Astronomy or even just science has taught me so much in my life that I figured I should share my key takeaways. I’m still learning so it’ll be great to revisit this post in about 5-10 years to see what else I’ve picked up.
Before I jump in to this post I should give you some context about myself, the BrownSpaceman. Here are a few points about me before I really noticed the beauty of the universe and the poetry of science.
- I did not enjoy science in school and often struggled with math
- I enjoyed astronomy but nothing beyond looking through a telescope
- I rarely thought or looked at things in a scientific way
Flash forward to my third year in university I took an astronomy course with a friend. I mostly took it because I liked astronomy and heard it was an easy course (some motivation I had!). I didn’t find anything too eye opening to be honest. However, one day I went home and stumbled on a video on Youtube with the voice of Carl Sagan guiding me. This is the video that did it for me. Once I took in what Carl Sagan said, it lit an incredibly bright passion within me that has never stopped or even wavered.
(Sidenote: my current favorite Sagan video is this one by the fantastic Reid Gower.)
What I’ve learned from loving science and astronomy:
The first thing was learning how to be an effective skeptic or how to critically think in a scientific manner. For someone who was never wired with science from the beginning, this took me some time to strengthen that process to a point where I could understand and deconstruct a claim.
If you’re interested in learning or want to brush up on your skepticism I suggest checking out Kyle Hill’s Skeptic 101 workshop.
Key questions for skepticism:
- How reliable is the source of the claim?
- Does the source make similar claims?
- Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
- Does this fit with the way the world works?
- Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
- Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
- Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
- Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
- Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
- Are personal beliefs driving the claim?
One more resource for skepticism is a great essay written by Carl Sagan on how to balance being a skeptic so that you can think critically and allow new ideas to flow in effectively. Worth the read for the new skeptic as well as veterans.
Next on my list is the view of seeing everyone on Earth as one. What I mean by that is not drawing lines in the sand and to remember how mind boggling large the universe is. This is what keeps us humble and may help us be better to each other. I love the way Douglas Adams said it in his book “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” (definitely read it if you love space and comedy)
“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
If you think about the fact the universe has been around for 13.77 billion years and humans have been around for 6 million years (200,000 years for modern humans), you’ll get some idea that we basically just arrived. We are all unique which is beautiful, but in another sense we are 99% the same. There is as much difference between you and your parents as there is between you and a stranger.
This notion really helps me feel more compassion for everyone. There is a great saying by Carl Sagan that goes something like “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” That’s something that makes me really dwell how special it is that I’m alive and able to look up at the night sky with such awe. One day i hope to travel to space and see this view:
The last point or lesson I would say that had a big impact on my life is to stay curious about the world in how things work. Everything suddenly becomes incredibly exciting and you’re able to say even more interesting things in conversations as a result. One example is taking advantage of very cold temperatures. Some people may want to stay in and stay warm, which is perfectly normal and fine to do. With a curious and science-like mind you look at weather differently. For myself I started saying to myself “hmm I know at this temperature water will freeze very quickly. What could be a cool demonstration of this? How about blowing ordinary bubbles like a kid would?”
The result is this:
Well that’s what I would say are the three biggest lessons I’ve learned that have greatly impacted the way I think and act. Carl Sagan has also mentioned that being an astronomer is a character building experience. I couldn’t agree any more with that statement. I thank Carl Sagan for the gift he’s given me on how I have a deep passion for science and astronomy. With that gift I do my best to communicate the beauty of science as best as I can and hopefully one day I can pass on the gift to someone else.