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December 04, 2003

Curiosity and lifelong learning.

My kids are often surprised by the range of things I read. I have already confessed to being a sci-fi buff and I have particularly enjoyed the Babylon 5 series as well as Next Generation and will even confess to having found Battlestar Galactica a "must watch". Guess I just never got over childish curiosity.

The latest issue of New Scientist has an excellent write up on the latest work done using the Hubble telescope. Today I picked up the latest National Geographic which has an article which covers the Hubble view on the outer edges of the universe. Exciting stuff, my only regret is that it is unlikely that I will live long enough (at current rates of progress) to see the human race become true children of the universe as we spread out into the vastness of space.

Look at how much we have learned in the years since Niel Armstrong first stepped onto the surface of the moon. How much more could we have done or learned had we been able to follow that up with a permanent lunar base? Just looking at what the Hubble telescope is unfolding for us, I find it astounding that we are not making even more efforts to find solutions to the remianing problems. It is our insatiable curiosity that drives us forward into new discoveries and it is people whose vision is so limited that they can see no more than cost or todays activities, concerns or limitations that hold everything back.

Challenger taught us caution, Columbia taught us that we have a long way to go yet, but look at what the men and women on those missions and on those that have gone off without problems have achieved. Look at what we have learned through their efforts and sacrifice!

In my own service, our breathing apparatus, our fire protective clothing and even our training have all benefitted from what has been learned from the space missions. In the field of fire protection in buildings as well, materials developed for space have found applications on earth which are less costly to be sure, but nonetheless effective. Even in oceanography we have benefitted hugely, as we have done in ecology and even in our understanding of the great machine we live on, this fragile planet which we are so utterly dependent upon and which will not last forever.

When I look out at night (when we aren't covered by clouds!) or when I look at the photographs of the distant stars and galaxies and consider the time that has elapsed in their making and in the time taken for the light to reach our puny cameras, I find myself stunned by the sheer excitement of the things we are seeing - and wish I could travel out into the stars to see them for myself.

The more I look upon these things, the more I appreciate that we really have only the most childish concept of God, whatever our religion. I read the opening verses of St John chapter 1 verses 1 - 6 and am amazed at how the first century writer (because John is actually quoting an earlier work) has managed to condense the unimaginable into something approaching the human scale. Likewise the writer of Genesis 1 ( the word "day" in the English versions is a mistranslation - it should read aeon or era) in producing an explanation of the Big Bang theory and the evolutionary concepts of Darwin, in words understandable by nomads, herdsmen and agriculturalists with no formal education and no scientific background, to whom the stars were mere pinpricks of light in the night sky.

The more I look, the more I see, the more I think I understand, the more I discover I have yet to learn.

OK, that's my serious bit for the day.

Good night.

Posted by The Gray Monk at December 4, 2003 07:39 PM

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