IN THE BEGINNING
BBC Focus - Science & Technology|November 2021
Brian Cox’s new show, Universe, is a scientific creation story. He tells Sara Rigby why the series doesn’t shy away from the unknown, why he sees the stars as gods, and why he wants to launch Boris Johnson into space.

WHAT CAN VIEWERS EXPECT FROM YOUR NEW SHOW?

At one level this is a cosmology series. Cosmology forces us to approach the deepest questions because it’s ultimately about the origin of the Universe and its fate. Within it, questions are raised about the nature of life in the Universe. How common is life? How did it begin? We’re essentially talking about creation stories – so this series is the scientific creation story.

I say right at the beginning that the value of astronomy and cosmology is not so much about the things we discover. It’s the fact that it challenges us. So we are forced to accept that we’re not the centre of the Universe, that we are a tiny speck in a vast and possibly infinite Universe that may be eternal into the future, possibly even in the past. We don’t know. I think the value in such a series is really to say, “This is the arena in which we exist. This is the story of how we came to be here, as told by science,” by which I mean the best [explanation] we can do, given our available knowledge.

This series, more than any other that I’ve done, goes right to the edge of knowledge, in particular, the film about black holes. We’re talking about discoveries made in 2020, really fundamental breakthroughs about the nature of space and time and what they are and whether they emerge from a deeper theory.

I think the most valuable thing about science is that it forces us to, first of all, recognise what reliable knowledge is. And secondly, it forces us to understand where the horizon is, where the edge of knowledge lies. And it rests on the fact that we’re prepared to peer over the horizon into the darkness without fear. We don’t shy away from it. We say, well, this is exciting. There’s stuff we don’t know. The stuff we don’t know now is fairly profound and fundamental. And that’s ultimately what the series is about.

IN THE FIRST EPISODE, YOU TALK ABOUT STARS AND HOW THEY BRING MEANING TO THE UNIVERSE. COULD YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT THAT?

I’ve made loads of films about stars. Lots of people have made films about stars. And so we thought, what does the story of the stars really tell us? There was a time before stars, and though we don’t know where it was or what it was like, there was a first star… and there will be a last star. We know this because the Universe is accelerating in its expansion and the age of stars is finite. New stars are not made at the same rate, old stars die, and so there’ll be a last star. And so we thought, that’s an interesting story. We’ll tell the story of the stars from the first star to the last star.

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