What will we see when we look back to our past many years down the road? Will we see failure? Or will we see triumph? When you yourself, glance at todays world, are you proud of who we are as a civilization? History writes the stories of tomorrow, and that is what I would like to discuss here.
As someone with a great fascination in science, I admit that my perspective on this topic may very well be biased. With that said, I see the world through my own personal looking glass. Trying to imagine myself in a time of the future, I often wonder what I’ll be remembering when glancing back to today. Will I look back to the launch of space shuttle Discovery and see risk? Or will I see the epitome of a civilization, driven by explorers who have always looked ahead to further us as a species.
Surely strapping a handful of humans to 7,000,000 foot-pounds of thrust (roughly 35 times more than a 747 jet) is ludicrously dangerous? Although we’ve been met with catastrophe, this modern marvel of a previous generation opened up a Universe of wonders, and more importantly, enabled the keys required to unveil them. Contributing to the launch of many missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Space Shuttle program has granted us a reach and sight farther than was ever possible. A simple taste and one of my favorite pictures ever taken is known as the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Countless triumphs of our past were required to take this picture. This little spot in space represents the farthest humanity has ever seen into our existence. Three thousand galaxies fill this image, at a humbling 13.7 billion light years from Earth.
Try to imagine, that each single galaxy (every dot, smear and smug in this image) could represent upwards of one trillion star systems, each one with the possibility of orbiting planets and each one of those with the chance of a civilization. This single image would not have been possible if the people of our past stopped daring to move forward. Dreaming up a new world and having the tenacity to realize it is why we are who we are today.
It’s admittedly hard for me to step outside the domain of my own interests, and look the past from a perspective outside of the scientific. But then I remember that so much more than mere science lays hidden from my gaze. We are humans, not lifeless objects. We write, we draw, we paint, we inspire, we raise our young, we feel emotion and we interact with one another. Every Picasso or Van Gogh , every word written by great poets like Robert Frost to the great fictions of J.R.R Tolkien – it all matters.
Art and literature are extractions of thought and one could argue that it is these representations of one’s imagination and wonder that inspire us to look at specific aspects of life. Perhaps my odd affinity for the winter months may very well be completely different if I didn’t read Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening. Perhaps there was a story or depiction that lead Charles Darwin to be the adventurer he was – leading him to pursue a voyage to Galapagos and changing our understanding of life forever onward. I realize now that a person (just like an event) is the sum of his/her past. A persons past is complicated, and where inspiration finds its roots could very well be due variety of things, even times of pain and sorrow. Although art is somewhat illogical and far from my passion for science, I can’t help but see beauty and inspiration in The Starry Night.
So what will I see when I look back to the present? I can tell you one thing, it won’t be conflict, nor will it be the center stones of the media… no. It will be the accomplishments that lay in our past. Every step up the ladder of history that lead to the present day: our literature and language complexity, our society structure and economic systems, our creative depictions and writings of thought, our technological and scientific understanding – this is who we are.
Going back to my original example, I will not see lunacy when I look back to a controlled bomb strapped to a spacecraft. Rather, I will see the courage to put the next foot forward. The drive to discover, the insight to inspire the present generation, and the imagination to look beyond the scope of the present. The next hard step may be a breakthrough in medicine or in creating a multi-planetary society or even extending out reach to far away stars. All I can only hope that we as a people, never stop climbing.