Archive for the ‘space exploration’ Category

The real cosmopolitans

September 18, 2012

What does “cosmopolitan” really mean? Don’t trust Google on this, it takes you straight to that silly magazine with its sex tips and “lifestyle” advice. Funny, or sad, how current linguistic use has corrupted these grand old terms. (Think also of “epicurean,” “cynic,” maybe even “platonic”…)

We started to talk about this yesterday, in connection with Anthony Appiah’s book and interview. We’ll discuss it some more today. Kosmopolites is the Greek root meaning citizen of the world, the cosmos. What a large identity to claim, and yet what a miniscule corner of existence we actually occupy.

The cosmos used to coincide strictly with the known terrestrial world, before anybody’d ever even circumnavigated it. Now we’ve seen our tiny world from space, in perspective.

So now we know: it’s a really big cosmos, and we are here.

So far as we can tell we’re the only part, around these parts anyway, that knows it’s part of a cosmos. We’re the cosmopolitans.

Alexandria was the greatest city the Western world had ever seen. People of all nations came here to live, to trade, to learn. On any given day, its harbors were thronged with merchants, scholars, and tourists. This was a city where Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs, Syrians, Hebrews, Persians, Nubians, Phoenicians, Italians, Gauls, and Iberians exchanged merchandise and ideas. It is probably here that the word ‘cosmopolitan’ realized its true meaning: citizen, not just of a nation, but of the Cosmos. To be a citizen of the Cosmos

More Saganportalmotecalendargolden record… apple pie

So who was the first cosmopolitan in philosophy? Socrates, possibly, he’s said to have declared himself a citizen of the world – but still so loyal an  Athenian that he insisted on having his hemlock. Scholars wonder if that was really him or Plato talking.

Whether Socrates was self-consciously cosmopolitan in this way or not, there is no doubt that his ideas accelerated the development of cosmopolitanism and that he was in later antiquity embraced as a citizen of the world. In fact, the first philosopher in the West to give perfectly explicit expression to cosmopolitanism was the Socratically inspired Cynic Diogenes in the fourth century bce. It is said that “when he was asked where he came from, he replied, “I am a citizen of the world.” SEP

That doesn’t sound “cynical” in the perverted modern sense at all, does it? Diogenes spent a lot of time under the stars. He knew where he was.


August 7, 2012

“It is good to renew one’s wonder, said the philosopher. Space travel has again made children of us all.”

It’s not your grandpa’s Mission Control, unless your grandpa was Ray Bradbury.

Of all the many wonderful results of the space program so far, this picture may be the most important one. It opened our eyes to the fact that our Earth is a beautiful and most precious island in an unlimited void, and that there is no other place for us to live but the thin surface layer of our planet, bordered by the bleak nothingness of space. Never before did so many people recognize how limited our Earth really is, and how perilous it would be to tamper with its ecological balance.

The space age not only holds out a mirror in which we can see ourselves, it also provides us with the technologies, the challenge, the motivation, and even with the optimism to attack these tasks with confidence. What we learn in our space program, I believe, is fully supporting what Albert Schweitzer had in mind when he said: “I am looking at the future with concern, but with good hope.” Ernst Stuhlinger

Carl Sagan said it before, Neil Tyson‘s been saying it lately: our curious and exploring nature is the most hopeful and most promising thing about us. Mars is still just a beginning.

the only home we’ve ever known

November 23, 2011

“Like it or not, the Earth is where we make our stand.” We’re not just tourists here, this is home.

A lovely new tribute to Sagan, Voyager, and cosmic perspective. I like it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

“Nobody’s dreaming about tomorrow anymore”

July 22, 2011

“If you want to build a better boat, don’t teach people carpentry. Teach them to long for the sea.” Neil deGrasse Tyson attributes that to St. Exupery, in an interview with the Friendly Atheist. Well, they need to learn nautical expertise as well as longing, but the point applies. We’re not doing a very good job of waking young people to the power of a driving dream.

Tyson wants to send Younger Daughter’s generation to Mars. I’d settle for its moral equivalent, whatever that might be. “At some point, you gotta look up.” Gotta make a plan. We need heroes in the educational pipeline. “How much would you pay for the universe?” A ha’penny sounds like a bargain to me.


Old dreams die, new ones come

July 8, 2011

Back from old St. Loo, and trying to restore the dawn setting on my body clock. Just about made it this morning, the Moleskine and I were up and going at 5:47. Then it started to rain, still no sign of sun at 7. So, might as well sit here and pound the keys a bit.

(This summer’s routine, to the extent I’ve had one at all, has involved walking the dogs no later than 7 am. 80 degrees is comfortable enough for me, but I don’t wear a thick black coat like they do.)

Two writerly instigorations from the Twittersphere are pushing me this morning: a thread bemoaning the disappearance of cursively-crafted letters, launched by @michele_norris, and a query from @GOOD– Q: What’s the best advice a mentor has given you? #GOODasks

My handwriting does not flow, but I do miss the epistolary delight of sending and receiving actual mail. “If you mean it, put a stamp on it.” It’s probably too late for that, Michele, but I do seem to spend a lot of time being sentimental about the past lately. Least I can do is sit with pen in hand and notebook on lap.

John Lachs told me, years ago, to write every morning before doing anything else. My best work (and worst, I suppose) has come from heeding that good advice.

The rain’s letting up, the temperature’s rising, the dogs are waiting, but one more thing’s on my mind at the moment: the impending final shuttle launch, likely to be delayed but as of now (I think) still counting down for later this morning. Robert Goddard, cited in Craig Nelson’s Rocket Menprovides the perfect coda:

When old dreams die, new ones come to take their place. God pity a one-dream man.