The fourteenth of January, 2011: we are all in the gutter

A couple of new ways of looking up.

That’s a staggering image of the universe and the many things within it from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III. More here.

And here’s a short film, with words by Carl Sagan.

I have to sympathise with damewse (who made this film) when he says: “NASA is the most fascinating, adventurous, epic institution ever devised by human beings, and their media sucks … In all of their brilliance, NASA seems to have forgotten to share their hopes and dreams in a way the public can relate to, leaving one of humanity’s grandest projects with terrible PR and massive funding cuts.”

Agreed (and the same goes for astronomers and spaceniks all over). No-one else has their capacity to make us tremble in our boots. And we ought to tremble in our boots – not out of fear (we do that too much), but out of awe, in the teeth of an overwhelming access of self-knowledge – a great deal more than we do. Science needs its poets (Sagan is sorely missed).

‘By poets, of course, I intend artists of all kinds. Michelangelo and Bach were paid to celebrate the sacred themes of their times and the results will always strike human senses as sublime. But we shall never know how such genius might have responded to alternative commissions…. Try to imagine Beethoven’s ‘Evolution Symphony’, Haydn’s oratorio on ‘The Expanding Universe’, or Milton’s epic The Milky Way.’

From Unweaving The Rainbow, Richard Dawkins (Penguin, 1998), ch.2.

To end bathetically:

DUMBY. I don’t think we are bad. I think we are all good, except

LORD DARLINGTON. No, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are
looking at the stars.

Lady Windermere’s Fan (1893), Act III.


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