Sunday, June 1, 2008

This is Humanity

I've been gone for a while, mainly because of school work. But this is just too important to pass up and not comment on.

I want you to look at this picture:

H/T to the Bad Astronomer.

This is an image of the Phoenix Lander descending through the Martian atmosphere, taken by the Mars HiRISE camera. This is not a photo of the Martian surface taken by a rover - we have those, and they are wonderful and amazing. This is not a photo of the Martian surface taken by an orbiting satellite - we have those and they are likewise amazing. This is a photo of a robot descending to the surface, taken by a orbiting robot which has been going around Mars for years. This is an action shot. But it shows something incredibly important. We have gotten to the point where we can predict, from millions of kilometers away, where one of our probes will be coming through the atmosphere of another world and aim one of our cameras, which is orbiting that world, to take a snap shot at the predicted spot...and lo and behold, there the thing is, in high resolution.

This is astounding. It should take your breath away every time you see it. Just to think about it should floor you. But let's put this in perspective. Around a hundred years ago, this was the bleeding edge of technology:

Think about that. In a little over a hundred years, we have gone from a flight time of a few seconds to sending robotic probes to another planet. This, people, is the march of science. More than that, it is the march of human ingenuity. This is what we do. Humans are naturally curious and creative. We are natural inventors and creative in our use of objects. But here's the important point - with science, a rigorous method of testing and duplicating, we have gained the ability to take vast leaps in technology. And this isn't just about sending probes into the solar system. We have modern medicine, transportation, communications...literally everything that we take for granted every day, and it's thanks to natural human ingenuity focused by scientific rigor. How do we know that science proves anything at all? Well, the practical answer is simply: LOOK AROUND YOU! It works! For a more theoretical answer, check out this book, The Truth of Science by Roger Newton.

I just can't get over that photo. It represents a milestone in our history as human beings, much in the same way that the Voyager Golden Record. Go look at the things that are on that record and what it represents. This is what we, as humans, can do when we work together with reason and good will.

Of course, there are people who are absolutely opposed to science and this sort of creative enterprise. They want to return to a more primitive, irrational mode of being - ironically, most of them don't want to give up technological advances, just get rid of science and science education...or at least completely redefine science to include their notions of gods or the supernatural. I've spoken about this before, and I don't want to waste time on it now. I think this video is about all the rhetorical force you need to convince yourself of what side of the divide you should be standing on now:

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