View Full Version : WONDERS OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM: Who Is Brian Cox?

2010-Dec-30, 12:04 PM
Brian Cox has drunk cheap wine, methylated spirits and aftershave, and he's been in some of what the sociologist Irving Goffman called total institutions: jails, lockups, and padded cells.1 Until he was 49 he was a self-confessed hopeless alcoholic. Now in 2010 he's a man with a mission. But this is not the Brian Cox I want to talk about here in this short prose-poem. Then there is the Brian Cox who is an Emmy award-winning actor. He first came to attention in the early 1970s with performances in numerous television films. His first big break was as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the film Manhunter. But, again, I don’t want to talk about that Brian Cox either, at least not in this short poetic piece.

The Brian Cox at the centre of this prose-poem is now 42 and is an OBE. He was interviewed in Australia by Andrew Denton in September 2008. In September 2010 Cox appeared on SBS TV. Cox is a particle physicist and a Royal Society University Research Fellow. He is a member of the High Energy Physics group and a professor at the University of Manchester. He also works at the Switzerland-based particle physics laboratory, the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest particle accelerator. This place in Switzerland is, coincidentally, the birthplace of the world-wide-web.

Cox is best known to the public in the UK as the presenter of a number of science programmes for the BBC. Only some of them have come to Australia thusfar. In March-April 2010 Cox presented a five part BBC television series entitled Wonders of the Solar System. It was a series that combined experiential adventuring with computer graphics to help explain our nearest neighbours in space. I’m sure there are now millions of viewers like myself who now love Brian Cox. He bridges the gap between our childish sense of wonder and a rather more professional grasp of the scale of things, a professional grasp that I will certainly never have.

Tom Sutcliffe of The Independent2 stated that “the BBC needed to find something for Brian Cox to do next not because they felt the public needed some lessons in cosmology. As a primer in cosmic dazzlement this program worked very well indeed, Sutcliffe noted with a wry literary smile. One day, Cox stated simply, in either an interview or in the special program about the sun--this star at the centre of our solar system will have consumed all its fuel. The terminal sunset will begin. Fortunately, Sutcliffe added, I’m sure with another literary smile, that event is five billion years away and this is probably enough to stir only a deep complacency in even the most fervent environmentalist.

The sun is 93 million miles away: that's a very long way indeed. It takes light eight minutes to travel that distance to Earth. There are 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe to say nothing about what we can’t, as yet, observe. If you take a coin and hold it 75 feet away, the space in the sky that this coin would obscure to your eye would hold 10,000 galaxies. Mindblowing! Incredible! I don't think anyone can grasp this concept, this notion of size in our universe.

Cox said in an interview in The Guardian in March 2010 that we don't even know the composition of 96% of the universe. This is just one of a myriad aspects of our fundamental and profound ignorance in astrophysics. Cox added that this situation, with respect to our lack of knowledge, is very much like the position we were in at the start of the 20th century when quantum mechanics and relativity were about to appear.--Ron Price with thanks to (1)Irving Goffman, “Characteristics of Total Institutions,” in Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates, Doubleday, NY, 1961; and (2)The Independent, 10 March 2010.

I had trouble with physics
in high school and only got
as far as matriculation; then
I dropped physics for history
so that I could go to university.
Without physics I could not do
medicine, law, engineering, or
any of the maths and sciences.

So it was into the arts for me and
there I stayed for the next 40 years!
Then, in my retirement, I began to
play at the edges of astrophysics
thanks to, by sensible and insensible
degrees, a series of media-events, like
this Cox chap who could make you feel
the wonder and awe of it all: 3 cheers
for Brian Cox!……Hip-hip-hurray!!!!!

Ron Price
30 December 2010

2010-Dec-31, 02:17 AM
Oh, that Brian Cox. The BBC could turn down the style and give us a bit more substance in terms of presentation (rostrum camera sequences are greatly missed, by me at least, when the current alternative is a bit of camera shake and random zooms on the good Professor) but he's got a hatful of catchy analogies to grab the imagination and a lot of passion for his subject.
Thanks, Mr Price, for the information.