Peering Out to Infinity

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the launching of the Hubble Space Telescope, today the New York Times (nytimes.com) posted some favorite photographs of astronomers and others involved in the Hubble project over the years — photos taken by the telescope.  According to Hubblesite.org, this magnificent device represents “one of NASA’s most successful and long-lasting science missions. It has beamed hundreds of thousands of images back to Earth, shedding light on many of the great mysteries of astronomy. Its gaze has helped determine the age of the universe, the identity of quasars, and the existence of dark energy.”

(A cluster of 3,000 stars known as Westerlund 2 in the constellation Carina. )

Upon seeing some of these images and trying to grasp the scale in size, distance from the Earth, and time associated with them, it is certainly understandable why so many people still turn to supernatural or religious explanations for the vastness and wonder of the universe.  How can the mind comprehend it?  It is equally understandable why atheists such as Richard Dawkins make such proclamations as the following: “The world and the universe is (sic) an extremely beautiful place, and the more we understand about it the more beautiful does it appear.”

I try to get to the coast as often as I can, primarily because I like the way it puts my life in perspective for me.  I feel so small when I look out at the ocean and am soothed by the sound of endless waves pounding the shore.  To paraphrase a Beatles tune, all my troubles seem so far away.  Looking at these Hubble images and contemplating how small I am on this planet, in this solar system, in this galaxy that shares the universe with one hundred billion other galaxies — perhaps many more — magnifies this experience but makes me deeply appreciate my life, my consciousness, and all that I perceive.  How very fortunate am I.

How Can You Not Love Ferns?

Of all the plants I see on my excursions through the forest, I think some of the most beautiful to me are among the most primitive — ferns.  With origins going back anywhere from 300 to 400 million years, ferns have been around as long as reptiles and were spreading across the planet at least 100 million years before mammals arrived.  By contrast, the primates only showed up about 60 million years ago, and the species we know as modern human beings have only been here for about 250,000 years.

Fern bed near gravesiteToday, there are literally thousands of species of ferns growing in various habitats all around the world.  They flourish mainly in places where flowering plants can’t grow because it is too wet or too shady.  In other words, they have evolved to take advantage of habitats that the more dominant seed-bearing plants can’t handle.  Instead of becoming extinct, they adapted. There seems to be a philosophical message there.

I think my attraction to ferns comes from the delicate fronds that are characteristic of so many of the species.  In America, they are often found in shady, moist places that are cooler then the surrounding area, and their lush, green color implies fertility and vitality.  The way they pulsate with the slightest breeze has such a calming effect on me.  Apparently, my interest in ferns is shared by quite a few folks in this country, illustrated by the existence of an organization devoted to studying the plants.  You can find out so much more information about ferns at the website of the American Fern Society.

The Gamble of Ignoring Climate Change

If climate change resulting from human activities of burning fossil fuels and land clearing is all a hoax, then we have a whole lot of very corrupt scientists all around the world (about 1,300 of them). If it is true, then we are probably facing some dire consequences resulting from rising ocean levels, severe droughts, and wide-spread heatwaves. I’m not sure which scenario is worse.  The anti-intellectualism that characterizes so much of the American population feeds the IGNORE-ance surrounding the issue.  Unfortunately, it would appear that there are plenty of elected officials across the country who perpetuate this ignorance for fear of threatening the profits of some corporate sectors and disrupting certain segments of the economy.  Scientists had to start using the phrase “climate change” to dispel a growing misconception that “global warming” meant that temperatures should be soaring at all locations on the planet as a result of the greenhouse effect, which is not what the term really means. Perhaps the current predictions about the effects of rapid climate change proposed by climatologists are off the mark; maybe they will have to adjust their theories (which is what good science is all about).  Be that as it may, I will trust their theories over the agendas of politicians and the “common sense” opinions of the uneducated masses every day of the week and twice on Sunday. http://climate.nasa.gov/