Thursday, January 7, 2016

Let Your Geek Flag Fly

Photo by Alan Fitzsimmons. Click for photo credit and info.
Not long ago, I spent a bunch of time writing one of my long and cerebral blog posts. And then I thought better of it, because I was making a simple point complicated. So here's that simple point: The world is full of staggering natural wonders and deep intellectual mysteries. It's endlessly complex and surprising. It's millions of times bigger and older than we are, which means we could live millions of lifetimes in it and never run out of things to discover, or mysteries to ponder. But we don't get millions of lives. We most likely just get this one. So if we want to ask the big questions about "life, the universe, and everything", we better do it now.

Nabokov once said, "common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness." If that is true--and I've never seen good evidence to the contrary--then life is far, far too short to let it pass without learning something about the amazing world we live it in.

And yet--somehow--there are people who think it's embarrassing to be interested in science, philosophy, or other fields devoted to learning the answers to big questions. At a party, it's fine to talk endlessly about sports or TV, but talking about Plato's cave or neutron stars will get you labeled a geek. There's a stigma attached to those topics. It's deeply weird, if you think about it. Do people not understand how short life is?

Many of them don't, of course, or rather, they disagree with me about getting just one life. They believe there will be plenty of time in the afterlife to learn about stuff like that, so I can understand why they might have this attitude, even if I don't agree with it. What I can't understand is the people who don't believe in an afterlife, and still think it's embarrassing to think about science, or history, or philosophy. They just don't care, or perhaps they're too embarrassed. Maybe they're too cool, or just hope to be. In any case, they're likely to laugh at anyone who talks about these things. You can talk about pop culture, football, maybe even politics, but only weirdos talk about deep philosophical questions and things like outer space, right?

Actually, I'm pretty sure it's weird not to talk about these things. If these folks don't want to look up at this immense and astonishing universe in wonder now; if they don't want to ponder the big questions in life while they're ALIVE...then when do they think they will?

But it's their life, and their decision. As for me, I say life is too short not to marvel openly about the wonders of science and nature. It's too short not to ask big questions and discuss them with your friends. And it's certainly too short to let anybody make you feel small for thinking big thoughts.

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