Friday, April 13, 2012

Leaps of science

The wonder of what lies beyond our horizon has always been at the front line of human discovery. In just a few hundred years the distance to that horizon has been exponentially increasing; from ships at sea to the furthest reaches of our observable universe.  But what of our mental horizons; are we approaching the precipice of discovery that could cause a paradigm shift in our psyche?

I have been pondering the affect scientific discovery has had on the way we think, and how it changes our view the world for a while now, and am yet to reach any solid conclusions, or any general consensus. In the last 500 years alone the breath of our scientific knowledge has transformed the world that we live in. But has there been a universal light bulb moment; or is it an understanding through hindsight? 

I think the trouble with this question is that scientific discovery is not an instantaneous thing. There is no single moment where the light bulb goes off and a new world is created. There may be a time where you can pinpoint an event, like when Newton produced the final concise laws of motion, or when Einstein wrote down general relativity, but there was a great deal of time before and after that to get the ideas in place and to convince the scientific community let alone the general populous that it was real. Newton’s theory of gravity was the end stage of work set up by Galileo Galilei in the late 16th century, and Johannes Kepler in the early 17th century. The stage for Einstein’s theory of both special and general relativity was set with both experimental and theoretical work by a number of prominent scientists in the early 20th century.
Both of these events caused a huge change in the way we observe motion, however, both also suffered from lack of understanding by the general public at the time, and in a great deal of cases a lack of understanding today. Perhaps (if unfortunately) the only way that general paradigm shifts can occur in the psyche of the general public, is the direct observation of a physical phenomenon.  

Each new generation grows up in a more advanced world; a world with a greater knowledge of its past and future. However, I fear that not even the proof of life on other worlds will cause a great effect on our psyche; that only when it is staring us in the face on our own turf, perhaps with a gun to our heads, will a paradigm shift occur in the minds of everyone.
What do you think?


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  2. I think evolution (including our understanding of the universe) is such a gradual thing that it's unapparent to us as you point out. Imagine however if someone from, say 20 years from the past was teleported to today...they would be astounded by our advancements. Even then however, they would not have a "lightbulb moment" necessarily...likely they would just find our technology/science/etc. fascinating (or perhaps scary). This is an interesting question you pose either way. Will the discovery of life beyond our own affect our psyches in a profound way? For individuals like us that live for this moment...I think so. For the general public...I'm not so convinced. Think of the amazing exoplanets being discovered practically weekly. The general public may be aware of this but they typically have no concept of just how extraordinary this really is. Interesting post as always...I'm going to have to give this some more thought. Right now I need coffee however. :) -jc