Saturday, November 29, 2014


Our Sunday nights this fall have been centered around the watching of Cosmos, and, alas, we have come to its end. There was so much good stuff in there - scientifically exciting, spiritually inspiring, curiosity-stirring stuff. I wondered if I could find the transcript for the last episode online, and wonder of wonders, I did.  Ani had just asked me, as we were watching, with eyes huger than huge, "I wonder what happened before the Big Bang?" when Neil deGrasse Tyson said, "I want to know what's in those dark place, and what happened before the Big Bang."  Maybe that's what I liked about this series; it was childlike and wonder-full, and the last episode felt filled with good advice for budding scientists, young and old: (emphasis is mine)

How did we, tiny creatures living on that speck of dust, ever manage to figure out how to send spacecraft out among the stars of the Milky Way? Only a few centuries ago, a mere second of cosmic time, we knew nothing of where or when we were.
Oblivious to the rest of the cosmos, we inhabited a kind of prison-- a tiny universe bounded by a nutshell.
How did we escape from the prison? It was the work of generations of searchers who took five simple rules to heart.
Question authority.
No idea is true just because someone says so, including me.
Think for yourself.
Question yourself.
Don't believe anything just because you want to.
Believing something doesn't make it so.
Test ideas by the evidence gained from observation and experiment.
If a favorite idea fails a well-designed test, it's wrong! Get over it.
Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.
If you have no evidence, reserve judgment.
And perhaps the most important rule of all, Remember, you could be wrong.
Even the best scientists have been wrong about some things.
Newton, Einstein, and every other great scientist in history, they all made mistakes.
Of course they did-- they were human.
Science is a way to keep from fooling ourselves and each other.
Have scientists known sin? Of course.
We have misused science, just as we have every other tool at our disposal, and that's why we can't afford to leave it in the hands of a powerful few.
The more science belongs to all of us, the less likely it is to be misused.
These values undermine the appeals of fanaticism and ignorance and, after all, the universe is mostly dark, dotted by islands of light.
Learning the age of the Earth or the distance to the stars or how life evolves-- what difference does that make? Well, part of it depends on how big a universe you're willing to live in.
Some of us like it small.
That's fine.
But I like it big.
And when I take all of this into my heart and my mind, I'm uplifted by it.
And when I have that feeling, I want to know that it's real, that it's not just something happening inside my own head, because it matters what's true, and our imagination is nothing compared with Nature's awesome reality.
I want to know what's in those dark places, and what happened before the Big Bang.
I want to know what lies beyond the cosmic horizon, and how life began.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Ani discovered an old notebook of hers this morning, that she titled "My Book of Questions".  She's set it up so that each page asks a question and then there is a space for "my ideas" where she makes some guesses about what the answer might be.  When she's lucky enough to find an answer, it goes on the back of the page.  The questions in the book right now are:
How do birds fly? My ideas: flap wings and tails to get air under wings and tails? Note: hollow bones to make them light.
Why don't you have to flip toast (in our toaster oven)???  After musing that maybe the heat goes through the toast and to the other side of the toast, she discovered, by doing an experiment (making toast) that there are bars (heating elements) on the top and on the bottom, thereby toasting the bread on both sides at the same time.
Currently there are only two more questions in the book, which I'm hoping will fill up now that it's been found. One is "what is electricity" and the other is "are any animals gay?"

What I am loving about her questioning is that she is a kid who likes to live in the question for a while.  She likes to diagram and lie on her bed and think about it.  She knows we have resources like books and the internet that she can use, but she is willing to ponder things for a while first. 

Nobody knows how life got started.  Most of the evidence from that time was destroyed by impact and erosion.  Science works on the frontier of knowledge and ignorance.  We're not afraid to admit what we don't know.  There's no shame in that.  The only shame is to pretend that we have all the answers. Maybe someone watching this will be the first to solve the mystery of how life on Earth began. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

It's nearly the end of November! I've almost reached my goal! Yabbadabbadooo!

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