Wednesday, December 23, 2009
So, on topic... I graduated with my bachelors in biomedical sciences six years ago. I remember that there was a current estimate at the time about the textbook knowledge versus the actual field knowledge. I heard a professor say that at the time I was studying, there was a five year gap between what was actually known in the biological sciences (genetics, general biology, physiology, etc) and what was in my textbook. This meant that in 2003 I was studying material from 1998.
I remember wondering what kind of new things were being discovered and questioning the validity of my textbooks claims on certain things. At the moment I can only imagine that there is a very large lag time in between the current body of scientific knowledge and what is taught at the undergraduate level. Probably around 7 years. This is my own estimate, and I have no way to verify this particular number. I do know however, that it takes time for evidence to be established, challenged, and upheld as current knowledge before it ever gets into print in a standardized college course. Research today is so specialized that it runs far ahead of any printing press.
This is interesting in itself, but my point does not stop here. If I was studying at an institution of higher learning and my knowledge was six years behind the (then) current corpus of empirical comprehension... what of the general public? I could ask my professors questions about nucleophiles, telomeres, and electromagnetics (Oh my!), and I could talk with my classmates about cellular action potential gradients... but I would immediately start speaking in gibberish if I tried to discuss any of this with family members, persons of non-professional or non-specialized work, or people in non science majors at school.
If I was studying this kind of thing as my major in college and I was six years behind... everyone else was completely lost! From research at one end to the laypeople at the other, our society is disjointed at best.
Its currently the end of 2009, and by my estimate I would say that the average non-scentific college graduate is roughly 5-6 years behind the current movement of science. I would guess that the average American who did not attend or graduate from college is at least 10 years behind, but realistically... probably more.
This terrifies me. Just trying to think about the uneducated massess causes my panties to bunch.
A favorite axiom of mine is: little knowledge is more dangerous than none.
Having little knowledge will lead you to believe the illusion that you have more ability than you do. Having no knowledge is accompanied by at least a thimble full of doubt.
Whats the point to all this? And what does it have to do with the known universe?
Well, if you watched the video above, consider yourself more educated than most. Consider yourself lucky. I bet that a representation of this much of the universe has never been available, much less available to the general public... MUCH LESS this comprehensive. Ten years ago we did not know this much about the universe, nor did we have the technology to map in 3-D the kowledge we had at the time.
How much dont you know about the universe? Doesnt that fill you with a GIANT sense of awe? You live and breathe as part of a mystery so gargantuan that you cannot fathom even one one-billionth of your own reality.
Could you fully understand one slice of the pie if we were able to divide the earth up into a million pieces? Could you really grasp every nuance of one piece of that? What about one of a billion pieces? Probably not. Perhaps very few humans who have ever lived had the capability to really understand one one-billionth of the earths entirety... Much less the universe... and we dont even have a complete map of that!
Think about that for a second. We know so much, and still we know nothing. I often think about how I can balance the inequality of knowledge between new research at one end, and the general public at the other... this becomes most apparent in every religious debate I have ever had.
I will close this post with one of my absolute favorite quotes. It is from Carl Sagan's book "Pale Blue Dot".
"Look the pale blue dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
"The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
"It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known. "
-Carl Sagan 1994
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
One of my teachers recently said, "When your base becomes less stable, you can more easily and spontaneously adapt to your environment."
That is exactly how I feel.
My foundation is less stable. I feel like I am careening through chaos. It has always been this way, its just that now I have a more lucid and palpable sense of things.
I guess the old adage, "change does not come from stability" is correct.
In the last couple years my life has gone through a radical overhaul. Or so it feels. As I look at my life, I've always been going through radical overhauls. However I was able to build a sense of security along the way. As I am going through my most recent change, I feel a roller coaster of emotions in strange combinations.
Overall, I feel more empowered in my own life than I have in about three years. I know this is a direct result of the changes I am going through as well as the training I am receiving. Crazy new shit is happening and I both love it and am terrified of it.
I am empowered because I must be. Ironically it is out of this dualism that I find comfort. I must choose to stand up in the fire and face everything, or be submitted by the gravity of my situation.
I am learning the deepest and most resonating lessons of my life so far, and I have absolutely no desire to. Two quotes come to mind:
"Everyone wants to be a bodybuilder, no one wants to lift heavy weights."
"Pain is the best teacher, but no one wants to attend his class."
I find myself unable to plan for tomorrow because of how consuming the present is. For the same reason I must let go of the past as cleanly and swiftly as possible.
Crazy. New. Shit.