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Astronomer Vs Hamlet

November 13, 2010
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Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on this small and unimportant planet… Or is he what he seems to Hamlet?

The first part of question is really interesting. ‘This small and unimportant planet’. I mean how small is this planet? How unimportant? It is really hard to get our head around that. Isn’t it? Distance is measured in light years (distance light travels in a year). Which is far, this light year thing, Huge! Truthfully you know 🙂 Here is a picture from Hubble telescope.

Thats a 170,000 light years. Well we understand how many Km a light year is. Something like a 1 with trillion zeroes in front of it. Can you seriously get your head around that? I can not, numbers don’t really take me anywhere. I mean trillion! mizillion! So let us see where does Earth fit into that? Let us try and get some idea.

Here is another picture. Someone had a brilliant idea of taking Earth out of the Solar System and lining it up with other plants, like a team photo –

Isn’t that great. I love that image. We are looking good. Less concerned about getting invaded by Martians than before. I mean, bring it on! I feel! 🙂 And they are saying Pluto is no longer a planet. Frankly here we can see why it is so 🙂 What were we thinking? It is a boulder.

Now lets pull it back a bit –

And it is a bit less encouraging. Our ball is still colourful though, though modern artists would argue against that. We should have been on Jupiter. Isn’t it? And Pluto is now a cosmic embarrasment 🙂

But we know the Sun is a big deal. But how big exactly compared to the Earth? Here we are with the Sun in the picture –

Wheew! Did you know that? Earth is like a small Dot (but dot is still a dot) and Pluto is no where to be seen.

But keep your eyes on Sun, coz thats not the biggest thing in the block. Here is a picture of Sun with some other objects (not from our Solar System), but can be seen in the night sky –

So Jupiter is one pixel now and the Earth is gone 🙂 So we want to be friends with Arcturus 🙂

But keep your eyes on Arcturus for a minute.

So I think our best friend is Antares 😀 Thats extraordinary isn’t it? So lets go back to that –

And we (mother earth as we call her) are infitesimally, pitifully tiny in the great cosmic scheme, a speck of dirt really, to put it highly optimistically.

Now looking at this, I want to say a couple of things –

Firstly whatever you woke up worrying about in the morning… get over it… 🙂 Make the call and move on. Does it really matter!

No, but the second things is that THIS MAY BE but we have extraordinary power. Lets put it this way – We … We have a power to conceive of our own insignificance (No matter what Mr. Quinn talks about in Ishmael). No other species around the earth is sitting around and getting anxeitied looking at these images. You do not see other species sitting in the forest and saying, ‘I have no idea’… ‘Wow! I never thought about all this! What do we do?’. And they did not produce these images either. We did. The fact that we have also simulataneuously destroyed the planet does not undermine who we are. We are the species that also produced –

the work of Hamlet.

and the work of Mozart

and the Bhagvad Gita and Koran

and the work of Vinci, Picasso

and the Vedas

and Industrial Revolution

and Hip Hop, Jazz, Art of Zen, and Bharatnatyam. And the extraordinary ascent of human culture. And we have talked about the Cosmos, reasoned our existence, fretted over it and sometimes also discovered it. And so I wonder on what Bertrand Russell had said –

Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on this small and unimportant planet… Or is he what he seems to Hamlet?

Slightly modified excerpt from a talk by Ken Robinson on Changing Paradigm –

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Rihana permalink
    November 16, 2010 21:31

    The guy speaks just too well. Great pick and I go with Hamlet 😉


    • November 16, 2010 22:47

      Yes he does, you should listen his talk on creativity. You go with Hamlet, after the hardwork poor Astronomer put in inventing the telescope and collating all the pictures. 🙂


  2. mahe permalink
    November 26, 2010 13:45

    gud one deshwal sahab…aachi cheez dhoondhi hai es baar…quite inspiring 🙂


  3. rabrav permalink
    February 22, 2011 00:44

    Sir Ken Robinson is an awesome speaker and modest to boot… I empathize with him in putting an end to ‘factory-based-learning’.

    I side with the astronomer’s view of humans and planet Earth (while disagreeing with the “impotently crawling” bit). Personally, I find this more beautiful than the “human-condition” and the ‘conflicts-of-existence’ explored by works of philosophy and religion. Explaining something in a scientific way does not diminish it. It enhances it. ( I would like to recommend the book ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’ by Prof. Dawkins)

    For long, humans have tried to understand what’s going on around us. Until scientific way of thinking came on board, humans around the world had arrogant human-centered-notions about ‘existence’. This has had its repercussions .

    A poet can look at a moth and wonder why it commits suicide by jumping into the flame and then connect it with ‘love’ ( proved by countless accounts of shama and parwaana in poetry). Although this kind of thinking is aesthetically pleasing, it encourages anthropomorphism and the false notion that everything around us has been created by ‘someone’ for ‘us’ (humans).

    Knowing our (human) vulnerability and insignificance in cosmos is an important lesson on truth and humility. However, in no way should it stop us from imagining the improbable and venturing into unknown territory with tools of creative intellect.


    • February 22, 2011 17:46

      🙂 Would def read the book… One statement that did not quite ring a bell with me was – Until scientific way of thinking came on board, humans around the world had arrogant human-centered-notions about ‘existence’.

      A few questions –

      (1) What exactly do you mean by scientific way of thinking?
      (2) Do community groups like Shamans (ancient healers/ and sometimes messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds) fall into this category?
      (3) When do you think the scientific way of thinking emerge?


      • rabrav permalink
        February 22, 2011 23:24

        by scientific way of thinking, I mean the cycle of hypothesis, experimentation/testing and objective interpretation of evidence. Science progresses by debating accepted ideas.

        In Carl Sagan’s (biologist and astronomer) words, science is the method of trying to understand the universe “without attributing the fall of every sparrow to the direct intervention of” supernatural/spiritual stuff. According to him, science as we know today began 2500 years ago (600 B.C to 400 B.C) in Ionia (near Greece).

        It’s like Ken Robinson says,, before this majesty of nature, human affairs seem so trivial. Evolution has endowed humans with brain. Our species has the privilege to ‘understand’. It’s a pity we do not celebrate science as a way of thinking and instead reduce it to a mere materialistic pursuit.

        To quote Richard Feynman (Physicist) —

        “Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers, you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.”


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