Experimental Human Beings

Watching Richard Feynman and viewing lectures I have never seen before I enjoy the way he talks about science. To me, as with everything else human beings do, there are two sides to everything. There is the thing itself – the physics of the universe, how we think things works and the whole idea of the tools and theories propounded and excluded or accepted. Then there is the fact that all these sciences are creations of human beings and have a psychology about them even if that psychology is not at once discernible.

What makes physics work is the same thing that makes human beings work in the world – the idea and results of continuous experiments. Many of these experiments we have divided into different classes of the sciences but we have also divided them up into different classes of politics and art. Human beings experiment, we try, we test, we try something else, we copy and we create something slightly new but we always build experiment upon experiment.

So whilst we know that these experiments are opening up the universe to us, creating our societies, enlivening our civilizations we should also know full well that each and every experiment tells us something more about ourselves. Not simply because as Carl Sagan so famously said, we are the stuff of stars, but because as Feynman says, we are the way the universe can understand itself.

 

The Stars And Me

It was one of the immense ideas of science and the phrase of Carl Sagan’s that rang down the TV and will ring down the centuries, that we are made of star dust. The stars are a vast resource of knowledge and wonder to our wonder-seduced brains. I was never one to have learned all the constellations or even to know all the names of all the galaxies, I was an adult before I even bought a pair of binoculars to look at the moon. Because of that perhaps I have more than admiration for Galileo and those men and women who watched, looked, counted and charted.

But I do think about the stars, not so much in Star Trek terms, but certainly as destinations. I don’t know what engines we will create to visit or what we will take with us, but out there is the future of the human race as we  know this earth will crash into the sun one day. Who knows they may have a digital copy of my weblog with them.

And I don’t worry about what we may or may not meet out there, and what it will say to us because exploration isn’t like that. You climb a mountain because it is there and we will go into the stars because we must.

We are one and the same after all.

The Extraordinary Tale of Underwater Flying

The sea reflects the colours of the sky, letting the shadows of clouds ripple over its surface. The adult reflects their childhood in many of the ways in which they, think act and speak. Our society itself reflects how we have evolved and how we use patterns and systems to create around us what we call ‘civilisation’. The microscopic world, showing us that the atom is largely empty space in which particles revolve, reflecting the macro-world of the Universe itself.

One of the most illuminating and wonderful TV moments I ever experienced was listening the Carl Sagan describe how a two-dimensional being would ‘see’ our three dimensional world. He showed a three dimensional object and described it passing-by our two dimensional being and how they would see sections, like shadows, of the object as it passed them. But how their physical make-up prevented them from ever seeing the whole three dimensional object. Then he said, ‘I cannot show you what a four dimensional object looks like in our three dimensional world, but I can show you its shadow.’

We are awash with things hidden deep within us; that psychology and genetics barely dream about, that reflect things and times we have never known but part of us cannot forget. These things connect us to the history of everything.

And whether their shadows make us feel cold or warm, they have a profound effect upon us every second of every day.

How Fire Made Water

Sometimes we can understand something better if we look at its opposite, or simply look at it in contrast to something else of a similar or dissimilar nature. After all our understanding of what a lie is, is based heavily on our understanding of what truth it.

Many years ago when I worked for a woodland charity one of the team designed business parks and when faced with the searing, high, bland brick and metal walls of factories painted trees on the them to harmonise them better with the landscaping. To me of course it looked no more than a painted tree, large and season-less, but in a way she was showing me what a factory really was. Inorganic. The landscaping of bushes and trees showed what it was to be able to grow, and what it was to be inert.

And we can understand ourselves better by placing ourselves against the Universe. The smallness of the blue Earth as seen from Voyager 3.7 billion miles away, and so well described by Carl Sagan. Our conceit, our self-importance, our daily lives, are lost in space. It is not that we are small, or insignificant, it that the Universe is so significant.

Perhaps true knowledge is the understanding of the relationships we have with everything else. Because where we stand, will teach us how to stand.

Poetry

Many years ago at a music appreciation class my teacher suggested that music was ‘noise with rhythm meant to be listened to’. I wondered at the time what difference there was between this and language?

Meaning comes in many forms and some of them are not apparent to reason, they flow into us like an osmotic language. Poetry  makes use of natural rhythms within words and the flow of the sounds translating thoughts into a meaning others can share. And though we have inner thoughts and inner music it is the sharing that is so important.

Behind the words are centuries of development and all the vocal chords that have sounded the words before us in various dialects to intone a similar meaning. The aching necessity to communicate, the striving to be understood and the importance of the words being remembered.

Across continents and centuries we are all Romans, all Africans, all sailing upon reed boats or stepping out onto unknown moons. As Karl Sagan said we are made of the stuff of stars. Meaning pervades everything we do. Everything we say. Our words are not just ours but everyone’s, our thoughts not alone but playing in a crowd.

Poetry is the bow that plays the human race, and gives a resonance that other alien races will understand more readily than all the other things we will ever make.

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