Friday, May 27, 2011

Maybe Tycho Brahe is all we can hope for

I know I know who Tycho Brahe is....

Who is Tycho Brahe?

We were sitting at lunch and the small tug sitting at the dock had his name lettered on her bow. I knew the name, had come across it in college. Astronomer, explorer, something like that.

In our iPhone/Google age, Brahe is searched and found on the spot. Astronomer it is. He was the man. Observed a supernova, made precise calculations about the heavens before the invention of the telescope.

Brahe changed the game. He showed that the stars and heavens were changing, in flux, not perfect and immutable as folks were thinking prior. He laid the framework that changed the universe, or at least how we think about it.

But ultimately he didn't have it quite right. The Earth was still the center. Looking back, he had some fundamental flaws in the truths he was putting out there. But from where he stood and what he had to work with, he was right. And even now we know he was closer than anyone that came before him, and a gateway to help our cosmology get where it is.

The thing about it, is that we are likely in the same boat (not the tug at the DC waterfront, just talking figuratively here). History tells us time and again that what we know at any given time is generally shown to be HUGELY flawed with another century or so worth of technology, data and hindsight.

You could have gone to school and taken a science test where the right answers were the the Earth was flat and/or the center of the universe. Newton was king of physics until Einstein knocked him on his arse.

If you look with a broad historical perspective, you've got to conclude that we are equally fucking wrong about some of the basic building blocks of reality that we take for gospel. Which ones? Who knows? But we're using what we've got to plot the best map, paint the best picture we can. It's not our fault we can't see around the corner.

Maybe Tycho Brahe is all we can hope for. See and say it the best we can, without being able to get our heads around the whole picture. It's gotta be enough. And, hell, if we aren't ultimately right, it's at least good enough to get a small boat named after you 400 years later.

* Photo by Will White

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