a time called inflation in the early universe where we think the universe underwent an exponential expansion in a very short space of time: 10 to the minus 36, 10 to the minus 32 seconds after the Big Bang, decayed away and the energy that it dumped into the universe became the matter particles, so this stuff came from the decay of that field. So we know that those things can happen .
But, um, so I got an email and this was reported bizarrely in the Daily Mail; they’d picked up on this idea that the Higgs field may roll over into a different kind of state and the universe may re-collapse and the email said, is this likely to happen, and if so when – the Daily Mail said perhaps, I don’t know what it was, a hundred trillion years, but the final line…
R – So someone said, it could be today?
B – …the final line after all this stuff about the Higgs field and phase transition, the final line was, or is this just tabloids trying to scare us? And I love the idea that tabloids may scare us by actually speaking about real physics, about phase transitions…is it just tabloid hype? It’s like, well, you’re talking about a phase transition in the Higgs field which may happen in the next 10 trillion years as a tabloid hype.
R – So that’s the thing then, I suppose, you know, “the end of the world is nigh”, which was a very popular kind of thing at the very least to see in cartoons. Now three billion years time, you were telling me, is not going to be good necessarily for the planet Earth.
B – No, the Andromeda Galaxy’s going to hit us and that I think could be problematic, although galaxies, although they look very dense, a lot of stars in them, they’re actually quite diffuse. So whether or not that’s…you get close enough to something to rip the solar system to bits or something is debatable but, um, it wouldn’t be great, being hit by a trillion stars quite fast.
R – Then again, I’m looking at this as being possibly unlikely, thinking of the history of the evolution of living things, the human being and indeed civilisation as we know it, it might have gone as a kind of Kurt Vonnegut Galapagos stage.
B – It’s true that we don’t really need to worry about three billion years.
R – No, at what point do you think we should really start worrying?
B – Erm…
R – What’s the next thing? I mean we’ve…we’re due for …
B – Well, the next series of Monkey Cage.
R – Yep, that’s, that’s…
B – That usually is relatively apocalyptic.
R – Yep.
B – And you know, the Radio 4 complaints desk.
R – We haven’t got as many, I don’t think we’ve been putting the effort in.
B – Nah, I think so …
R – You know, the one where we ended up saying something about badgers and nuclear fuel and we still only got about 20 complaints.
B – I think everyone has been insulted, everyone who it’s possible to insult we’ve insulted.
R- Yeah but they don’t leave…you don’t realise that a lot of those people who write letters of complaint, if they accidentally turn onto something that gives them joy, they have to turn it off cause they see that as a pointless emotion, all they want to do is constantly pick up their ancient perhaps formed out of, you know, Bakelite radio, which they hurl with some force across Buckinghamshire and then pick it up again and they’re very angry about something that’s happened in The Archers about someone who wore an inauthentic agrarian hat they heard about, you know. We heard that Joe Grundy or Bill Grundy or whatever – not Bill Grundy, is it?
B – Bill Grundy! Didn’t he have trouble with the Sex Pistols?
R – That’s it, yes, yes, go on swearing, nothing, a rude word. Yes, so I think that’s the trouble with…
B – You said that like Robert Robinson .
R – No, that’s nothing, a rude word. Of course that’s the, ah…yeah so there was that and then there’s…we’re due for, I mean there’s a lot of things that the planet Earth is due for, isn’t there, in terms of meteor strikes; it’s been a while since a really major one, hasn’t it?
B – Yeah, I mean, on average it’s thought that a large civilization-threatening strike should happen every 70 million years or so, on average. It’s true that one happened 70 million years ago but that doesn’t mean its going to happen tomorrow – statistics don’t work like that – but …
R – Well that’s the thing is, yeah, it’s not an exact anniversary: oh my god, I can’t believe it’s exactly 70 million years ago.
B – But that was the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, so that happened. Super volcanoes, those are the…you know, you tend to see those on Channel 5, but actually they’re real. There’s one under Yellowstone National Park that could explode. Apparently the evidence is that one exploded in Indonesia and I can’t remember when it was, several hundreds of thousands of years ago and perhaps more than that, and the human race was reduced to only a few thousand individuals, potentially as a result of that eruption. So, yeah, these things happen, enjoy it while you can, that’s my advice.
R – Every way you look at it, current thinking does suggest that life individually may well be finite, despite the recycle of the atoms, it’s very unlikely that something will recycle itself.
B – Oh no, life individually is finite, there are no – oh, hang on, there might be…
R – Well, no, I mean that’s not…
B – …an emorph animal, maybe there is an emorph animal…
R – You know, we don’t know, do we, we’ve got to be reasonable, we can’t say there’s definitely no life after death?
B – Yes, we can.
R – How can we say there’s definitely not? That’s a very unscientific thing to say. I mean I might think its highly unlikely…
B – Thermodynamics.
To be continued next month….