Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thinking and acting

I came across a review on the web of my book Walking Zero: Discovering Cosmic Space and Time Along the Prime Meridian. The reviewer had some nice things to say about the book, but took me (and the scientific community generally) to task for exalting the cosmic over the human-centered circumstances in which we live our daily lives. In particular, she was offended by my implication that belief in human-centered space and time belonged to the childhood of humankind. The reviewer ends by saying, "I believe that the lesson should not be "Grow up!" but something more along the lines of "Think cosmically, act locally."

I like that: "Think cosmically, act locally." In fact, I would almost say it was the theme of the book (consider the subtitle). And certainly I hope that the posts on this blog successfully combine the cosmic and the local.

But there is some growing up, involved, if by "growing up" we mean accepting the implications of centuries of scientific discovery, rather than clinging to the anthropocentric conceits of our ancestors. Thinking cosmically and acting locally cannot be kept in separate compartments of the mind -- science and religion, say -- but must be consistent with each other, and, indeed, feed off each other. For all my admiration for Stephen Jay Gould, his concept of science and religion being "non-overlapping magisteria" is profoundly unsatisfying.

I try to affirm on this blog what so many of us believe: That scientific knowledge -- of cosmic space and time, life and consciousness -- enhances our day-to-day lives, enriches our interactions with every jot and tittle of our local environment. The same laws of physics and chemistry apply to the gecko here on the window sill as to a galaxy 10 billion light-years away. The local and the cosmic are all of a piece.