Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Changes - 1

So, some content now.

Well, this seems like a good place to start. Back in the late 1980's, my wife and I happened to stumble across a series called "The Day the Universe Changed", by British science historial James Burke. Being a scientific sort myself (I was actually finishing up my Master of Science thesis at the time--subject was geology), I was kinda-sorta hooked. The series consists of ten episodes, each revolving around a general subject area in which scientific thought evolved at some point. For example, Episode #3 deals with the way scientific thought about things like architecture, maps and portrayals of 3-D space, and naval navigation changed through the Reniassance. All in all, interesting stuff...if you're interested in scientific history, that is.

And that's good, as far as it goes. But the real "oomph" of this series stems from the fact that this ISN'T just as far as it goes. What the series is really about is how the way we look at the way we look at the world around us--the "universe"--changes. Burke makes the argument that, at any given point in history, we've understood the universe, because we've had a particular way of looking at it that worked for us. So, the Sun, and everything else, revolves around the Earth. The sky is a concentric series of crystal spheres. Lightning and thunder arise from the wrath of the gods. And that adequately explains...well, everything.

But then along comes something new. Someone manages to prove that, no, the Earth actually revolves around the Sun. The sky is the rest of everything, and all those stars are suns unto themselves. Lightning is an electro-static discharge and thunder the thermal displacement of air. The way we look our own view of the universe has changed that view, and now everything is different.

Heavy stuff, eh?

But Burke goes a little further. He suggests that not only has the way we see the universe changed, the universe itself has changed because of it. Truth is only what we can see. If what we see changes, that truth changes. We are more right than those who believed the Earth was the centre of creation, but someone will come along and be more right than us. And suddenly, the universe is DIFFERENT.

Okay, now THAT'S heavy stuff.

The last line in the series is what really did for me. Burke says this:

"If the universe is just what you say it is...then say!"

You know, that line STILL gives me shivers. It was a moment that actually changed the universe for ME. And it still resonates because we all struggle with what is true, whether it's that the universe ignited from a singular point at the instant of the Big Bang and everything, including time and space itself, started then and there...or that torture really is an effective way of obtaining information that could save lives and prevent untold suffering.

If the universe is just what you say it is...then say.


"The Day the Universe Changed" has just been released on DVD, which you can obtain from Amazon (and probably other sources, if you want to Google them). A good overview of the series, including an episode summary, is available here.

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