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Why Bill Shatner had to go to Space

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'The Most Profound Experience': William Shatner Speaks After Blue Origin Spaceflight After successfully reaching the edge of space, actor William Shatner thanked Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos for giving him .the most profound experience. and ...
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I applaud the fact that Jeff Bezos gave William Shatner the opportunity to get a new perspective on the world, from the rim of space. But quite a few influential people made disparaging remarks about the wastefulness and hubris to make that happen. Perhaps the strongest criticism has been that it is just another example of how we are despoiling the planet while ignoring the need to devote such resources to save the Earth. One of the most eloquent expressions of that mindset happened years ago, in the voice of Pete Seeger at the close of the Smothers Brothers TV show, when he sang "Here we are, knee deep in garbage, firing rockets at the moon." That stunt almost resulted in the show being cancelled; it caused such a furor among the producers and sponsors. We were in the middle of the Apollo program at the time, and it was thought unpatriotic to disrespect NASA. But when I got to talk with Pete years later; he told me he lamented the decision to perform that song, after he learned just how much good our space exploration efforts were doing to save the Earth. Then he told me a story about his Dad, Charles (on pg. 283 of "Where Have all the Flowers Gone?"), who late in life became very anti-Science and actively worked to get scientists to see reason, and to understand that they were fueling the warlike aims of dictators and despots. Pete was more philosophical, waxing on the idea that yesterday's answers won't solve the problems of today, and saying he would take his father to task - citing Kant and Hegel who talked about the need for a synthesis emerging from the clash of opposing views.

Humanity needs such philosophical insights to survive. I had the extraordinary privilege to be part of a discussion with some of the world's top scientists and philosophers (HR3 - Time and Philosophy in Physics) during the 16th Marcel Grossmann conference this past July. I cite a 2018 paper (Found. Phys. 28, 5) by lead-off speaker Carlo Rovelli which asserts that Physics needs Philosophy, and vice versa, for either to give us meaningful insights about reality. He talks about the ancient debate between the schools of Isocrates and Plato which rages to this day. While Isocrates taught that it is most important to cultivate skills of a practical nature, and the mastery thereof; Plato thought we should seek to learn how things work and how they came to be, as a more general pursuit of pure knowledge. These opposing philosophies greatly influence our politics and how we view the advance of human knowledge. But it is also easy to see that such debates often center on views of time, where liberals are more forward-facing being concerned with creating a better future, while conservatives tend to be more concerned with preserving the legacy and traditions that brought us to where we are today. The biggest problem I see is that people are hung up on proving that one view or the other is the best or correct ideology.

It is abundantly evident that both views are needed and that each philosophical ideal informs us in ways the other cannot. But few among us are visionary enough to gaze from outside the clash of ideologies that separates us. So we need more Pete Seegers and more Carlo Rovellis, as well as a healthy number of people like Gene Roddenberry, who can look past the divisive elements to envision a future where Science has prevailed and people have finally learned to get along. So how does one get the view from the outside? You rise above! So it seems that the one best way to get that inspiration is going into space. From all reports; it is so profoundly and lastingly awe-inspiring that nothing else compares. Of course; it is now a costly and wasteful procedure, to bring folks to the rim of space as tourists. But only by taking steps toward making it practical and cost effective will we one day look back and ask why we waited so long. While it will always be difficult to travel in space and arrive back home safely; it need not remain the province of a few millionaires or celebrities if we keep going. However; we need a philosophical shift to see how the clash between an idea and its opposite can result in something with the best of both worlds, where the synthesis or fusion of two opposing views of Philosophy creates a new view of reality. The ancient Greeks talked about virtue this way, as the pediment or apex poised between opposites, where too little or too much of a given quality is a bad thing. Thus courage is the balance between timidity and boldness. We need a balance of views like that now more than ever.

So I'd like to speak up on behalf of William Shatner, Jeff Bezos, and others who have a visionary ideal similar to what Gene Roddenberry promoted with "Star Trek," that we can have a brighter future on Earth if we explore space. I do not think it is frivolous to imagine that we need to give as many influential people as possible that incomparably inspiring view from the rim of space, so they can share the sense of awe and wonder that can make an aging adult feel like a child again. But for those who feel otherwise; I think that for scientists and others to keep going into space is likely the best way to heal the climate and save planet Earth. Of course; one can argue that all kinds of observation can take place by satellites, which don't require a human presence. Likewise for going to Mars and other planets; the robots will have an easier time surviving than humans, and can send back tons of data. However; we are born explorers and there is nothing like exploring new realms for yourself. In fact; that is what scientific discovery is all about "to boldly go where no one has gone before" or as Nobel laureate Doug Osheroff puts it to "search unexplored regions of the parameter space," because that is how advancements in Science are made.

