Monday, August 8, 2016

Chet Raymo, “Yet…”

 “Yet…”
by Chet Raymo

    "My suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, 
but queerer than we can suppose."
-  J. B. S. Haldane


“Legend has it that after reciting his official recantation, kneeling on the floor of the Holy Office in Rome before assembled officials of the Inquisition, Galileo whispered, "And yet it moves." To save his life, or at least to avoid some dank dungeon and perhaps torture, the old man had publicly denied that he ever believed or taught that the Earth orbits the Sun, rather than the other way around. The public recantation was real enough. Whether Galileo whispered the private qualification we'll never know. It makes a lovely story. In any case, he was allowed to go back to Florence under house arrest and in the final years of his life invented (I will dare to assert) mathematical physics.

And yet it moves. The Earth goes spinning around the Sun with its sister planets. The Sun whirls with its neighboring stars around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way drifts with its attendant galaxies toward the Andromeda cluster. The Milky Way Galaxy, the Great Andromeda Galaxy, and their lesser galactic companions, the so-called Local Group, dance somewhere near the outer edge of the Local Supercluster of galaxies. Which are but the tiniest swarm of galaxies in the whole outward-racing shebang.

It moves. Oh, yes, it moves, and Galileo didn't know the half of it. His inquisitors didn't know any of it, but they thought they knew all of it. And their descendants still claim infallibility. But let me not beat up on the dogmatists. We should all whisper to ourselves now and then, "And yet, and yet." Our descendants may be surprised at our own naivety. Wholly new paradigms may be required before we understand the origin of the universe or the mysteries of biological development and consciousness.

Such a little word, "yet." Maybe the most significant word in our vocabulary.”

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