Wheeler

We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.

John Wheeler died yesterday – I nearly got tears in my eyes reading this tribute: http://cosmicvariance.com/2008/04/13/goodbye/ I’m sadder than I can quite understand about this. Partly because of the tribute, and partly probably because of the part of me that still hasn’t grieved the loss of my dream of science. What it describes here is the inspiration, wonder and excitement of research is the reason I went into physics in the first place.

I think it is because he is the last of an era of giants, the people whose story inspired the young me to go into science. Then I found out that the science of the end of the century was far less stimulating and exciting than that of their time, allowing only predictable science done by predictable people to happen, all extremely specialist and narrow.

A young woman with the kind of wide ranging curiosity, a history of cross-discipline topics, and a tendency not to comform or fit in predictable categories– had about zero chance of finding a way to important research topics.

So I took my degree and got into IT, and I was hardly the only one – forget solving the universe, create a better blumphtster.com.

But I cannot help but think as to what all this energy and intelligence could do if it had thrown itself at the big issues instead of building pretty avatar engines… it might be the world’s loss, but when the system is unwilling to offer space to think and challenge and try things, then they will happen where people are willing to value it. I’m still tempted to go back if not to physics then to something of some impact… Not sure how :S

Today a friend pointed out to me that somewhere in me it seems I have an unfinished PHD eating at me (even though I never even considered starting one!). I told him he was silly but… my weird emotion now certainly shows a yearning never totally killed. Or maybe it was triggered subtly by that conversation, as a self fulfilling prophecy.

But what matters today is the wonder of questioning and understanding that people like Wheeler and the other giants represent, that is still present in me, and probably many others. A little flame half extinguished but still there, feeling betrayed and battered but still shiny eyed at the whole world of ideas, and how everything fits together, or ought to…

This is the loss of a great human mind and heart, and a link to a historical key time of science greats – a time of science which seems lost… but might come again The world is a dumber, duller place today.

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