|Martin J. Rees Awarded 2011 Templeton Prize|
|Living - The Dialogue|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Friday, 08 April 2011 08:00|
London, UK, USA. Martin J. Rees, 68, a theoretical astrophysicist whose profound insights on the cosmos have provoked vital questions that speak to humanity’s highest hopes and worst fears, has won the Templeton Prize for 2011.
The non-sectarian Prize is awarded to honor a living person for exceptional contributions to affirming the spiritual dimension of life, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.
The 2011 Templeton Prize was awarded to recognize the “big questions” raised by Rees, such “How large is physical reality?”. Questions like that raise important philosophical and theological questions that many feel brush against the core of life, fostering spiritual quest and, perhaps, progress.
Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future In This Century — On Earth and Beyond. (UK title: Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-first Century?). Martin J. Rees. Basic Books (March 18, 2003). ISBN-10: 0465068626; ISBN-13: 978-0465068623
One of Rees' well-known books, Our Final Hour starts with a dark premise: both the Earth and human survival are in extreme danger from the potential effects of modern technology.
In fact, Rees argues the 21st century may be the moment in history when a decision is coming: whether humans will survive.
Based on the posibility destructive technology will be release, Rees analyzes the risks faced by humanity and estimates the probability of our extinction before 2100 CE at approximately per cent.
For Rees, it doesn't matter whether the release is accidental or malign: the end of humanity is a serious existential possibility. He can only see one of two outcomes:
• Humans will become extinct from the effects of one or more causes: terrorist or fundamentalist violence, scientific research, out of control techology, or destruction of the biosphere.
• Humans will escape these threats by expanding throughout space, thereby dispersing humanity (with new and unforeseen risks to ultimate survival).
Rees advocates close control of scientific research and restrictions on open access to such research.
As an advocate of the free market solution, Rees believes the wealthy will push back the frontiers of space, increasing the possibilities of escape from a dying earth — at least for some.Rees is a Master of Trinity College, one of top academic posts at Cambridge University, and former president of the Royal Society, the highest leadership position within British science. He has spent decades investigating the implications of the big bang, the nature of black holes, events during the so-called dark age of the early universe, and the mysterious explosions from galaxy centers known as gamma ray bursters.
Martin Rees was born in 1942 in York, England. After a peripatetic life during the war his parents, both teachers, settled with Rees, an only child, in a rural part of Shropshire near the border with Wales. There, his parents founded Bedstone College, a boarding school based on progressive educational concepts that continues to thrive to this day.
At 13, he moved to the nearby Shrewsbury School and earned a solid educational background to gain entry to Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1963, he received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Cambridge University, but felt little enthusiasm for the discipline.
His interests found a new outlet, however, after he secured a research studentship at the university’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics, thanks in large part to the charisma and inspiration of his advisor, Dennis Sciama, a brilliant scientist whose other students included Templeton Prize laureates George Ellis and John Barrow, as well as Stephen Hawking, James Binney and Brandon Carter.
Rees’s post-graduate work in astrophysics in the mid-1960s coincided with an explosion of new discoveries, with breakthroughs ranging from confirmation of the big bang, the discovery of neutron stars and black holes, and a host of other revelations. Within this auspicious setting, Rees quickly established himself as one of the bright young luminaries in a bright, young field.
Rees obtained his Ph.D. in theoretical astronomy in 1967. After short-term posts in the U.S. and a period at Sussex University, he returned to Cambridge in 1973 on appointment as Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge.
In the decades since, Martin Rees has become one of the world’s foremost astrophysicists, authoring and co-authoring more than 500 research papers and several books, with lectures and broadcast appearances worldwide. Rees has worked with many colleagues to enlarge the boundaries of understanding about physical processes that define the cosmos, including speculations on the concept of infinite universes (the multiverse).
Rees was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1979, and as the society’s president from 2005 to 2010 provided wide advice on policy questions to the UK government and interaction with scientific academies worldwide. In 1995 he was named Astronomer Royal, established by Charles II in 1675 but now a largely honorary post. He is a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) and the American Philosophical Society. He has received numerous academic awards, and served as a visiting professor or adviser at many institutions around the world.
In 2005, Rees was appointed to the House of Lords as a non-party-political peer, sitting on the Cross Benches as Lord Rees of Ludlow, after his hometown in Shropshire. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992 and in 2007 was appointed to the Order of Merit, an honor in the gift of the Queen and limited to 24 members.
Martin Rees lives in Cambridge with his wife, Caroline Humphrey, a professor of social anthropology and founder of the Mongolia and Inner Asian Studies Unit at Cambridge.
Rees has made a point of balancing his scientific investigations with raising public awareness of the impact of human activity on planet Earth. The 21st century is the first, says Rees, when just one species — humans — can determine the future of the entire biosphere.
“Some people might surmise that intellectual immersion in vast expanses of space and time would render cosmologists serene and uncaring about what happens next year, next week, or tomorrow,” said Rees, 68, in a statement he released upon hearing of the honor. “But, for me, the opposite is the case. My concerns are deepened by the realization that, even in a perspective extending billions of years into the future, as well as into the past, this century may be a defining moment.”
Despite his continuing focus on astrophysics, Rees developed an involvement with issues bearing on international science and public policy. In one particularly influential book, Our Final Century? (published in the United States as Our Final Hour), Rees argues that civilization has no more than a fifty-fifty chance of surviving until 2100 without suffering a severe setback.
Although he is optimistic about the prospects opened up by science and technology, Rees emphasizes the challenges to governance that are posed by the collective pressures humans are imposing on the environment, and by the vulnerability of our interconnected world to disruption.
In his recommendation of Rees for the Templeton Prize, Robert Williams, president of the International Astronomical Union noted, “I have found Martin’s books and lectures, of which I have read and heard numerous, extremely thought provoking.” Williams added, “He is very unusual in that he constantly touches on spiritual themes without dealing explicitly with religion. I do not know whether he is a theist, for example.”
In fact, Rees has no religious beliefs, but considers himself a product of Christian culture and ethics, explaining, “I grew up in the traditions of the Anglican Church and those are the customs of my tribe. I’m privileged to be embedded in its wonderful aesthetic and musical traditions and I want to do all I can to preserve and strengthen them.”
The Templeton PrizeThe late Sir John Templeton established the Templeton Prize in 1972 to identify “entrepreneurs of the spirit who have devoted their talents to expanding our vision of human purpose and ultimate reality". The Prize for 2011 was announced at The Royal Institution of Great Britain in London. HRH Prince Philip will award the Prize on June 1 at Buckingham Palace.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 07 April 2011 20:20|