Being awed by what we understand because our survival depends on it

fogbowby USFWS Mountain Prairie

The Beauty of Reality
[Via Bad Astronomy]

After the particularly foul episode I put you through this morning, let me offer this by way of an apology: a superb and compelling time-lapse animation of the night skies over Michigan called North Country Dreamland, by photographer Shawn Malone.

Ahhhhh, that’s better. I think my favorite part is right at the very beginning, when you can see the stars of the Big Dipper reflected in the lake, slowly gliding across the water, distorted and fuzzy compared with the crisp clean pinpricks of their counterparts in the sky. The blue heron phasing in and out of existence one minute in is another delight.

And, of course, the dancing aurora, the individually feeble but collectively mighty glow from countless atoms and molecules of oxygen and nitrogen high in the atmosphere, wounded by subatomic particles blasting in from the Sun, their green and red and purple and pink light an announcement that they have healed from the onslaught. What I would give to see this with my own eyes.


Our ancestors were awed by the stars and the night sky because it is beautiful and unknowable. It is still beautiful but I am also awed that we actually know so much about it. we know what stars are. We know why they move across the sky. We know what the aurora is. We understand.

That is why Phil and I get so angry at those who refuse to permit understanding. The hallmark of denialists who inhabit Cargo Cult Worlds is that they strive to completely cut off any further understanding. They wrap themselves in a copy of reality in order to hide from reality.

They create a world where inconvenient facts cannot harm them because they refuse to understand. They know and thus no longer look.

Mercury did it. End of story. It has been warm in the past. End of story. God did it. End of story. It does not matter if their facts are wrong. All t hat matters is that they strive to STOP understanding any more.

The story is over.

But any scientist – and in fact, anyone living in the real world is by definition a scientist – knows that the story is never over, there is always a new chapter.

We cannot solve the complex problems facing us today by halting our understanding. Yet, that is exactly what denialists try to accomplish.

If we stop understanding, we will die. Denialism is anti-human.