On A Darkling Plain
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery -- even if mixed with fear -- that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man... I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence -- as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature."
-- Albert Einstein
Hat tip: Michael Totten
Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is "mere". I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination — stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part... What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
-- Richard Feynman
"What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?"
Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
In 1950, while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the physicist Enrico Fermi had a casual conversation while walking to lunch with colleagues Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller and Herbert York. The men discussed a recent spate of UFO reports and an Alan Dunn cartoon facetiously blaming the disappearance of municipal trashcans on marauding aliens. They then had a more serious discussion regarding the chances of humans observing faster-than-light travel by some material object within the next ten years, which Teller put at one in a million, but Fermi put closer to one in ten. The conversation shifted to other subjects, until during lunch Fermi suddenly exclaimed, "Where are they?" (alternatively, "Where is everybody?") One participant recollects that Fermi then made a series of rapid calculations using estimated figures (Fermi was known for his ability to make good estimates from first principles and minimal data, see Fermi problem.) According to this account, he then concluded that Earth should have been visited long ago and many times over.
-- The Fermi Paradox or Where Are They?
What is the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything?
"Six by nine. Forty two."
"That's it. That's all there is."
"I always thought something was fundamentally wrong with the universe"
-- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Someone wrote on his Facebook Page that what frightened him most as a child was the sheer vastness of the universe. 'How', he thought to himself, 'could such a thing ever notice or care for me'? To others the problem is the reverse: the more terrifying possibility, was, that like the metaphorical butterfly what we do will forever change all future time. Whether we do this, or do that, may change everything. The burden of freedom arises from the possibility that what we do might actually matter. That were a weight far greater to lay on a child than the sheer awe-inspiring size of the physical cosmos.
Most people probably want to know what to believe, and not knowing is so unbearable that the desire to lay the burden of doubt on authority probably lies at the foundation of every authoritarianism. How many will say 'give us someone who tell us what to do! Only tell us!' Men will journey far "beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow, across that angry or that glimmering sea, where white on a throne or guarded in a cave there lives a prophet who can understand why men were born." Which of us, having come so far, would want to hear the prophet say, "I dunno. What do you think?" Perhaps the most terrible thing the Founding Fathers ever did was to leave nothing between the Creator and his Creature.
Link to Wretchard's novel "No Way In" print edition