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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Still Undaunted

I have seen programs on the universe.  The numbers are a little mind numbing.  For one, the sun—merely a dwarf star—is about 865,000 miles across.  About 1,000,000 earths would fit inside the sun.  It is calculable that the sun will run out of fuel in about 5 billion years.  I simply don’t know how to react to these facts other than to say that I don’t feel in any way diminished by them.  I feel no less significant because of these figures.  To me this is similar to noting that there are approximately 7 billion people on earth today.  Why isn’t this figure daunting and a source of feelings of insignificance?  Yet, I go about my life as happy as a frisky brown dog with his tail wagging over his back.  There are several levels of awareness.  The most critical level is the sense of self and direct relationships, perceptions, and physical motivations.  Next come abstract perceptions dealing with awareness of human society such as city, state, and country.  Addition abstractions deal with concepts such as ideologies, religions, and political theory. Direct experience and abstractions both can command loyalty to the point of death.  But few people would die over a dispute about the size of the sun unless it was couched in terms of defending the abstraction of truth.  The health of the sun is not irrelevant to me; it’s just that the behavior of the sun is completely outside my influence or control.  Shall I vote to extend the life of the sun another 5 billion years?  That would be a silly exercise.  Humans will seek to know and understand the universe for it is in their nature to do so.  Usually knowing and understanding is precedent to some sort of control.  In the case of astronomy, for the time being at least, significant control is a distant dream on the order of faith.  For the time being at least, we must settle for the delight of understanding. Yet that delight is a powerful motivator as we experience the thrill of discovery.  There can even be something liberating about studying the nature of that which is beyond our control, about that to which we have to humbly adapt. 

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