“We, all of us, bound by this common origin, composed of elements forged in the nuclear cauldrons of long-dead stars, look up at the stars and, in humility, connect with each other, fellow travelers on this magnificent blue oasis”
The only reason we have progressed as far as we have is because we have built on the discoveries and contributions of those who came before us. As Newton said so well “If I have seen further, I have done so by standing upon ye shoulders of giants.” One would expect as a natural progression, we would use discoveries of the past as a foundation, as Newton suggests. This is no longer accepted as the norm. Long accepted and, in most cases, proven principles of science are now being challenged based on the emergence of a new pseudoscience, a new intellectual darkness that relishes ignorance instead of truth and the light of reason. When confronted, the challenger is met with scorn and ridicule when the logical, long-settled explanation is presented. Many invincibly ignorant individuals fall prey to this phenomenon and go on to accept the explanation, in many cases, that the earth is flat when such basic questions concerning the earth’s physical geometry are being considered.
We cannot look to the past for answers or solutions but we must learn from history. As a race and as a species we will not survive the next 100 years if we continue on the path we’re on, let alone until the turn of the next millennium. We will not make it to Mars and will go the way many suspect any civilization goes whose technical progress outpaces their moral growth. The famous physicist Enrico Fermi, famous for his “Fermi’s Paradox”, openly wondered why, given the age of the Milky Way, since the galaxy may be teeming with habitable planets, why we see no real evidence of an advanced galactic society. Where are they? If we continue on the path we’re on, we may have our answer sooner, rather than later.
A new dark age is quickly emerging, a new intellectual and moral dark age, to wit, the growing number of groups, growing in breadth and scope, who believe the earth is flat. They go about their lives, reaping the fruits of 2,500 years of scientific progress in complete denial of reality, of the very scientific achievements of the past 2.5 millennia since the Greeks, the achievements that are the basis for the quality of life many of them today so richly enjoy. There is no convincing them that their belief system stands juxtaposed to the real world; I have tried; in earnest, I have tried. Much of their zeal derives from the corruption of the world as it is; many of them are “truthers”, many are religious zealots who believe the bible to be literally true. It is a religious crusade for many of them; this religious aspect of their belief system gives them a false sense of comfort when confronted by nature in her stark, terrible beauty; they are in a self-induced state of denial. They are terrified of their own mortality and by denying reality they, perhaps, deny that mortality. For some, they are completely bereft of an education of any kind, more strikingly so, in the STEM fields and History. In much of what I have written, I have held high the benefits of a good, well rounded education with an emphasis on the STEM fields. In the Flat Earth movement, and yes it is now of the scale and scope where it can be regarded as a movement, the acute lack of STEM education or training of any kind is woefully apparent. Indeed the stark reality of our place in the Cosmos is brought into sharp focus and is best expressed by the great physicist Steven Weinberg in his “The First Three Minutes” when discussing our futile, pitiful attempts at harnessing nature and to understand her.
“The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.”
Another memorable quote by Weinberg:
“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion”
Sectarian violence abounds in today’s world and will be the downfall of civilization as we know it if not checked. Religious extremism comes in many forms; one only has to look at the daily headlines to learn of the bombings and atrocities committed in the name of religion. In many instances, the outcome is obvious with much violence and loss of life while, in other cases, its more subtle but, nonetheless, almost as damaging. In an earlier piece, I discussed the troubling case of The Thirty Meter Telescope to be erected atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. The TMT project is an international collaboration with construction to have begun in May of last year (2015). The nativist population of the region was successful in halting the project to the point now, where its future is uncertain, at least for Mauna Kea and Hawaii. Their objection is religious in nature, rooted in a creation myth that centers around the belief that the big mountain is the source and giver of life and should be worshiped as a god. Their claim is that construction of the new observatory on the mountain (in the company of many others!) is an affront and insult to the god of the mountain! We are confronted with a situation where the Hawaiian State Supreme Court must now decide the short-term fate of the project, at least in Hawaii. At what point is “religious tolerance” deemed to have gone to far? Perhaps to characterize the nativists as “hordes”, as some have done, is a bit extreme but many of them are not educated. While most reasonable people would agree religious extremism is an aberration, at its core is the message, if you don’t believe in my god (or my religion), I will kill you. The long solution for this problem is inspiration and education. Religion, in many cases, is replacing a deep emptiness or is a “god of the gaps”, where “god” is used to explain what science can’t explain at the moment. Nature abhors a vacuum and without authentic instruction on the true nature of the world, a belief in a deity will quickly take root and, in some cases, metastasize into a full-blown cancer; one simply has to look at the situation in the Middle East. A true teacher inspires first and teaches second. What the world needs now, more than anymore weapons or arms, are dedicated teachers. Without inspiration, many people quickly loose hope and without teachers, there will be no one left to inspire the next generation.
We are not such an enlightened society as many many may believe. Honor, honesty, integrity, charity, mercy and kindness have died; those individuals who own those character traits, who live them by word and deed, are a dying breed. That the American electorate is supporting Donald Trump in the numbers they are speaks to this. It doesn’t so much speak to his character faults and they are many, it speaks to the collective character of America as a nation. I was raised to believe that the President of the United States represented the best this country had to offer; that ideal died, I believe, with the last great President this country had, JFK.
