2007-11-28

Astronomy is Painless

A little earlier today I was having a wander around RedBubble and I happened upon this t-shirt design. It caught my eye for two reasons: the first was the design, which I thought was rather striking, the second reason was the title.

Wondering what "astronomy is painless" actually meant, I decided to have a proper look and found myself totally bemused by the description given for the idea behind the t-shirt. It seems the general idea of the designer is that we're making a right old mess of this planet (debatable, I know, but let's take that as a given...) and, because of that, we should stop "looking up". Apparently we should stop investigating the universe.

Huh?

Why?

What's the reason?

Well, apparently:

The nearest star (apart from the sun) is about 4.2 light years away, which would take about 90,000 years to get to in Voyager 2. So we’re not getting there anytime soon.
Assuming that year figure is correct (it doesn't really matter), and ignoring the idea of someone travelling "in" Voyager 2, what the hell does that have to do with anything? Really?

Should we only ever observe things we can touch? Should we only ever try and learn more about things we can walk up to and kick? Is turning a blind eye to things that are personally out of reach really a good message to send?

The designer goes on to say:
At present we appear to be destroying this planet, and aware of it, so really that’s a lot like suicide. Priorities people.
Well, you know, he's probably got a point, apart from the "priorities" part. Astronomy and the related sciences are probably one of the few things that can really help people understand and appreciate just how hostile a place the universe is and how unique our little safe zone is. But, because we appear to be messing up in some ways, we should turn our backs on what we can learn and we should suggest that astronomy, of all things, is in opposition to treating our planet in a sensible and sane way?

Sorry, doesn't make any sense to me.

But it's still quite a neat t-shirt.



Edit to add the following a day later:

Well, it seems we're supposed to take it "metaphorically" and that we can take anything from it that we want (dur!). It seems that, having seen the metaphor and having seen that it doesn't seem to quite work, for me, and having tried to engage in debate — something the creator appears to want to spring from their work — it appears that the individual behind that t-shirt is perturbed by the idea of debate and has gone out of their way to acknowledge this by updating the description and changing the title to specifically name me.

That'll teach me for thinking that someone who wants to promote debate wants.... debate.

3 comments:

Stuart said...

It is almost as if the Bad Astronomer had also seen the description given the post he just put up. I also gave a non-exhaustive list of the benefits last year.

If you don't look up how are you going to be able to look 'down' to see what is happening to our own planet and work out what it means?

Dave Pearson said...

Blimey, the BA's post is quite the coincidence isn't it?

Ian Musgrave said...

Considering that most of the methods we have to monitor the ravages our planet are due indirectly or directly to astronomy (how did global mapping satellites get there if not for astronomy). I think turning our back on the upside is actively harmful.