Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Dark Matter

“We must cultivate our garden,” is Voltaire’s famous quote from Candide. The quote is obviously offered as an antidote to the Leibnitzian windmill chasing of his character Pangloss who is always saying “all’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” Adam Frank’s op-ed piece, “Alone in the Void" (NYT, 7/24/12) similarly serves as refutation of the kind of inflated notion of scientific progress offered by titles like Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. Sure there’s string theory and quanta, but let’s remember that for now these theories refer to the working of subatomic particles and not flesh and blood creatures who have to worry about shuttling at 42nd Street to catch the uptown Broadway Local. “From ‘Star Trek’ to ‘Star Wars,’ from warp drive to hyperdrive—the idea of rapid interstellar space travel is such a deep meme for cultural visions of space and our future that Hollywood films don’t even have to waste time introducing them to the audience, “ Frank remarks. The occasion of Frank’s piece is the crossing of Voyager 1 from the solar system to “the icy dominions of interstellar space,” a journey that will have taken 35 years. Frank estimates it would take a space craft nearly a millennium “to reach nearby stars,” in the unlikely event it was possible “to increase the speed of our spacecraft one hundredfold.”  “Think about it,” Frank concludes. “No salvation from population pressure on the shores of alien worlds. No release from the threats of biosphere degradation in the promise of new biospheres. No escape from our own destructive tendencies by spreading out among the stars like seedpods in the wind.”  Herbert, Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury and Clarke were all wonderful writers and visionaries. However, their futuristic message may also be a good way out of facing more imminent problems—like the accelerated melting of the Greenland ice shelf—that threaten life on earth.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.