Or Looking Down the Hallway

A strange phenomenon occurs when you get old and/or have danced with death a couple of times. You have an entirely different Weltanschauung then when you were a young fair-haired youth. Your perspective changes just like the "old man, going a lone highway". Things look differently...and often more clearly.

Here is an illustration of how things change as the day gets older. I love taking pictures, and the best time to take pictures is late afternoon. The sun is not glaringly bright, and there is a different and warmer hue to people, scenery, and buildings. So it is with life itself.

When I was young, I was into social causes, I knew the facts, I fought for change, and I was a progressive liberal. A half century later, I still am liberal although not liberal enough. However, things are somehow different. I am attempting to put my picture of life together now as I did years ago. In addition, I confess; I do not have all the data. In addition, I have not figured out how all the pictures and pieces fit together.

I also wonder what will happen when my new and up-to-dated understanding all fits together. Is that the end, or do I go on another quest like Don Quixote?

Don Quixote

Don Quixote

My early 21st century reincarnation as Don Quixote parallels in many of ways the original early 17th century predecessor's social involvement. And like Cervantes' character, I change my directions often in my tilting at windmills. While dealing with social issues like racism, sexism, and homophobia, I realize that there is more out there. Therefore, off I go looking for my next windmill.

The windmill standing on the hill just beyond some other rises of the ground is education. I teach humanities classes and have for years. However, I need to joust with that educational windmill. Who better than I to do the jousting? I was an above average student through my first half dozen years of education. However, my father was transferred, and the family moved to the 19th best educational system in America. He worked hard to provide the income to live in a wealthy community that we could not really afford so that his children could get a superb educational experience.

Nonetheless, what resulted was going from an above average student to an average student in the length of time it took to move several hundred miles away to our new home. An average student in one of the best educational systems in America made me feel dumb. It took me half my adult life to realize that I did not do the math on my personal assessment correctly. Years later, I did discover that I was not dumb, and the educational curse was transferred into a blessing. It has made me into the person and teacher that I am today.

While I am glad that the transformation of a curse into a blessing occurred, I do not want my children and their children to make the same mistake that I made. In addition, my family now includes all my students that I teach. I am teaching at 70-years of age...and loving it. However, what needs jousting are my family members that are my students. I am old enough to be most of their grandfathers. Many of them have been turned off by education, society, or even their nuclear families. They come to class and put in the time, repeat what they heard sometime before, and assume that getting a degree is important. Many students are really not concerned about learning? They want a degree to escape the university life for the real world.

However, I have been there and done that. I do not want my students to waste time as I did. If I cannot get through to them, I hope that in time someone does. If that happens, those students will make great the end of their lives. In the meantime, I will joust them with that educational windmill on that hill over there hoping against hope to awaken all my students. I know that sounds like a fool's errand...but off I gallop.

A couple of weeks ago, I had two of my adult children over for dinner on Sunday evening as they have for years. During the meal, I told them about an experiment that I did with a recent final exam. I had my students read an article that I had written about my yellow brick road. It was one more attempt at jousting with that educational windmill. One of my daughters mentioned that she heard a podcast in which Neil Tyson talked about a hallway at the Hayden Planetarium in New York.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Neil deGrasse Tyson
Neil Tyson is a newer version of Carl Sagan who is another one of my scientific demigods. Both Tyson and Sagan were vastly intelligent but also capable of talking to regular people like lonely me. Even I understand much of what Tyson says to us commoners. The podcast is from the NPR's station in New York. The audio clip is long and often quirky, but if you can handle the quirkiness, listen to the entire clip. Regardless, listen to Tyson talk about the 100-yards hallway and the human hair at the end the hallway. It is around 28:50 minutes in the clip that Tyson explains the history since the big bang and where we are in that history. We are at the very end of the hallway of the universe.
As a 21st century Don Quixote, I can joust well with windmills but comprehending time over the last 14-billion years is a bit of a stretch for me. While in college, I took 10-hours of geology but still cannot fathom time even in millions of years. However, Tyson's metaphor of a 100-yard hallway, I can fathom. Humans have been around slightly more than a nanosecond of galactic time.

What I want my students and you, my readers, to grapple with is a sin that we have had for millennia. The Greeks had a word for this sin; they called it υβρις (hubris), which means false pride, arrogance, self-absorption, or haughtiness about one's place in life. Many humans have hubris and see themselves as the purpose of creation itself. That is a strange Weltanschauung if 14-billion years was all for the last nanoseconds. Talk about a divine waste of time.

However, others have not wrapped themselves in the cloak of hubris. One of the models for Tyson was Sagan, which is not surprising since they both try to inform others so that commoners can get it. On the podcast, Sagan's wife talks about the Voyager 1 and 2, which Sagan sent into space to tell some intelligent form about us.

Carl Sagan Carl Sagan
Sagan's website
Sagan's flying time capsules took off nearly 36-years ago on September 5, 1977 on a journey of exploration into the vast expanse of interstellar space. No one will be alive here on earth when it even comes getting near the next solar system. We will have all died. In fact, the earth may have become a part of a red giant in another 4.5 billion years from now and begin cooling into a red dwarf over an additional several trillion years. Voyagers 1 and 2 will exist forever while our solar system morphs into nonexistence. Nevertheless, those two flying time capsules are out there with the memoirs of an ancient semi-intelligent It is hoped that some intelligent entity out there in deep interstellar space may discover our explorer and learn about those people who lived at one time in the very distant past on that pale blue dot.


What that pale blue dot looks like from 3.7 billion miles away.

We are indeed merely a speck, on a speck, on a speck, ad infinitum. Our earth is not the center of our universe; it is not even in the center of the Milky Way. Once we comprehend that reality, try this one. What we see is merely 4% of the universe; we do not see the vast majority, 96%, of the dark matter or dark energy out there. Nevertheless, we are important? Really? Hmmm.

Sagan's The Sounds of Earth Sagan's The Sounds of Earth 2
Sagan's The Sounds of Earth

Sagan wrote a book, The Demon Haunted World. From his book, we find several suggestions to all of us when we at least attempt to understand and address science:

  • Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts.
  • Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  • Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities").
  • Spin more than one hypothesis - don't simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  • Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.
  • Quantify, wherever possible.
  • If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.
  • Occam's razor - if there are two hypotheses that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.
  • Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?

Sagan's website

Bill Nye also attempts to explain science much like Tyson and Sagan have.

Here are several other YouTube clip:

Now, I need to ride off to another windmill. I am going to write to NASA's Administrator, Major General Charles Bolden, requesting him to send out Voyager 3 on September 5, 2013, which is the 36-anniversay of the launch of Voyager 1. This Voyager will contain history much like Voyagers 1 and 2. However, this time Voyager 3 will contain my various Don Quixote jousting with windmills articles over the years and will include this one.

Don Quixote

"Don Quixote"

Visit the "Don Quixote" page to read more about this topic.

An old man and his grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson

Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.