Monday, August 18, 2008

Observing the Universe


Why this blog?

Four hundred years ago Galileo Galilei turned his telescope to the heavens and for the first time humanity step out of its cozy earthly home. To the horror of the establishment, what Galileo observed did not conform to the orderly heavens that for more than a thousand years dictated how we should see and relate to the universe. Galileo’s observations started a dialogue that split the history of humanity in two. Today, with so much confusion and animosity among the different corners of society with regards to the planet, the environment, and our place in the universe and confronting the potential for irreversible damage to the conditions that sustain life itself, there is need for another cosmological dialogue. When it comes to cosmology we do not even know what the relevant questions to ask are. Scientists and academicians in the humanities not even agree on what cosmology is, not even how to approach it. This blog provides a space for a multidisciplinary dialogue between scientists, sociologists, historians, anthropologists, etc aimed at finding common ground, a point where researchers from disparate fields that bear on the topic of cosmology can find an intersection of ideas, approaches and concepts.

Cosmology is a field whose property is claimed by theologians, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists and now scientists. Each side pulling towards their historic domain in a non-constructive, non-inclusive manner. Only few decades ago our knowledge of the universe stopped at the feeble nebulae that appeared like improbable ghosts imprinted on the finest photographic plates that technology could produce. Today the scientific community announces triumphantly and with much fanfare that the standard cosmological model is close to a ‘final’ answer, while philosophers and sociologists question the very premises under which science rests. In the mean time the public, ever more apathetic and aimless, is bombarded by confusing messages denying claims made by scientists in a number of areas ranging from human evolution to degradation of the environment. What can we make out if this confusing state of affairs? Are there any grounds to claim that certain approaches to cosmology have more value than others? Are there any meeting points where researchers from different disciplines interested in cosmology can meet? Who owns cosmology?

Motivated by an agreement that such questions require a multidisciplinary approach, a group of us (an anthropologist, a sociologist of science and an astrophysicist -- for now) decided to start an honest dialogue to explore the “big questions” in cosmology. This is an experiment and we do not know where it would lead us, but whatever that place might be one thing for sure can be stated which is that we all have something to learn from our colleague in the other department.

The Rules of the Game

1 - we are doing these for the shear interest we have on the subject of cosmology. Not for money or fame.

2 - The intellectual property of this material belongs to the authors (in common) such that whatever we decide to do later on with this material will be jointly decided.

3 - The format consists of one “big question” followed by the answers from the three perspectives of the authors. We’ll use pseudonyms (ETNY = antrophologist, XXX = sociologist of science/historian, SAGREDO = astrophysicist). Anyone can post questions. The dialogue is non-linear, one topic branches into another, one question generates others,…

4 - We are extremely busy and everyone knows that the amount of time we can devote to this activity is minimal, therefore this should not be extra load and does not represent any commitment of any kind. Anyone can write whenever.

... please indicate if we need to add more rules, etc