Cosmology, astrophysics, fundamental particle physics … and fishing


When I went ‘Into the wild’ in Dumfriesshire last week I was delighted in my remote campsite to receive an email. I don’t mean I just received one email and was delighted to find confirmation I’d picked up enough 4G to get online (although to be honest, there was a bit of that), I mean one out of many emails I received was especially precious.

It was from the Stephen Hawking Foundation, of which I am a Friend, and ran:

Dear Friend,

We are honoured to welcome you as a Friend of the Stephen Hawking Foundation and it is our great privilege to bring you several items of news, not least that on the four-month anniversary of the interment service, Professor Hawking’s final book will be released …Our mission is to educate, inform and promote understanding of Cosmology, Astrophysics and Fundamental Particle Physics both at school and university level. We hope you will enjoy being a Friend of the Foundation. We are glad that you have chosen to join us on this journey.

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Still from an involuntary video I took of the salmon I eventually caught on Day four of my trip, as I tried to set it up for a quick picture before release. Note the (barbless double tube-fly) hook just visible in the mouth before I removed it shortly afterwards

The reason I was so pleased to get this email is that it spoke to me in my solitary, some would say slightly barmy, efforts to catch an improbable salmon on a storm-lashed Scottish river in Scotland. It spoke to me about philosophy, time, and focusing on what really matters, and how using that time best and doing what you enjoy for your own understanding of our place on this earth is valid. It can help you find the answer to everything – or at least to knock on that door – and to hopefully share that with others.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 16.45.01Prof Hawking himself was famous for his saying: “Where there is life, there is hope”, but he also said these words which so resonate with me (taken from his interment website):

“I am very aware of the preciousness of time. Seize the moment. Act now. I have spent my life travelling across the universe inside my mind. Through theoretical physics I have sought to answer some of the great questions but there are other challenges, other big questions which must be answered, and these will also need a new generation who are interested, engaged and with an understanding of science.

How will we feed an ever-growing population, provide clean water, generate renewable energy, prevent and cure disease and slow down global climate change? I hope that science and technology will provide the answers to these questions, but it will take people, human beings with knowledge and understanding to implement the solution. One of the great revelations of the space age has been a perspective that has given humanity on ourselves.

98128D6E-4765-4912-B2C1-ECBF64DB771BWhen we see the earth from space we see ourselves as a whole; we see the unity and not the divisions. It is such a simple image, with a compelling message: one planet, one human race.

We are here together, and we need to live together with tolerance and respect.
We must become global citizens.

I have been enormously privileged through my work to be able to contribute to our understanding of the universe. But it would be an empty universe indeed, if it were not for the people I love and who love me. We are all time travellers journeying together into the future. But let us work together to make that future a place we want to visit. Be brave, be determined, overcome the odds.

It can be done. It can be done.

Brave words from a brave heart. And true and some great philosophy on show here, you see. After all it is well documented that philosophy and mathematics and certainly quantum physics go together.

Seize the moment. Act now. The preciousness of time. Grapple with the great questions. Luck, the spiritual and magic, a link to wild nature and God. Different spheres and dimensions coalesce when a salmon takes your fly. Well, that’s how I see it.

I was privileged to meet on my London commuting train around the time I was reading Hawking’s, A Brief History of Time, Professor Martha Harrell, a philosopher particle physicist and mathematician who knew Stephen Hawking during her time at Wolfson College, Cambridge, and we had some really interesting email conversations.

Some people scoff at scientists being philosophers, said Martha, and I’ve heard the same. But I do not.

Theoretical physics, a unified theory of everything, Einstein’s theory of relativity? Space, time and black holes? Philosophy? What does it all have to do with fishing?

More than you might think.

There is quite a lot in my book, to be published in February. Yes it is about catching salmon, but it is also about a philosophical mindset that I believe is integral to success out on the wild salmon rivers of the north.

It’s holistic stuff, and it works.

Meanwhile I look forward to reading Stephen’s last book.


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