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Twinkle, twinkle, little star  @psychohistorian.org

Twinkle, twinkle, little star

posted: 3111 days ago, on Friday, 2010 May 14 at 12:46
tags: atheism, astronomy, psychology, religion.

A star, when you get right down to it, is just a massive thermonuclear explosion. If you could travel into a star, you would see its superheated matter - hydrogen nuclei, mostly - being smashed together violently, creating new forms of matter and releasing energy. Some of this energy eventually makes its way out of the star and radiates off into space, perhaps to encounter a planet and bathe it in the comfortably warm glow of a sunset.

For the greatest part of human history, however, mankind thought of stars as little lights in the sky, glittering baubles suspended from a not-too-distant canopy. Other views asserted that they were the far-off camp fires of deceased relatives, perhaps being watched by some heavenly beast with glowing eyes twinkling in the dark.

It is interesting to note that the ancient descriptions have strong emotive value: beauty, comfort, and fear, while the more modern account is without obvious emotional content. It is more difficult to relate to millions of tons of explosive protons than it is to feel something for a cosy campfire.

These very different answers to the question "How I wonder what you are" are attempts at explaining a particular facet of nature-out-there. The understanding that comes from an explanation helps us to predict and control that facet of nature.

It seems clear to me that the time-honoured descriptions of nature are of limited use, giving only slight insight into what is out there, illuminating more about the observer than the observed.

One should exercise caution when "explaining" nature in this way: the looking glass may not be that dark, after all.

nothing more to see. please move along.


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