28 August, 2009

Need to Know

Summers in Seattle are short and fickle, so I've been squeezing every last drop I can out of this one. My adventures have taught me how much I need to know.

Learning is one of those endeavors without end. If you stop at a taste, you may believe you've been sated - I know people like that, people who nibbled at knowledge and then wandered away in favor of something easier. Maybe it's because they were force-fed rather than allowed to develop an appetite. Perhaps they came to believe learning was too hard, or they weren't good at it, or some other bollocks. If they're lucky, later in life, they'll get a second chance at the buffet and realize they've been starving all along. Maybe they'll realize how much they need to know.

Maybe they'll wander down to Ballard Locks and see a man with a telescope.

Wait a second, you say - a telescope at boat locks? In broad daylight? That's one of the things I love the most about this city, the incongruity of enlightenment, lodged in the most unexpected places. My friend and I headed down to watch the boats travel between Lake Union and Puget Sound, and stumbled into an astronomy lesson. A gentleman had his telescope set up on the lawn across from the visitor's center, pointed at the sun. He had a passel of people there waiting for their chance to have a close look. And while they sat and stared in awe at solar prominences and the mottled texture of the sun's surface (yes, it really does look like an orange peel), he gave a little lesson on our nearest star. All for free.

For the first time in my life, I got to view the Sun through a telescope. It looked something like this:

The filigree arches of those prominences will remain etched in my mind forever. There's nothing quite like seeing it for yourself. And it'll probably make you want to learn all about the Sun. Just don't go pointing a telescope toward it without learning about the proper filters, first.

This summer began with my first view of the Moon through a 24-inch telescope at Lowell Observatory. You've seen plenty of photos of the Moon. Head on down to your nearest observatory and see it for yourself. It fair takes your breath away.

I've spent the summer reading science books. I've read up on biology, geology, biogeography, anthropology, and just about everything else I could get my hands on. You'd think I'd be stuffed full o' knowledge by now. The think about knowing is, the more you know, the more you need. The more you learn, the more you want to learn. At least, if you allow yourself to have fun. And if you take field trips. Field trips are fun.

The more I learn about the world, the more it fascinates me. I don't take the Earth for granted anymore. I don't even take my fuchsias for granted now. After reading up on evo devo and evolutionary biology in general, each bloom, each new leaf, looks like a miracle. Even the flaws are fascinating. And I need to know more.

You all probably understand that. You're Elitist Bastards, after all, or you wouldn't be here reading this. You've felt the need to know.

I'm going to take you two steps further.

First, challenge yourself to learn about something you never had any interest in before. For me, that was biology. For you, it may be chemistry, or political science, or something really arcane like lapidary. Pick a topic and run with it. Learn all you can. See if you don't discover that a little knowledge means you're left with a burning need to know.

Second, challenge others. I don't mean in-your-face challenge. I mean take your knowledge and throw it out there for people to grab hold of. Astronomers, set your telescope up in a public park. Chemists, do some sidewalk demos. Whatever your talent, whatever your area of expertise, even if it's something as arcane as dorodango. Take it public.

Some religions fish for souls. We shall fish for minds. And I'll bet you we can hook quite a few. People need to know.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to know how the Cascades formed, what waterfalls really are, and there's all that Arizona geology I need to know more about...

1 comment:

george.w said...

I don't see this much curiosity in one person, but I wish there a way to bottle it and give it away. Trouble is, curiosity doesn't package well. It moves better by contagion.