Monday, September 29, 2014

Stars, the universe, significance and perspective

Sou | 8:41 PM Go to the first of 7 comments. Add a comment

Every now and then I muse about philosophical notions and ponder our significance, and insignificance, in the context of the universe. (I'm old enough to still feel a little ripple of shock every time I remember that Earth's population has trebled in my lifetime.)

Bert from Eltham posted a link to one of his images, which got me thinking again. This is a small version of his photograph of the Small Magellanic Cloud. Click here to see Bert's full-sized photograph (9MB).
Credit: Bert from Eltham
Thanks, Bert, for helping me keep things in perspective as I muddle through life on this tiny rock called Spaceship Earth.

In a similar vein, late last year I was inspired by the Carl Sagan lecture from AGU13, which I managed to locate on YouTube. Among other things, David Grinspoon described four kinds of planetary change. Particularly compelling were his categories 3 and 4, inadvertent change and intentional change.

If you watch it, I suggest the YouTube website version (it's a bit bigger), or better still in full screen mode, by clicking in the bottom right hand corner. You'll need to set aside about an hour to see it all, or 50 minutes if you skip the questions at the end.

I'll finish with the quote David Grinspoon provided towards the end of his lecture.
We hold the future still timidly, but perceive it for the first time, as a function of our own action. Having seen it, are we to turn away from something that offends the very nature of our earliest desires, or is the recognition of our new powers sufficient to change those desires into the service of the future which they will have to bring about?
J.D. Bernal, The World, the Flesh & the Devil;: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul (1929)


  1. Speaking of stars, Anthony has just made a complete hash of a solar activity paper He has described it as NEW despite it having been published 5 years ago. In a reply to a comment he blames the GWPF for the error.

    1. Yes I saw that:)

      It was published in August 2009. Anthony was so busy copying and pasting huge slabs of text from it that he didn't bother to look at the date. Not sure if he pinched it from the GWPF or if he got it from the HockeySchtick blog who got it from the GWPF. Deniers are quite good at recycling old stuff :)

  2. Speaking of "keeping things in perspective", a golden oldie from the 1970s, the film Powers of Ten was/still is a classic for demonstrating Orders of Magnitude and, in the process, illustrating that 'we are as large as we are small'.

    1. What's going on? Just realised that Powers of Ten runs for 9 minutes not 10.

    2. Yes a great old flick. Although I've watched and shared it many times, I never noticed it was only 9 minutes rather than 10 either.
      Hmmm, well considering 9 is a sexier number than then ten -
      it's all good :- )

  3. Pondering the immensity of the universe is an exercise in struggling to comprehend the unfathomable. And yet its raw staggering beauty is quite within our grasp. I highly recommend watching the Hubble telescope in 3D at iMax - one of the best things I've ever seen on a movie screen!

  4. If some smart monkeys can work out the origins of the Universe by careful observation from a tiny rock we call Spaceship Earth. Then it may be plausible we can understand our climate and weather.
    Our very existence depends on an exquisite fluke that all the so called unit less constants are just correct to make life possible in our Universe. We live in only one of an infinite number of Universes.
    The concepts of Dark Matter and Dark Energy that make up 96% of our Universe is now a reality by observation! The Universe or Multiverses are more complex than we can even imagine. It may be all in the mathematics of String Theory.
    We are just crawling out of the primeval ooze of ignorance.
    Science is our way of knowing the best theory according to the evidence at the moment. All we know is it works. It is not dogma. It is open to new evidence.

    This video is worth watching. Dust that sings!


    We are all trying to make sense of it all. Bert


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