Astronomy as a Personal Inspiration
It seems lately that a lot of coincidental events have cropped up in my life. One of the latest is the idea that astronomy can inspire an individual. The latest xkcd comic, which I read this morning, greatly demonstrates how the wonders of astronomy can inspire an individual to compare the science of starlight to art.
I can relate to this comic in that I’m also inspired by astronomy. I remember one day, during my undergraduate years, I was sitting on my couch reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. At one point I paused in reading the book, looked around the room and the objects I interact with on a daily basis, and then thought it was amazing that somewhere out there in the Universe are these beasts of an object known as black holes. To think that common items like books, computers, cars, etc. that we’ve manufactured on this tiny speck of an Earth have nothing on what Nature has produced. That to me is what makes astronomy so interesting and inspirational.
Now for the coincidental part of my story. Yesterday, as it happened, I was also listening to an old Skepticality podcast in which Dr Michael Shermer is interviewing James “The Amazing” Randi. During the interview, Dr Shermer asks Randi (about 25:20 minutes in), “What catches your breath? What gives you a tingle in the spine?” Randi responds that taking out his personal telescope on the front lawn is what inspires him. The source of inspiration isn’t so much in the image but what occurs in making this image. Just like with the comic above, Randi likes to think about the fact that when he looks at distant objects it takes light some amount of time to travel to us. As an example, Randi talks about the Andromeda galaxy who’s light takes 2.7 million years to reach us on Earth. In other words, when we look at Andromeda we don’t see it as it is today, but how it was 2.7 million years ago.
James Randi takes it even further by commenting that what makes science even more inspirational is the fact that we, as humans, have the capabilities to contemplate such wonders and to make sense of them. Science can evoke emotional responses that both complement our understanding of a natural wonder while simultaneously causing personal inspiration. Two seemingly unlikely bedfellows, the strict rule following scientific mentality and the sometimes non-rational emotional responses, can come together to cause inspiration.