Daily Archives: March 22, 2016

The March of Science

Long ago people thought the Earth was flat.  Sounds like they were pretty stupid, huh?  In reality they were no more stupid than we are.  We of today are just lucky enough to see the difference.  And “seeing” is believing.  That’s why those people of the 14th and 15th centuries believed that the Earth is flat.  That is what they could see.

Yet we in our generation have “seen” images of the Earth from space.  So we know better.  People of the 16th, 17th, 18th, and even part of the 19th centuries hadn’t seen those images though – so the debate actually raged on through all those centuries.  True, scientists were able to convince most people that the Earth was round.  But there were those who just refused to give up the ghost.  They believed the Earth was flat and they just would not listen to anything of the contrary.

As a police accident investigator for many years I responded to many, many accident scenes.  Often cars were totaled and needed to be towed off somewhere.  Of the thousands of times I saw that happen, a few times I had to take a breath and listen to the owners’ reasons for wanting to keep their now totaled car in their backyards.  Despite my efforts to convince them that their car was completely worthless now, and the tow-truck driver repeating the same mantra, they were still adamant about keeping their car.  So off to their back yards the cars would go, and through out my career I would often see them there rusting and growing grass and trees in and around them as I patrolled my district.

Those owners were usually older and about half the time widowed or widowered(?), (if that’s a word.)  And they were simply attached to the cars.  Either their husband had bought the car and babied it or it had somehow become like any other family member and they just could not part with it.  The cars held too many memories for them to just let them go.

I get that.  I love my significant other deeply – I want to keep her, and whatever reminds me of her as long as I can.

But science is just friggin’ different.  Never believe that we already know everything we are ever going to know.  Don’t hang onto an idea so strongly that it will sit and rust in your portfolio while sciences marches and waltzes around you.  Because we don’t know everything and I don’t think we ever will.

So not only should we accept people who have different ideas but we should encourage them to follow their own beliefs and achieve whatever they can.  And that is true whether we agree with them or not.  Implying that they are idiots for trying to find a better way or better explanation for something only makes us look like the idiot.  Or what I would call a flat-earther.  People are not stupid simply because they might disagree with one of us.  In fact the harder we blow our trumpet decrying what immense fools they are could actually come back to bite us the day that they prove their point scientifically.  We would be the idiot then, huh?

Case in point: 1969, less than 50 years ago, Apollo 12 was struck by lightning from what appeared to be an innocuous cloud as it shot up from the launch pad.  Immediately all the bells and whistles went off and instantly everyone feared the rocket was going to explode – like others before it.  The astronauts were able to reset the system with auxiliary power, which fixed the computer systems.  But it was obvious that the lightning strike had caused the scare.

How is it that in 1969 we could not know enough about lightning to prevent the rocket and capsule from being struck?  Who knows?  But we didn’t have an accurate picture of lightning at that time.  Oh sure, we thought we did.  We were confident we knew everything about lightning that existed.  We believed it just as strongly as flat-earthers believe the earth was flat.  The problem is that the real understanding of lightning didn’t exist yet, so we couldn’t have known all about it.  And I hesitate to say “the real understanding of lightning” because it will probably be refined again and again in the upcoming decades and centuries.  I only use that phrase in deference to Scientific American who did an article on the subject.

It only goes to show that as little as 50 years ago we didn’t have “all” the knowledge on a phenomena we have all witnessed and which so-called “experts” had studied and hypothesized for centuries.  It took something as important as a moon-rocket take-off to make us realize there must be something more.  And so a German meteorologist, Heinz-Wolfram Kasemir, was employed to bring a clearer understanding of lightning for us.

A lot of people complaining about new ideas and who are resistant to research in certain fields because of their strongly held beliefs often cite that the new-idea researcher is attempting to change everything there is about a subject that “we already know everything about.”  Well, obviously Kasemir proved that in fact we didn’t already know everything about lightning.  And his hypothesis and concurrent research did not change anything about what we already knew about lightning.  It only gave as a little better understanding of it so it wouldn’t strike our rockets anymore.

I have personally been on the end of agonizing and tortuous arguments from closed minded people implying that I am stupid for wanting to research electricity.  So I would like to say here, right now, that if any of you out here ever poo-pooed or “bah humbugged” a researcher like Kasemir, well, then I guess you are the idiot, huh?  Man I’ve been wanting to say that lately!