Scientific Pleasures and Guilt

Don’t scientific meanderings propel us to a different universe? Aren’t they pleasant daydreams done on a daybed with eyes grazing the clouds, mind half way to Neptune, fantasizing about space travel, the Future, and humanity’s fate? We won’t hesitate to give it a whole day, yet at the same time nearby are neighbors with a family of four earning few hundred dollars a month.

Being able to make space in my head for illustrious distractions, while pondering about big themes in life, is a luxury. And this inevitably begs the question: what’s the purpose of all these meanderings? Is it simply for self-pleasure and reimaginings? How does this become useful to my surroundings, other than as my own mental escape?

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How to Raise Scientists

What’s life without the world within us, a perpetually unfolding space that is the kaleidoscope to our reality? Children, being so free from the constraints of adulthood, roam in and out of this space without care, bringing traces from one world to another. These are the years of soft imaginings; of observing the world like a sponge which takes in all that it can take, without the pretense of an intellectual or the fear of being wrong.

At the same time, we are taught that these meanderings are nothing but child-like tendencies to understand the world. As we step into adulthood, we are transforming our minds to be computation tools to synthesize information, leaving the imaginations behind and forgetting that these kinds of meanderings, too, still remain to be the most fertile space to understand the world.

Scientists too are vivid imaginators. From Carl Sagan to Albert Einstein, the greatest scientists agree on a crucial thing – the role of imaginations to create space for theories and calculations. Carl Sagan lamented the ways parents dismissed children’s quirky questions, while Einstein had understood for a long time that “creativity is intelligence at play.” So what’s a better way to learn about this fluid spectrum of creativity and intelligence than to peek into some of the greatest scientists’ early beginnings; their first steps of fascination towards the worlds of invisible matters.

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When Carl searches for gods

I’m constantly perplexed by the science versus religion debates that seek differences and separations rather than symmetry, which is an attempt that feels more political than for humanity.

To many people, these dramatized scenes are mere entertainments. But to some people, the questioning of gods and religion is really a perpetual existential question. Whether that’s through historical records, the arts, the sciences, to search for god is to ultimately return to the question that nudges our very own meaning and existence. Because even with waves of solid scientific data, these numbers and fact can’t settle many uneasy hearts. Hence; the role of religion, stories, or even just imaginations, which is to reconcile with the unknown.

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Einstein’s Imaginations

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” said Einstein; the man who endured years of telescoping into the unknown and meddling in the invisible fabrics of the universe, the mathematics and physics. We often disconnect math and the arts; the pure and the imagination; the objective and the subjective. Yet math, in the hands and minds of Einstein, came a bit like this: after hours and hours of rumination on math, he took violin breaks, and a little mathematical blessing comes in between the sweeping notes of music.

To anyone who assumes that different study fields are in separate pedagogical boxes; bless them, because they need to know Einstein’s idea of combinatorial creativity.

Einstein himself was never a child of prodigy. He not only skipped classes but grew to lament the German authoritarian school system that later defined his philosophies in learning. From elementary school to his university life, he picked and chose what he wanted to learn from the system. And the rest, he diligently studied at home by himself. Indeed, Einstein loved and much preferred self-learning and self-exploration ever since his uncle brought him books on math and sciences. In fact, he started tinkering with the idea of moving as fast as light –the seed of his groundbreaking special theory of relativity — at the tender age of 17 years old, when he had access to one of the best physics lab and a generous support from the more relaxed education environment in Switzerland.

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How Humboldt resurrected the word Cosmos

Etymologically speaking, cosmos derived from the Greek word kosmos that means order or world. But we don’t deliberately use this word to mean the holistic interactions within the universe until Alexander von Humboldt used it in his five-volume treatise Kosmos.

An obsessive note-taker, Humboldt traveled from Germany to South America to explore, observe, and record the minutia details of nature; from the ocean current in the coast of Peru, to the ruins of Inca, to the hostile Orinoco River in Venezuela where he named new species of plants and animals. Together with French botanist Aime Bonpland, they climbed one of the highest volcanoes in Equador, Mt. Chimborazo, to record changes in air pressures and temperatures, laying the foundation for future scientists to investigate the relationship between the living organisms and their habitat. He gave us a map of various vegetation zones, a color-coded map of terrain with its corresponding plants; perhaps the first of its kind, thus kick-starting the era of data visualization that we know and still widely used today.

Charles Darwin adored him, saying:

I am at present fit only to read Humboldt. He, like another sun, illuminates everything I behold.

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The women with life-long love affairs with space

We should be thankful we live in an age that appreciates the wisdom of interconnected; the kind of thinking that appreciates the largeness of life and the interconnectedness of things. After this holistic wisdom was deemed irrelevant and then forgotten by the mechanical and efficiency-focused industrial and post-industrial age, we finally arrive at this stage where the thirst to rediscover and reconnect forgotten meanings is obvious and blossoming.

Astronomers write poems, musicians are inspired by maths, artists reinterpret physics. The sciences and the arts are merging into one, returning to its essence; nature that is hoped to be studied and experienced.

Below are three ladies of space we are currently sharing the world with who courageously put science as seen through the lens of compassion, not as a tool for relentless ambitions.

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What’s behind the night sky?

What’s behind the night sky? Against this dark backdrop there hides millions of luminous stars and galaxies that tells stories of our universe. Stretching our imagination into the edges, the dark night sky is a blank canvas to paint our meanings of existence. There, underneath this infinite and immeasurable heaven, we look up and ponder who we are, which is then responded with a graceful silence from the sky.

In 1977, in the midst of Cold War, the Voyager 1 was sent to the outerskirt of our solar system, while carrying a piece of humanity, The Golden Record. Led by Carl Sagan and Annie Druyan, this gold-plated copper disc recorded 115 images and various sounds, and music from the world; a naked photo of a man and a woman, the sound of a kiss, welcomes from 54 different languages and a humpback whales, music from Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry to Bach’s Partita for Violin Solo no. 3. The only thing is, after traveling for nearly 50 years, Voyager will lose its source of energy and no one knows exactly what’s coming afterwards. Perhaps it will be caught and flung away by another gravity force, or discovered by another spaceship thousands of years in the future. But we will lose our communications. And the Golden Record, attached on the ship, will afloat indefinitely in the midst of interstellar space.

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