Loving the view from up here.
- Aug 18, 2015
- Durban, South Africa
I really should shut up at this point but can't help responding to a few comments. As a preamble, the James Webb telescope apparently will have the ability to study planets in other systems directly and that will be fascinating. I don't know if it will be able to determine if a planet is actually habitable - probably not as so much goes into habitability - but it will add exponentially to what we know about those planets. Anyhow...
There have been a few discussions on the fact that for the last couple of centuries there hasn't been any lack of will to overcome ignorance. Things like the James Webb telescope demonstrate the opposite. The point is that theoretical knowledge was necessary before technology could advance. We had to have some idea of what electricity was before being able to harness it. I suggest that for the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries advances in theoretical knowledge were soon followed by practical applications, but from the second half of the 20th century until now theoretical knowledge has continued to advance but practical applications have fallen off. There is an enormous motivation for technological progress - our entire civilisation is founded on that progress - but it has nonetheless declined in more and more fields, and it's not possible to open new fields like antimatter powerplants as physics at that level is just too difficult to manipulate. A lot of i-dotting and t-crossing but how many dramatic breakthroughs?You are right that the laws of physics aren't going to change...
...but then they didn't change before, but this hasn't stopped us from developing technologies that utilise our ever-growing understanding of what those laws are and mean.
On the other hand, ignorance, and a lack of will to overcome our ignorance, can stop us dead in our tracks.
Agree with most of this. There is a reason why ancient cartographers put "Here be dragons" in the blank spaces rather than "Here be more goats." Curiosity with its attached capacity for wonder is a powerful thing. Perhaps rather peculiar since modern science as a complete explanation for the Cosmos rather kills curiosity. If all reality is built just on some properties of atoms and subatomic particles then what's the big deal? I suspect though that there is more behind projects like the telescope than simple curiosity. More and more I see an imperative to demonstrate that our technological future is bright and that there will be nothing we can't do, sooner or later. It sounds cynical, but IMHO there is a huge amount of PR behind these projects, aimed at cementing confidence in our techno-industrial civilisation.I say, yes. I would find it boring to live in a world where everything was explained, where there is nothing new to be discovered, where there is no sense of wonder. I agree that there are practical things that humanity can and should expend time and effort on, but what may be the defining characteristic of mankind is the search for knowledge for which practical use is currently unknown and may never be discovered. Man has often wondered how it all began and now there is an opportunity to test the ideas, to prove and disprove, and fundamentally alter our understanding. The various experiments are evidence that men can actually do wonderous things, despite repeated evidence in our daily lives that we fall short in many of our most basic tasks. The quest for increased understanding of what may never be fully understood is what can give us hope.
Sure. A satellite orbiting close to a planet with an atmosphere will eventually be dragged in by that atmosphere, but I wasn't thinking of that. And yes, power sources like RTGs eventually run out of power. The point isn't that satellites run forever in space, but that they have often run longer than expected. And of course they don't self-upgrade. They just last longer.Entropy still exists. An orbiting satellite is in a constant state of free fall; without some sort of altitude boost, all satellites fall to Earth. Energy conversion and storage degrade over time. Satellites are frozen in their technical capabilities; what was launched years ago falls short of what we could ask of the devices today. The ones launched today will fall short in answering the questions of the future.