Skip

Portals to the universe
February 17, 2013 5:44 AM   Subscribe

"A mission scientist with NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, Natalie Batalha hunts for exoplanets — Earth-sized planets beyond our solar system that might harbor life. She speaks about unexpected connections between things like love and dark energy, science and gratitude, and how "exploring the heavens" brings the beauty of the cosmos and the exuberance of scientific discovery closer to us all". (Audio link of interview at top left corner of page, other relevant links at bottom of page)
posted by Brandon Blatcher (10 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dr. Batalha delivered the keynote address at the International Planetarium Society awards luncheon in 2012. The crowd was enraptured by her pioneering science and her passion for her work. Her talk was so stunning that they ended the luncheon, forgetting to give out the awards.

Then they realized their mistake and called everybody to go sit back down.
posted by rlk at 6:08 AM on February 17, 2013


Whoa, thanks for this.

I'm currently convinced that only two positions are really represented in our public discussions of such things: Fairly unsophisticated forms of theism on the one hand, and a kind of austere (even brutal) scientism that implicitly derides much of what's....well, roughly, human.

Nothing about science demands that we view things like freedom, love, objective valuableness, nor connections between us and the cosmos as foolish nor illusory nor unscientific.

The (or one) difference between scientism and science is that that the former revels in a kind of brutal pessimism. It revels in deflating hopes, and actually seems to enjoy crushing/debunking the very ideas that seem to make life worth living. Science, on the other hand, should take such things seriously, even while recognizing that such things are hard to test, and that they might, sadly, end up having no place in our final theory of the world.

It's not that I mind people who, say, think that there is absolutely nothing more to, e.g., love (including the kind of love of learning that drives science) than brute and necessarily irrational chemistry. Nope. We should treat that hypothesis with the greatest respect.

What I mind is (a) the mindless presupposition that such things are so, (b) this mindlessness masquerading as the epitome of reason, and (c) the use of such things to joyfully crush the life out of others.

Seems to me that it's science groupies, rather than scientists who are most susceptible to scientism.

(It's not that uncommon to run across alleged science that seems to entail that there's not really any such thing as love, or altruism. Funny how one so rarely runs across scientists alleging to prove that there's no such thing as hate, or selfishness...)

Lastly/tangentially: if science continues to allow its fans/cheerleaders convince people that science itself entails the death of everything worthwhile, then the culture wars are not (in that respect) going to get any more winnable. If people think that the only two options are superstition and nihilism...well, heck, I'll probably opt for the former if you absolutely force me to make that choice. At least there's *some* hope there...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:17 AM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm currently convinced that only two positions are really represented in our public discussions of such things...

I disagree. There're plenty of robust, vibrant depictions of wholly naturalistic & materialistic scientific understandings of the cosmos, such as these Tyson and Sagan comics discussed in this thread. I don't deny that austere debunkers exist, but their influence is often exaggerated by religious narratives that try to paint efforts at naturalist explanations as devoid of human feeling and meaning (or even inherently inimical to human well being).
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:47 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aha there is a transcript.
posted by jepler at 8:10 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


"...you know, there are 400 flippin' billion stars in our galaxy and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe.

How could there possibly not be life out there, right?..."


0.......

Which is the larger number, a "brazilian" or a "flippin' billion"?

Deilightful interview. As simple an act as lying on your back on a summer night, away from city lights, can open a door in your perceptions that you didn't know existed. I can only try to imagine what it must be like to peer through a telescope that lets me see back in time to an era that existed before Earthly bacteria began to conglomerate.

Thanks for this, BB.
posted by mule98J at 8:48 AM on February 17, 2013


Nothing about science demands that we view things like freedom, love, objective valuableness, nor connections between us and the cosmos as foolish nor illusory nor unscientific.
This is quite true, but there's definitely something about science that demands we view those things in a way that is not blatant nonsense. Nonsense like this from the transcript:
Also thinking it changes what you think about love. It is an energy, right? It's not just a feeling inside you.
Cos yeah, it isn't an energy. It's important and real even if it's not a material thing, and it's important even if it is just a feeling inside you.
posted by edd at 8:53 AM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


More positively, I had exactly the same experience and response as her in Chile.
posted by edd at 9:00 AM on February 17, 2013


aap: There're plenty of robust, vibrant depictions of wholly naturalistic & materialistic scientific understandings of the cosmos, such as these Tyson and Sagan comics discussed in this thread. I don't deny that austere debunkers exist, but their influence is often exaggerated by religious narratives that try to paint efforts at naturalist explanations as devoid of human feeling and meaning (or even inherently inimical to human well being).

Good point--though Sagan has always struck me as something of an outlier in this respect. And Tyson does often seem to be Sagan-like, but not always. It also matters what people are willing to allow e.g. our wonder at the cosmos to end up being. If that gets reduced to purely non-rational, purely mechanistic stuff...well, that's where the rubber really meets the road.

But religion is, IMO, no more responsible for giving naturalism a bad name than is naturalism itself, which often goes hand-in-hand with a scientistic/brutally physicalistic conception of nature. Religion's not blameless, but science enthusiasts can't blame it entirely for their bad name. (I might be described as a naturalist, though I suspect that nature is stranger, and has more things in it, than most people who call themselves naturalists will allow. Like, perhaps, teleology.)

Though let me also say: as for materialism, that, too, seems like something to which science need not be committed. Is there matter if everything is, at some fundamental level, probability distributions or topological features of space-time? One might reasonably say 'no'...ergo science itself should not be ideologically committed to materialism.

edd: there's definitely something about science that demands we view those things in a way that is not blatant nonsense. Nonsense like this from the transcript:
Also thinking it changes what you think about love. It is an energy, right? It's not just a feeling inside you.


Well, "It is an energy" is really bad. "It's not just a feeling in inside you," however, is a perfectly respectable view.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:36 AM on February 17, 2013


Tyson's tweets are pretty great.
His Superbowl tweets on the blackout got a lot of attention but the regular ones ("If Gridirons were timelines, w/ BigBang at one goal, then cavemen to now spans thickness of single turf-blade at other goal.") were pretty neat.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:54 PM on February 17, 2013


I don't know how I feel about this post, but Brandon Blatcher sure is awesome.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:09 AM on March 1, 2013


« Older Roy Chapman Andrews, adventurer.   |   Cairobserver Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post