Where is the Wonder?
We’ve all seen the story by now; scientists and researchers have given us a picture of a black hole. A real, actual, verified thing, not just an artist’s rendering or a screencap from a sci-fi movie. The picture for this article is not, in fact, that black hole picture, because it’s been all over the internet and I don’t want to just repost it again, so this is a NASA pic of another galaxy. Seriously, folks, it’s another galaxy!
Turns out, Einstein was right. Over 100 years ago, his theory of General Relativity predicted how the large scale forces of the universe worked. His formulas helped describe gravity, the various behaviors of light, and how we all can feel our own individual versions of each, separate from any other person out there.
His theory also predicted black holes (singularities), their event horizons, and how they’d all behave.
One Hundred years ago, people. With no computers, just math and equations that seemed to make sense based on the observations made about the universe around us. And he is apparently right, once again.
This should be seen as a monumental achievement, a crowning effort of humanity. Multiple telescopes from different countries across the world ran for years. A huge team put petabytes worth of data together to create an actual picture for us to marvel at. An MIT grad named Katie Baumann wrote the algorithm that allowed the computer to turn all that data into pictures for people to see and use as wallpaper on their phones and computers. Here’s a link to a neat article by Popular Mechanics on the process that isn’t filled with ads and subscription requests
People thought it was cool for a day, and now we’ve moved on, apparently.
Where is the wonder?
I often ask that of people. Our nine year old daughter told me she wants to be an astrophysicist when she grows up. She loves talking about space, stars, the universe. She wraps her brain around concepts like how a star forms, how it lives, and how it dies. She really wants to understand how the universe around us works. And as long as she’s interested, I will do anything I can to foster that wonder. Why to atoms stick together? Why do protons, neutrons, and electrons even join together to form atoms? Why do we cling to the planet and not go floating off into space? How does the sun heat the Earth? How fast does light travel? Why does light act like both a particle AND a wave?
How many people know the answer to any of these questions?
Now, let me ask you this? Who won the NCAA championship? Who’s the fan favorite of American Idol this season? Which Kardashian is getting married/divorced this week?
See where I’m going here?
There are people out there trying to figure out how the universe works. Maybe to most, it’s not that important since we can’t really do anything about it. It’s basically explained by the Anthropic Principle. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I’m pretty sure it was Steven Hawking who stated it as, “We’re here because we’re here.” Short version is, we are able to observe the universe and so the observations we make are based on us existing to make those observations. For example, if the strong and weak nuclear forces didn’t hold atoms together the way they do, we wouldn’t exist, at least in the way we know it. Therefore, the universe ‘works’. Click this link to see a better explanation put together by smart people with degrees in sciency stuff.
These people are trying to explain how it all goes together, and I really think they deserve more credit. People like Ms. Baumann and the astrophysicists should be on the morning and late night talk shows, telling us why it’s important to humanity that we make these discoveries. I think back to a series of Youtube videos I saw by physicist Brian Cox. If you haven’t heard of him, think of him as the British Neil deGrasse Tyson, both of whom are successors to the likes of people such as Carl Sagan and Steven Hawking; people that made science accessible to everyone and inspired us to learn.
Anyway, in the videos, Brian Cox walks on stage to enthusiastic applause. People are treating him like a rock star as he explains light wave theory and talks about concepts like relative time and other advanced ideas. He even has a lecture tour going right now in the USA and I am hoping to arrange my schedule to attend.
This, to me, seems like what our perceptions should be about folks like Brian Cox. People are cheering and waving him onstage so he can tell them how things work. We should be celebrating people like that. Instead, we glorify celebrity gossip, annoying and offended people who talk really loud, stars who set all kinds of horrible examples, and more. Really, you could keep going, couldn’t you? Just fill in the blanks for a few more examples of people we shouldn’t be looking up to but actually do.
Anyway, what I hope comes of this is a shift in our priorities and attention. More focus on people who are doing good for humanity, less attention on annoying people who seem to be famous for being famous.
It is good to hear from you again and on such a subject, indeed where is the wonder. When I read your blog this time, a recommendation immediately popped into my head and I debated due to self-interest whether to share it, and decided to anyway. Based on a review I read of one book over at Amazon, you may want to take a look at NFinity by Jiro Watari to see if your daughter might like it.
Thanks for the recommendation; I’ll definitely check it out!