AES21 When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured me with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in the perfect silence of the stars.

-Walt Whitman-

This is one of my favorite poems ever, about appreciating the beauty of the universe, and the science that led us to it, even if sometimes we don’t understand the finer formulas and calculations as well as we’d like. When humanity stumbled in the dark, we used science as a candle, a solitary light illuminating the world around us. Leaving behind myth and superstition, we uncovered a universe far more beautiful and complex than we ever imagined.

We are a primate species evolved to survive in savannah plains, we were never meant to grapple with complex concepts like quantum mechanics, but we did anyway. With this new knowledge, we can make our own future. I love science as a whole, there is no subject more important to me than another. This is why it’s difficult for me to choose a specialization. The fields of study are too narrow for me. If you choose physics you have to become a physicist, choose biology and you have to follow through, chemistry and the course is set. There is hardly room to expand to.

I used to want to be a quantum physicist / rocket scientist, working at the front-line of discovery, leading the expedition to new worlds. But then I looked around and realized, there is still so much suffering and injustices in the world, so much work to be done. The leaders of the world are incompetent, representing not the people but their own greedy interests. Championing views that are anti-science, pushing policies that gut research funding. If we let this continue, then we will lose all the progress we have made, bringing us back to the dark ages of ignorance and superstition. It will be difficult to tread new ground when the current management is so anti-progress. So I think the path is clear, it’s time for a major change, and it starts with us.

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