As a nation, the United States, while supporting an elaborate Ponzi scheme that passes for a monetary system, continues to stockpile debt that will have to be repaid by future generations, spends untold billions on weapons of destruction but is quickly becoming a third world nation in terms of education, specifically education in the STEM fields. Most students entering college as freshman, at least in the United States, are not remotely prepared for the rigors of college. They lack basic reasoning and critical thinking skills; their ability to speak, write, comprehend and express a coherent thought is simply not there. Many of them read, write and speak at a 4th or 5th grade level with basic mathematics skills simply non existent or, if present, at a 2nd or 3rd grade level, yet untold millions are spent on education with rapidly diminishing results. Many of these individuals, many who support a Flat Earth world view, pontificate at how absurd the simple, long-settled science is, yet when pressed to offer an alternative explanation, they have none since they have never mastered basic science and mathematics. This is the electorate that will choose the future leaders of this nation and the world, indeed they themselves will be the future leaders. I have just concluded the Spring semester teaching Physics. Even after numerous and generous considerations, the failure rate was 50% for Physics-101.
Climate Change remains one of the greatest existential threats to life on this planet that humanity has ever faced. While many notable personalities lend their credibility and reach in advocating for progressive, meaningful solutions to Climate Change, many politicians, law makers and national leaders selfishly play fast and loose with the long term survival of man as the dominant life form on this planet. In the face of ever increasing severe manifestations of a warming climate, lawmakers, particularly in this country, continue in their intransigence, remaining obedient errand boys to powerful special interests that include the Koch Foundation, Big Oil and Big Coal. Many useful idiots, while declaring themselves productive scientists, positing the alternative view that yes, the climate is warming but its not really caused by humanity’s burning of fossil fuels, are actually impeding implementation of measures to control carbon emissions and thus, slow down the continued warming. In the face of record warm temperatures for April (April 2016 Was 12th Consecutive Warmest Month on Record, NOAA Says), Anthony Watts posted this piece yesterday on his Climate Skeptics Blog, “Watts Up With That“, declaring that “The Planet is Cooling As El Nino Disappears”. Au contraire, Anthony, the planet is rapidly heating up; in fact its heating up faster than predicted (we broke 400 ppm atmospheric CO2 last year). A sampling of yesterday’s climate headlines:
- Mercury rising: India records its highest temperature ever recorded! And, the same story reported by the BBC
- Record highs reported yesterday by the US National Weather Service:
- RECORD HIGH MINIMUM TEMPERATURE SET AT FRESNO, CA ON JUNE 1ST
- A RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURE OF 87 DEGREES WAS REACHED AT WHEELING, PA YESTERDAY. THIS TIES THE OLD RECORD OF 87 SET IN 1951
- A RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURE OF 91 DEGREES WAS SET AT NEW PHILADELPHIA OH YESTERDAY. THIS BREAKS THE OLD RECORD OF 90 SET IN 1977!
- Fierce floods in France and Germany cause mass evacuations. According to this article, French President Francois Hollande attributes the heavy rain and floods to global warming.
The sun is approaching its minimum at this point in its 11-year cycle yet the planet continues to heat up; it’s not the sun! Outside its 11-year cycle, the sun is superstable, exhibiting minor variability compared to other stars of similar class. In fact, the 11-year variability causes a mere 0.07% change in solar irradiance, a value too small to measure any appreciable change in the climate. The increase or decrease in solar irradiance over the year as the sun moves in its orbit, at perihelion (the closest point in its orbit) during January (the coolest part of the year in the Northern Hemisphere) and aphelion (its most distant point) during July (the warmest part of the year) have a greater effect on temperature changes than the solar cycle. The vanishingly small changes in solar-irradiance induced temperature change brought about by the solar cycle are eclipsed by the small change brought about by the annual change in solar irradiance by the slightly-changing distance to the sun during the year. The solar cycle has been held up by climate skeptics to obfuscate the discussion and mask the real culprit, AGW, Anthropogenic Global Warming!
Government corruption, corporate collusion and malfeasance today are at an all time high and know no bounds and the cavalry isn’t coming. There will be no justice for the tens of thousands who have perished, who have lost everything, who have lost their homes, their families, everything. What we have today are the very few, the megawealthy, determining the fate of millions and many governments, this one included, not only allow it but collude with the new Plutocrats.
I am filled with a deep sorrow for this world; we don’t deserve this planet that has been gifted to us by a nature we should be standing in awe of. Instead we rape and defile her, leaving our trail of ruin for the young generation of today and their progeny of tomorrow to rebuild what we have destroyed. Shame on us!
But yet there is hope and in that hope, I redouble my efforts as an educator to make sure we will survive, that there will be a dawn after the deep night. In that hope, I remember the words of the great Carl Sagan in The Pale Blue Dot and am also reminded of the words of the great English poet, Sarah Williams in The Old Astronomer to His Pupil
“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.“
Imagination is more important than knowledge
An index of all articles in this blog can be found here.