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Facts of the MatterHawaii News

Link to nature helps human understanding

We believe that the Earth revolves around the sun, though few of us could prove it. It is impossible to prove to someone who does not understand Kepler’s laws or who does not have the background to work with Newton’s law of gravitation, yet we "believe" it.

The fact that we use our knowledge of how the solar system is put together to send spacecraft to other planets and their moons should be good enough proof, yet there are still many who do not believe that we have ever done these things.

We believe that the Earth is not flat, yet few of us could provide even the rudimentary measurements of the positions of the sun or stars that are required to verify this belief.

We believe that Earth spins on its axis every 24 hours, but from our perspective it appears as if the sun, moon and stars all circle around us and few of us could verify our belief.

Questions to consider are: How do we establish belief in something that we cannot observe directly, and why do we continually refuse to believe in those things that have been verified beyond reasonable doubt?

The list is long and includes those things that took centuries to gain acceptance that we now generally accept as scientific "truths," but also more recent things such as the existence of dinosaurs in deep geologic time, the great glacial period or Darwinian evolution, to name a few.

Dinosaurs and continental glaciations were not readily accepted when first presented, but they eventually found widespread support even outside of the scientific community. Even so we still find a significant population who cannot accept even the general premise of Darwinian evolution after 150 years despite overwhelming evidence that forms the basis of modern biological and medical science.

There always will be some holdouts, such as the Flat Earth Society (theflatearthsociety.org), a rather extreme example of finding seemingly logical yet highly selective and self-contradictory arguments against that which is overwhelmingly supported by centuries of research and practical application.

How long might it take for our egocentric species to accept a place within the planetary ecosphere rather than appointing ourselves as its master? We have reluctantly accepted many counterintuitive aspects that place us outside the center of the physical universe. They have been hard won against the Weltanschauung of our species that refuses to relinquish its centrality as we continue to insist on living inside a cloistered, emotionally egocentric universe.

Is our vanity so great that we would let the planet that created us, nourishes us, and from which we extract and exploit such a tremendous diversity of resources degrade beyond sustainability merely because we selfishly refuse to acknowledge ourselves as one link in the planetary ecosystem?

We are indeed an awesome species, but our continuing illogical belief that the capability of our large brains to reason elevates us above the other wondrous life on the planet defies logic. Accepting our place as organisms within the great web of life on the planet does not diminish our grandeur, but rather enhances it.

Richard Brill is a professor of science at Honolulu Community College. E-mail questions and comments to rickb@hcc.hawaii.edu.


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