And speaking of wonder, and mystery…

Hubble Deep Field Telescope Image

This picture was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope’s powerful deep-field telescope instrument. It shows a patch of sky about one millimeter square.

With the exception of the bright white object with diffraction lines radiating from it to the lower left of center (which is a star here in our own Milky Way galaxy), every single thing you see here is a galaxy. An entire galaxy, each with tens of millions or billions of stars.

This is not a remarkable section of sky. It looks like this no matter where you point the Deep Field Telescope.

Every one of the things in this picture. Every dot, every fleck of light. An entire galaxy.

So much for the notion that there is no wonder in science.

In which Franklin gets very, very, very cranky

In his book The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan writes, “The siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.” The book was published in 1988, when trickle-down economics and alien abductions were all the rage, and it is hard to imagine anything more appropriate today.

The last six years or so have proven Sagan right in a way I doubt even he could have imagined. In 2006, nearly twenty years after those words were penned, we have an American President who is a fundamentalist Christian and who seems to believe that science and highfalutin book-larnin’ never did nobody a lick of good; anti-intellectualism is rampant in American society and politics; and people are actually arguing about “Intelligent Design”–Intelligent Design, fer Chrissakes!–as if it were something for real that should, y’know, be taught in schools.

And frankly, it all pisses me right the fuck off.

Shelly tends to get frustrated with me, because I get so frustrated whenever I see credulous, anti-intellectual claptrap spewing out of some hole somewhere. And, to be quite blunt, it’s everywhere. It’s as if somebody plugged all the sewers in New York City, and all this brown stuff is bubbling up out of the manhole covers and flooding the streets, and nobody notices.

Hell, people seem to like it.

And it pisses me off. It pisses me off because these people should know better. It pisses me off because gullibility and credulity are corrosive to society; the United States today dominates the world politically, socially, and economically largely on the strength of our belief that the world is knowable and comprehensible, and that the pursuit of reason is a valuable undertaking. (I’m sure the Chinese, who could not hope to compete with us otherwise, are more than happy to see us abdicate our global leadership as a powerhouse of knowledge and research; they don’t have to defeat us; we’re happy to defeat ourselves!) It pisses me off because reason is the greatest single gift that humankind has, the thing that sets us apart from all the rest of nature, and to squander that gift–to fritter away our reason, to exchange knowledge and understanding for faeries and pixie dust–is a travesty beyond imagining.

Faeries and pixie dust are remarkably seductive. Continue reading