If we fail to advance; it is possible that humanity will find ourselves without a home all too soon. So we need to gain perspective. If we are mired in conflicting views and appear to be hemmed in; it is because we lack perspective. People climb mountains and build or inhabit skyscrapers to rise above the norm and change their outlook on the world. Going into space is just another step in that direction. When we stop taking steps to advance progress is when our real problems begin. Therefore; it is shortsighted or wishful thinking that asserts it would be better to forget about space tourism and human spaceflight in general, until we have solved our Earth-side problems. There is a kind of hubris to that way of thinking which does a disservice to the spirit of innovation which might cure the challenges we face. So I see the brief voyage of William Shatner as a good thing, in terms of extending and expanding the possibilities for inspiration. I advocate looking from an elevated and inclusive view which is not afraid to explore. This ideal sees manned space flight as a good thing overall, because it tends to inspire a more open-minded and encompassing view of the world. But all too often; people encounter a kind of fierce pressure that we should stay home on the 'island of the familiar' as with the title character in Disney's "Moana," because everything we need is right here on this beautiful island - so there is no need to explore. However; our beautiful island Earth is sick, and in order to heal it human beings may need to go off exploring just like the girl in that story.

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Jonathan is a modern Renaissance man. He is a Grammy award-winning engineer, a performer, a writer and lecturer, and a scientific researcher. Since recording "At 89" Jonathan has worked on other projects with Pete Seeger, including a 300 song (more...)
 
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3 people are discussing this page, with 6 comments  Post Comment


Jonathan Dickau

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Hi Folks,

It has been a while, but I have been pretty busy. This piece advocates for the wow value of sending someone like Bill Shatner into space, but it also attempts to dispel some of the objections that space tourism only adds to our despoiling of the planet. Pete Seeger once felt that way, but I got to know him after he had a change of heart.

People are not aware that Seeger was quite learned, that his Dad was a College professor, and that Pete was a world-class philosopher in his own right. But he is not alone in having learned better, after finding out just how much good some of the innovation to develop and observations from space travel have done.

You can find "HR3 - Time and Philosophy in Physics" on YouTube, and I am the very last speaker of the day - about 2:33:30 into the video. What an amazing privilege it was to appear with Rovelli, Myrvold, Ashtekar, Drossel, and 3 other top scholars. Some of their insights also fuel my aspirations to continue to advocate for this work.

Best,

Jonathan

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 21, 2021 at 8:57:34 AM

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Jim Miles

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Really; "However; our beautiful island Earth is sick, and in order to heal it human beings may need to go off exploring just like the girl in that story."; perhaps we can "discover" the moon and have wars over it as well. What we don't need; more philosophising that is just more blah; blah; blah; as with; Canada's reconciliation stuff; U.S. freedom and democracy and rule of law stuff. Forget philosophy; get on with it - get rid of our mass consumer, throw away corporate-financial-militarized society.

Heal the earth; there is no planet 'B'.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 22, 2021 at 9:32:38 PM

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Allan Wayne

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You have obviously been reading the Klingon Cookbook.

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 23, 2021 at 11:44:41 AM

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Jonathan Dickau

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I believe you for the most part...

Despite my advocacy, or my thinking I need to speak up, I wish there was an easier way. However some of your comments seem intent on a quick fix that may result in chaos, rather than a well-reasoned approach to creating a better world.

Neither Plato nor Isocrates was given to sophistry, or arguing for its own sake, in regards to your comment about philosophizing being all 'blah, blah, blah.' It is true, to some degree, until you learn they each had different salient points, and you have to balance their views.

You can preach as Seeger did "When others are saying grow, grow, grow, you have to learn to be small." But we are past the point where throwing it all away can help the problem. The fact there is no Planet B to retreat to is WHY we have to Science the heck out of this.

I agree the mass consumer mentality fuels the problem and was largely created through the efforts of corporations, but I think your kind of philosophizing fails to solve the problem so it's just more 'blah, blah, blah.'

Best,

Jonathan

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 23, 2021 at 2:24:05 PM

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Jonathan Dickau

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Another analogy is the sloop Clearwater...

It was originally proposed as a Science mission, to measure and map the pollution of the Hudson and to monitor the health of the river. In later years; it came to be more a vessel for fun voyages - singing and celebrating the river - especially while Pete was around. But being on the Hudson gives you a perspective you don't get from the shore.

We can't build wooden boats to go exploring outer space, but the shift of emphasis to allow more people the experience of getting out there is a necessary step. Maybe some day we'll have a group of Folk singers trying to see how many orbits of continuous singing and playing they can get in.

Wouldn't that be a fun trip?

Best,

Jonathan

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 23, 2021 at 2:36:22 PM

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Jonathan Dickau

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I wanted to offer that...

For those interested in what Rovelli had to say, who don't have a copy of Foundations of Physics 48, 5, I offer the following.

Physics needs Philosophy. Philosophy needs Physics

as a complete PDF from arXiv

Physics needs Philosophy/Philosophy needs Physics

for the abridged version at Scientific American blogs

Best, JJD

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 23, 2021 at 3:44:09 PM

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