Edgar Allan Poe, Vladimir Putin, and a Cosmos Full of Galaxies

Edgar Allan Poe, Vladimir Putin, and a Cosmos Full of Galaxies October 19, 2018


a barred spiral galaxy, in living color
NGC 1300, a barred spiral galaxy     (NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team)


The story this morning is that Vladimir Putin hasn’t yet seen enough evidence, in the case of the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi, that he would be williing to imperil Saud-Russian relations over the issue.


This is really big news, of course, since we all know Mr. Putin’s deep, even passionate, moral opposition to the idea of assassinating dissident fellow citizens, especially on foreign soil.




But now, on to some science matters:


“What Good Is Evolutionary Psychology?”


I used it just this morning to open a can of tuna!


“This Is How We Know There Are Two Trillion Galaxies In The Universe”


The cosmos, in other words, seems to be fairly large.




I think that I’ve already posted something on this wonderful story.  But several people have called my attention to another piece about it in The Atlantic, which is well worth reading:


“What an Audacious Hoax Reveals About Academia: Three scholars wrote 20 fake papers using fashionable jargon to argue for ridiculous conclusions.”


As I’ve said before, I would love to have perpetrated this hoax myself.  And someday, perhaps, I’ll reveal some of my own distinctly minor-league efforts along similar lines.




One complaint that is sometimes heard is that modern science, with its tendency toward reductionism, has demythologized or, perhaps better, disenchanted the world.  I understand the criticism, and I’m not entirely unsympathetic.  On the whole, though, I’m perfectly fine — nay, enthusiastic — about the world that contemporary science has revealed to us, and about the new and more accurate worldview that it’s allowing us to construct.  I actually believe, in fact, that recent developments in science have, to a certain degree and in a certain way, been nudging us toward a re-enchantment of our world and of the cosmos.


But here’s that complaint expressed in poetic form by the early-nineteenth-century American writer Edgar Allan Poe, in his “Sonnet — To Science”:


Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art! 
   Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes. 
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart, 
   Vulture, whose wings are dull realities? 
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise, 
   Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering 
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies, 
   Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing? 
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car, 
   And driven the Hamadryad from the wood 
To seek a shelter in some happier star? 
   Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood, 
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me 
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree? 



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