Last season under the big dome at the Gunnison Valley Observatory I was explaining to a group how we know the distances to the stars. When I paused, an astute couple asked me if knowledge of the scientific specifics ruins the magic of stargazing.
From my point of view, the distances to the stars are not fixed. Professional documentations in the field of astronomy yield striking differentials amongst the calculated distances. This is a result of differing calculus, differing points of reference and differing observational tools.
I explained that while we can arrive at a proximal understanding of our surrounding astronomical environs there is no absolute comprehension, nor can there be. I continued that ultimately conception must come back to our unique personal interpretations, heavily groomed with external input, allowing for a more bi-focal understanding of our surroundings.
It is this dual conception—scientific reference information interwoven with personal interpretation—that truly inspires. At this point fellow GVO volunteer and Gunnison Mayor Stu Ferguson called out laughingly: You’re not a scientist. You’re a philosopher!
Stu spoke the truth. Research into the origins of the natural sciences, including physics, reveals that the field of natural philosophy is the fundamental inspirational taproot. Isaac Newton, the great physicist of old, entitled his seminal work Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy because he’d never heard the word science before. In fact, one finds that the term science doesn’t even officially enter the English language until about the 1830s, though concepts of what we now know as science have been bandied about since antiquity.
Philosophy is largely the study of the motions of the self. Natural philosophy proposes the extension of self-study into the motions of our surrounding environment. Indeed the word science itself is rooted in Latin, meaning knowledge. It would be foolish to attempt to know our environment without knowing ourselves and likewise to the contrary. Every great thinker who has graced the future with timeless insight has found their own center and proceeded to weave their understandings of themselves into their surrounding fabric. Philosophy without knowledge of physical motions leads to endless ridiculous ideologies.
Science without self-awareness finds itself psychopathically disjointed from helpful purpose. With respect to Descartes, it is not “I think therefore I am;” it is “I act thoughtfully therefore I proceed.” Of course, I have more or less 300 years of hindsight that he didn’t.
Gunnison Valley Observatory houses the largest community telescope in Colorado. Regularly scheduled open viewings begin May 12, 2010. This year we are offering membership packages that provide access to a more intimate communion with the cosmos, star party BBQs, and high-octane fun.
Please contact the GVO at (970) 642-1111 or www.gunnisonobservatory.org for more information and scheduling.