March 10, 2014

World Enough and Time

Neil deGrasse Tyson spent a significant amount of time taolking about Giordano Bruno and his sense of wonder at the universe. In the process, Tyson reawakened my own sense of wonder. I've always fallen under the spell of the stars, and I'm frustrated now when I can't move others to feel the same excitement I do or the same curiosity about some sky event. Had I "but world enough and time," a line of Andrew Marvell writing just a little later than Bruno, I'd easily give myself over to the study of the heavens. For the next couple of weeks I'll have an awfully good guide.

Tyson also spoke of meeting Carl Sagan as a young man and of the encouragement and inspiration he gave him. Hearing this story and the clips of Carl Sagan in the episode, helped me recall that I once saw Sagan as he ate lunch in the Smithsonian Commons. Our trajectories for those few moments were near each other; but for a little nudge like the one to the asteroid that Tyson mentioned last night, they might have intersected too. Then, who knows...

Firmly back on earth this morning, I was amazed further by the science unit in the Every Atom MOOC. Bruno, Sagan, Tyson, and Whitman all share a sense of wonder at the universe; they just express it differently. Here's Tyson last night

and here's Whitman in section 31 of *Song of Myself* >I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,

Until today's session I had forgotten Whitman's When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

There's that wonder again.