Tuesday 3 January 2012

There's Only One Way Of 'Knowing': Why We Need Science In One Simple Diagram

Following on from this post on Pharyngula on the limits of what we can see and hear, I thought I’d take a different tack. The diagram shows on the vertical axis the electromagnetic spectrum and the vertical length of the tiny yellow bar is how much of it we can see (not a lot is the answer).  The horizontal axis is the life of the universe from big bang to heat death. Average species life span is apparently about one million years – the yellow bar is thicker than this so you can actually see it. So unaided, humans will most likely exist for a blink of an eye in the life of the universe and even then we will be blind to most of what is going on around us.

To the left and right of that little yellow blob are the vastnesses of time.  Religion fills these with gardens and talking snakes on one side and burning pits and bliss-palaces on the other. Science fills these with the wonders of those first strange moments of time after the big bang, with galaxies, stars, planets forming, with evolution, great ice ages, strange creatures on one side and the giant lonely tapestry of the death of a universe on the other.

Above and below, science fills in with gamma rays, with planets orbiting stars in distant galaxies, black holes, nebulae, quantum mechanics… Religion gives us crystal spheres, turtles and angels…

So science already extends that yellow blob vertically all the way across the spectrum. If we’re lucky, it may find some way to help us beat the odds on a million year extinction and looking further ahead, make sure we’re off this planet before two hundred million years goes by and it becomes uninhabitable due to an aging sun.

So which would you put your trust in?

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